Posted on January 18, 2011

A Lesson in Desegregation

Thomas J. Prohaska and Janice Habuda, Buffalo News, January 18, 2011

Lockport’s public schools were desegregated nearly 80 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the change nationally, students learned at a Martin Luther King Day program Monday in the Niagara County Historical Society.

The 16 children who attended the holiday program painted bricks in honor of Aaron Mossell, who owned a brickyard and a hotel in Lockport after the Civil War.

Mossell was hired to sell bricks to the Lockport School District in 1870 for a school on High Street, but when he took his children there after construction was done, they were barred and ordered to attend “the colored school,” said Ann Marie Linnabery, historical society education coordinator.

After five years of petitioning the Board of Education, Mossell succeeded in opening the doors of Lockport schools to black students.

Monday, Brenda Reaves of Lockport performed a living history portrayal of Mossell’s wife, Eliza, who is buried in Cold Springs Cemetery. Her husband died in 1908 on a trip to London and is buried there, Linnabery said.

Mossell and his wife were never slaves, Linnabery said. They were originally from Baltimore, but moved to Hamilton, Ont., to keep from being hassled by enforcement of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. They came to Lockport in 1866.

The Lockport history lesson was among several gatherings that took place over the weekend to honor the civil rights leader on the 25th anniversary of the holiday that honors King.