Clifford Bell – More Than A Name…A Buffalo Institution
We're celebrating Black History Month across the United States and here in Western New York Clifford Bell has lived it, and been an integral part of it.
Bell’s accomplishments are too numerous to list here. WIVB-TV tells us that on Martin Luther King’s birthday, last year Brian Higgins stood offered a tribute before the U.S. House of Representatives to his former Council mate, saying that Bell lived a “life of love representing the best of our community and our country.”
At 91. Bell is still doing it. He's more commonly known as “Brother Bell,” around town and remains a driving force in the Buffalo community and is the chairman of the Buffalo African American Museum.
He was active in the civil rights movement; served on the Common Council, served for 23 years as a business advisor for the Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State; has been a leader at the Luther Church of Our Savior since 1955, also the year he married his wife, Taffy.
Clifford Bell is literally a walking history of black Buffalo. He attended Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., in 1963, and walked in Black Lives Matter marches more than half a century later.
“The Lord’s been so good to me,” Bell said by phone “I’ve been involved in so many things. I look at it in amazement. You’re right, I have a big thing for history. Right now, we’re doing a thing on black elected officials in the City of Buffalo, starting with the Thirties. Sherman Walker was the first. He represented the Fifth Ward, which is now the Ellicott District. I was there for the first thing of anything African-American in Buffalo,” he said Tuesday, “because I’ve lived here all my life. I pretty much know people everywhere.”
Bell is most proud of his 30-year chairmanship of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, from 1979-2009 helping raise more than $250,000 for the construction of a bust of King that stands in MLK Park. He was also responsible for organizing artistic performances at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, bringing in national talents the likes of Eartha Kitt.
“It’s impossible to go anywhere in the black community and find somebody who doesn’t know him, or who he’s not involved with,” said Stan Coleman, who worked with Bell on the MLK committee in his days as a Channel 2 TV reporter and became one of his dearest friends.
“He knows everybody,” said Coleman, who is filming a documentary of Bell’s life. “When they’re doing something, they call Brother Bell. He raised that celebration to a higher level. My job was to make it a smooth production. We became close. He’s like a dad to me.”
Bell is quoted as saying
“We’re on a mission still yet. As long as I’m able to breathe and move around. In fact, I just recorded two programs for a couple of churches giving my outlook on Black History Month and reading one of my poems.”
“I still have hope that somewhere, somehow, things will get better,” he said
How do you not get cynical, he was asked?
“Oh, because I’ve got faith,” he said. “I’ve never been negative. I’ve been called names and treated with disrespect, but not for long.”
He’s going on 92 but remains young at heart.
Brother Bell has a reputation in the community for saying yes and helping any way he can, whether it’s a church, a businessman, a museum exhibit, or a Black Lives Matter rally.