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Buffalo’s First African American Architect Honored in MLK Jr. Park

By October 27, 2022No Comments


The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the family of John E. Brent honor his legacy

PR Contact: Catie Stephenson | | 202-355-4843

Click here to view a fact sheet on John E. Brent and the John E. Brent Garden

Buffalo, N.Y. – Today, on the 60th anniversary of his death, family members of John E. Brent joined the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, community stakeholders, and elected representatives to honor Buffalo’s first African American architect through the commemoration of the John E. Brent Garden in MLK Jr. Park. Mr. Brent designed the masonry and ironwork on the gates surrounding the garden in the 1940’s, providing the community with a peaceful space for restorative reflection.

 “The Conservancy is proud to recognize and honor Mr. Brent’s contribution to this historic park,” said Stephanie Crockatt, Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Executive Director. “We are grateful to the Brent family for assisting us as we partnered on this long overdue recognition. Mr. Brent’s influence and achievements have made a beautiful impact on our parks, as well as our entire community.”

John E. Brent (1889-1962) was born in Washington, D.C. and educated at the Tuskegee Institute, receiving a full scholarship to the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry. Upon graduation, Mr. Brent moved to Buffalo and was employed with several architectural firms before opening his own firm to manage private commissions.

Among Mr. Brent’s most significant architectural designs are the Michigan Avenue Branch Y.M.C.A. (1928) and projects through the Buffalo Parks Department including design work in Frederick Law Olmsted’s Front and MLK Jr. Parks and the Buffalo Zoological Gardens.

Mr. Brent was also an active community leader, standing with Reverend J. Edward Nash and Mary Burnett Talbert in organizing Buffalo’s first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and became its first president in 1915. He was a founding member of the Michigan Avenue Colored Young Mens Christian Association, and he helped found the Appomattox Club in 1922 where he served as Chairman of the Board and held many leadership positions.

In 1946, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey appointed Brent to the Buffalo Division of the State Commission Against Discrimination where he oversaw discrimination cases, and in 1954 he was voted “Man of the Year” by the Negro Business League of Buffalo & Niagara Falls.

“While my great uncle’s professional accomplishments are many, his commitment to community service and social justice sets an example for all generations,” said Brent Rollins. “Having his work commemorated here, in a Frederick Law Olmsted designed park renamed after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is incredibly meaningful for our family and adds to the legacies of these great men.”

Formerly known as the Cottage Garden, the John E. Brent Garden is one of four special gardens recognized within the Olmsted park system. From the formality of the Delaware Park Rose Garden to the serenity of the Japanese Garden, and the environmental beauty of River Rock Garden in Riverside Park, each are cared for by the Conservancy’s Special Gardens Manager, Madeleine McGrady, and provide unique passive experiences for park users.

Statements from elected officials

Congressman Brian Higgins: “Buffalo has a long history as city that brought accessible and equitable architecture to life. Designing buildings and contributing to our Olmsted parks, John E. Brent understood the vision for inclusive & restorative spaces that tie our community together,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “We are proud to honor John E. Brent not only for his architectural accomplishments, but also his devoted work as a social justice leader in Western New York community. This dedication will preserve his legacy for generations to come.”

Senator Tim Kennedy: “John Brent’s contributions to our city, its architecture, and issues of social justice continue to be reflected throughout Buffalo, including within the Buffalo Olmsted Parks system. It is only fitting that we honor his legacy in perpetuity, and this memorial garden will ensure that his impact is celebrated for decades to come.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes: “Today, we recognize the professional and civic contributions of John Brent, Buffalo’s 1st Black architect, on the 60th anniversary of his passing. Mr. Brent was commissioned to produced numerous projects within the Olmsted Parks system, so it is only fitting to have a garden named in his honor within Martin Luther King Jr. Park to reflect upon his accomplishments and contributions to Buffalo’s society.”

Mayor Byron Brown: “As Buffalo’s economic transformation continues in our inclusive city of opportunity, it’s important to recognize people like John E. Brent, Buffalo’s first Black architect and an architectural pioneer. This garden at MLK Jr. Park will now be a wonderful tribute to an accomplished architect who played an important role in our community’s development, designing and overseeing the construction of many City facilities and parks, including the Buffalo Zoo’s Main Entrance Gate.”

Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo: “As Masten District Councilmember, I am honored to be part of this naming project as we bring recognition to the contributions that Mr. Brent’s portfolio of work has made to The City of Buffalo. This is another significant commemoration of the rich history and legacy of African Americans  in our historic MLK Jr. Park the home to key legacies of culture and influence.” 


About the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy is the first nonprofit organization in the nation, through a unique public-private partnership, to manage, operate and maintain an entire urban park system consisting of more than 850 acres of beautifully designed historic parks, parkways and circles. The Conservancy is an independent not-for-profit, community organization whose mission is to steward Buffalo’s historic Olmsted park system to welcome and benefit all. To accomplish this, the Conservancy collaborates with community and strategic partners, advocates for quality parks for all, and enhances the park system through beautification, maintenance, and capital projects. More than 2.5 million visits occur in Buffalo’s Olmsted Park system annually for recreation, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  

The Buffalo Olmsted Park System includes: 

Six parks: Cazenovia, Delaware, Front, Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside, and South 

Seven parkways: Bidwell, Chapin, Lincoln, McKinley, Porter, Red Jacket, and Richmond

Eight landscaped traffic circles: Agassiz, Colonial, Ferry, Gates, McClellan, McKinley, Soldiers, and Symphony

Smaller spaces: Days, Heacock and Prospect