Last week one of the fatalities in the Buffalo massacre, Heyward Patterson, reminded us of Haywood Patterson. He was one of the Scottsboro Boys who were falsely accused and imprisoned for raping two white women. Our focus was on Patterson’s mother, Janie, and her tireless advocacy for the innocence of her son and the other eight Black youths.
This week we return to Buffalo to profile the remarkable life of Katherine Massey, 72, another one of 10 killed in the mass shooting at Tops Market on May 14; several others were wounded. The world learned much more about her selfless dedication to civil rights during her funeral services and the eulogy delivered by Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, on May 23 at Pilgrim Baptist Church.
“I am here to celebrate the life of a freedom fighting sister, a courageous Black woman,“ Chavis began. “The question now is what are we going to do in our anger, in our pain? We should learn from Katherine Massey…this African queen. It’s in our tradition that when one is taken from us to pay our respects. But the greatest way we can pay our respects to Katherine Massey is to keep her spirit alive, keep her journalism alive.” That Chavis was there was in a couple of ways fitting—Massey, called Kat—worked as a journalist for the Challenger Community News, a Black-owned paper, and in a letter posted in the Buffalo News nearly a year ago, she voiced her concern about the prevalence of gun violence in the community, noting another shooting that was a “gut-wrenching account of the escalating gun violence in Buffalo and major U.S. cities,” she wrote.
At the services, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said of Massey that, “She was proficient in her history, proficient in her culture, and a lover of all people,” he declared. “She was a constant presence in our community. A warm and welcoming spirit who had a beautiful and brilliant smile that could light up the atmosphere, cut through every conflict, and warm your heart.”
Several associates and close friends told the press about Massey’s commitment to racial justice, most notably through her writing. “Kat took her God-given creative writing ability, and she coupled that with a quiet spirit that, paired together, wound up exhibiting in an extremely powerful way without shouting or menacing,” said Sherry Sherrill, 56, of Buffalo. Sherrill is the oldest daughter of Betty Jean Grant, a former Erie County legislator, and a close friend of Massey’s for decades. Grant added, in a comment to WKBW, “She’s in a true sense of the word, a warrior. She loved working and she loved helping people.”
Sharon Belton-Cottman, a Buffalo school board member and a community activist who worked with Massey in the community group We are Women Warriors, told ABC News that she is dedicated to renaming Massey’s street after her late friend.
Mayor Brown, during his remarks, noted that Massey was a determined activist in her neighborhood. “She was called the mayor of Cherry Street,” where she lived, he said. “Before that, she was like a governor. And more than that, she was a queen mother of this community. She was a leader, leading with warmth and intelligence and the power of her pen.”