A City Lost a Crown Jewel, and the Black Community Suffered

Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., kinesiology Associate Professor Jennifer Roberts heard stories about a magical place called Humboldt Parkway, a two-mile, tree-lined boulevard in one of the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Roberts’ mom, uncle, aunt and grandparents spent years walking, biking and playing in the 200-foot-wide swath of green space, part of a system of parks and parkways designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and they often used the parkway to access the city’s two largest parks.

Then in 1957, the state paved paradise and put up a six-lane highway.

In her forthcoming Island Press book “Buffalo’s Emerald Necklace: How Environmental Racism Devastated a Community and Destroyed an Olmsted Treasure,” Roberts will analyze the injustices surrounding construction of the Kensington Expressway and their long-term impact on Black families. She’ll also take a broader look at Buffalo’s underrecognized place in the struggle for civil rights, whether as the last stop before Canada on the Underground Railroad, or as the founding place of the Niagara Movement by W.E.B. Dubois and other Black intellectuals calling for full African American equality rather than go-slow accommodation. Read more about JPB Fellow Jennifer Roberts’ research.