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John Baker’s portrait of Bill Gaiter for The Freedom Wall, 2017

John Baker’s portrait of Bill Gaiter for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

Bill Gaiter

American, 1927-1997

Watching from Buffalo the events of the Civil Rights movement unfold in his hometown of Anniston, Alabama, and across the South prompted Bill Gaiter to attend an early meeting of B.U.I.L.D. (Build Unity, Independence, Liberty, and Dignity): a collective of local religious and community groups that coordinated on issues impacting the city’s African American community. A longtime bus driver for the NFTA, Gaiter would later become B.U.I.L.D.’s president and then executive director. During the 1970s, Gaiter organized various demonstrations, boycotts, and lawsuits challenging instances of inequality, and was responsible for securing employment for hundreds of minority construction workers. He also worked to improve living and health standards in the community and address issues of discrimination in the workplace, housing, the criminal justice system, and education.

After resigning from B.U.I.L.D. in 1978, Gaiter went on to found the Institute for People Enterprises, which helped to connect workers to more than 120 service groups around the country and provided consulting, training, and operations assistance to various community, business, and political groups. In 1984, he also established the Western New York Council for African Relief to raise money for and develop cultural ties with Malika, Senegal, and other African communities. As a political organizer, Gaiter coordinated voter registration campaigns for various local African American candidates.

Last updated 2019
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