Black History Month is the ideal time to honor and recognize the contributions made by the illustrious men and women of the African American community. African Americans have made lasting contributions in the field of the arts, education, science, and civil rights, just to name a few. Civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks often come to mind when we think of Black History. However, Buffalo, New York had its own leader of civil rights and community activism through the tireless efforts of Daniel R. Acker, Sr. Acker was an educator, a chemist, a community activist, and a civil rights leader. Therefore, in honor of Black History Month, I wanted pay homage to one of America’s most dynamic leaders, and one of my fraternity’s most beloved members, Mr. Daniel R. Acker, Sr.
Daniel R. Acker, Sr. was born on February 28, 1910 in East Radford, Virginia. He was the only son of Elizabeth Brown and Paul Acker. During his childhood, he received his education in a damp and desolate basement in West Virginia, while his white peers attended school in the classrooms above him. Despite his childhood learning experience, Acker went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from West Virginia State College, and a Master of Science in Chemistry and Education from the University of Michigan.
Acker began his career as an elementary schoolteacher. He later went onto teaching chemistry and physics at Liberty High school in Williamson, West Virginia. It was around that time that he met the love of his life, Louise Broome. She was an English and Social Studies teacher at Liberty High School. They got married in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 26, 1935 and had three children.
After years of teaching and scholarly research, Acker pursued a career in industrial chemistry. He was offered a job at a chemical plant in Point Pleasant, West Virginia but when his prospective employer saw that Acker was black, the offer was withdrawn. However, during World War II, the United States government desperately sought after chemists for their munitions industry and since Acker was one of the few Americans with a Masters Degree in Chemistry, the Trojan Powder Company/Plum Brook Ordinance Works in Sandusky, Ohio hired him. During his tenure, he worked on the Manhattan Project and ultimately helped create the Atom Bomb.
In 1944, Acker and his family moved to Buffalo, NY after he received an offer from the Linde Air Corporation. As a chemist at Linde for over 30 years, he helped develop antifreeze and liquid nitrogen, both of which are used today for cryosurgery and freezing blood. While in Buffalo, Acker and his family became life-long members of Lloyd’s Memorial Congregational Church, which later became the New Covenant United Church of Christ. He served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, as well as the co-chair of the Building Fund for many years.
In 1950, he broke down the color barrier when he and his wife purchased their family home on Monticello Place in Buffalo, NY. However, angry neighbors ruined their lawn, dug up his shrubs, and threatened his family. Those experiences inspired him to create Housing Opportunities Made Equal (H.O.M.E). This initiative advocated for fair housing practices and ensured decent housing for African Americans.
His leadership within the community did not stop there; he also served as a member of the local and national councils of the YMCA, the President of the Buffalo Chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and as an active supporter of the NAACP ACT-SO program. In fact, he served as the President of the Buffalo Chapter of the NAACP from 1972 until his death in 1997. During his tenure, he was instrumental in ending segregation within the Buffalo Public School system. This was a war that he eventually won after fighting many battles with them for over 20 years.
He truly believed in the importance of teamwork and creating strong organizations in order to influence change within the community. Therefore, he became a founding member of the Buffalo Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. Alongside fellow members of Kappa Alpha Psi, he worked with local businesses and organizations to improve the occupational, economic, political and social climate.
Throughout his lifetime, Acker earned numerous awards including the NAACP Medgar Evers Award, the YMCA Good Key Award, the Southern Christian Leadership Award, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Medallion, and the Crystal Buffalo Award. He is also listed in Who’s Who in Colored America, Who’s Who Among Black Americans and Blacks in Science and Medicine.
Daniel R. Acker Sr. died on May 18, 1997. In memory of his achievements, several scholastic endeavors have been named after him such as the Daniel Acker Scholars Program at the University at Buffalo and the Daniel R. Acker Scholarship sponsored by the Buffalo Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated. The University at Buffalo Daniel Acker Scholars Program is an individualized program for academically talented students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Those participants have gone onto complete medical, dental, law, MBAs, and various graduate programs.
The Daniel R. Acker Scholarship is awarded to qualifying local high school seniors for their outstanding achievements in the classroom and the local community. Since its inception, over $65,000 in scholarship money has been awarded to over 70 high school seniors. Those students have gone on to attend public and private four-year colleges and universities across the country.
As always, thanks for reading!