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Julia Bottoms’s portrait of King Peterson for The Freedom Wall, 2017

Julia Bottoms’s portrait of King Peterson for The Freedom Wall, 2017. Photograph by Tom Loonan.

King Peterson

American, 1915-2012

A champion of both public service and the labor movement, King Peterson dedicated his life to his community. As a child, Peterson’s family relocated to Buffalo, New York, where he went on to graduate from Hutchinson Central Technical High School. After receiving a degree in Sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, he went to work at the Ford Motor Company’s Buffalo Assembly Plant. He was later appointed to the union bargaining committee and eventually became an International Representative of the United Auto Workers.

Peterson began his career in politics by serving two terms on the Erie County Board of Supervisors. He was elected to the Buffalo Common Council as the Ellicott District representative in 1955, becoming only the second African American to serve on the Common Council in the city’s history. A progressive Democrat, Peterson stood against police discrimination and supported public housing projects. As President Pro Tempore of the Common Council, he became the first African American to hold the position of acting mayor of Buffalo in 1956, while both the Mayor and Common Council President were attending the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While some opposition was initially expressed to the idea of having an African American mayor, only one person—Rufus Frasier, an African American man and supporter of Peterson for acting mayor—showed up at the mandatory public meeting before the decision went into effect. Peterson later served as the Assistant Project Manager for the City of Buffalo, as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1967, and as First Shiloh Baptist Church’s Food Pantry Coordinator and Assistant. After his retirement in 1979, he remained involved in a number of organizations until his death in 2012.

Last updated 2019
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