Willert Park Courts and the Laughlin Family
In 1939, the U.S. Housing Authority constructed the Willert Park Courts specifically for African-Americans, despite the fact that the neighborhood was made up of African-Americans, Jews, and Italian-Americans. When completed in 1939, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority rejected applications from whites for one of the 172 apartments. By 1941, there was a waiting list of nearly a thousand eligible African-Americans whose applications had been refused for available housing in other public projects around the city on the basis of their race. The story below is from a family who lived in what are now called the A.D. Price Courts during its first five years. Photo is from 1939 (Library of Congress).
John Laughlin was born and raised in this home outside Sparta, Georgia. He decided to go north in 1924 to find work. He chose Buffalo because his two brothers and a sister had already found work there. The homestead above, on 10 acres, remains in the Laughlin family. The photo above is from late 1980's.
Claudia Hall came to Buffalo from Macon, Georgia in 1924 to join her siblings who had preceded her. She and John Laughlin met and were married on December 27, 1924. After living on Peckham Street for a time, they moved into an apartment in the new Willert Park Courts. Two children were born to them during their Willert Park years. The photo above is from the 1930's.
John Laughlin worked at American Brass, Houdaille, and as a chauffer for wealthy Buffalonians. When Claudia Hall Laughlin first arrived in Buffalo, she was a maid at the Statler Hotel. Later she catered parties and was known for her cooking.
This well-dressed crowd of children are posed before two apartments at Willert Park in 1946. In the first row at left are Pete Laughlin (second from left) and Joan Laughlin (third from left). The occasion may have been a birthday party.
In 1946, they purchased a home at 313 Watson for $2500 and lived there for 42 years, raising three children . Claudia Hall Laughlin became a beautician so that she could work out of their home while the children were small. In 1994, the family donated the home to Habitat for Humanity. The above image is a 2005 view.
Special thanks to John and Claudia Laughlin's second child, Joan, for sharing photos and memories of her parents. She recalls with pride her parents' industry, integrity and example.To learn about the Depression-Era federally funded sculptures installed at Willert Park, look here.