585 Michigan Avenue
The Young Men’s Christian Association building on Michigan Avenue was designed by John Edmonton Brent, the second African American to design such a building for a Black community in the United States. Brent was educated at Tuskegee Institute and Drexel University before running an architectural firm from his Hamlin Park home at 99 Lonsdale Road on Buffalo’s East Side. The YMCA building was his first major commission, which was funded in part by Julius Rosenwald, the famous philanthropist of Rosenwald schools throughout the nation.
When the YMCA movement began in America in 1851, Black men were excluded from membership based on local practices of segregation. Things began to change, slowly, shortly before the Civil War. The first Black YMCA was organized in Washington D. C. with associations following in Charleston, S.C., and New York City, among others. This occurrence, the interest of newly freed slaves, and the growth of YMCAs among black college students convinced the national YMCA to encourage the formation of black branches. Before momentum decreased in the wake of postwar desegregation, Black YMCA’s served as important social spaces for leisure, education, and political protest within the United States.