SUN Board member Richard Breland–the cute little kid on the right in the picture above–has spent a good deal of time behind the lens of a camera during his 79 years, most spent here in Syracuse. He started with an old Brownie camera and he now totes around a digital camera. Through the years and hundreds of photos, Rich has documented an amazing stretch of history of the city of Syracuse, especially the everyday lives of African-Americans. A selection of his photographs are on display at Syracuse University, a part of the school’s Black History Month celebration. For years, legal segregation meant African-Americans could only live in the 15th ward of the city. Rich has captured the amazing sense of community that existed amongst the area’s residents.
Rich and his large family has been at the center of much of Syracuse’s history–he was one of the first African-Americans to work at the sprawling General Electric plant in Liverpool–which at its height employed almost 20,000 workers. He worked there for over 35 years. His brother was the first African-American high school athlete from Syracuse to receive an athletic scholarship to Syracuse U. (where he played football with Jim Brown.)
Rich has been an active member of Syracuse United Neighbors, in fact, he is the reason SUN works on the issue of bank redlining and community reinvestment. In 1990, Rich went to his bank, Onondaga Savings Bank, for a home improvement loan. Rich was retired with a good pension, working a second part-time job, an account holder at the bank and had good credit. He was turned down for the loan–based almost entirely on the fact that the home was located in the city’s African-American neighborhood on the south side. Rich came to our office and a new chapter in SUN’s history was born. SUN put together a coalition of neighbors to challenge Onondaga Savings’ proposed merger with Merchants Bank–and won a community reinvestment agreement requiring increased lending and outreach to all of Syracuse’s neighborhoods.
We’re indebted to Rich for many things–too many to count. Thanks Rich: for the memories, the photos . . . but especially for your commitment to SUN!
Rich’s photo exhibit, 49 prints entitled “Black Syracuse and Beyond.” are on display in the Panasci Lounge of Syracuse University’s Schine Student Center, 303 University Place, through March 3rd.