Name the new Buffalo, NY Police HQ for Officer Edward Obertean, who died fighting the Klan

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When the Ku Klux Klan came to Buffalo, NY in 1921, the liquor flowed freely in Buffalo in open violation of Prohibition.  Buffalo’s first Roman Catholic mayor, Francis X. Schwab, had just been elected. Schwab owned a brewery which was caught selling alcohol. He was charged and pleaded no contest. This incensed the city’s Protestant elites, who flocked to this new organization which promised civic improvement and fraternal fellowship.

Unlike Protestants, Roman Catholics largely opposed Prohibition.  The battle lines were drawn: Protestant vs. Catholic. Recognizing the Klan as a mortal enemy, Schwab recruited an undercover officer to infiltrate the Buffalo chapter. When someone burgled the Buffalo Klan office and stole the membership list, it ended up on display in the Buffalo police headquarters lobby. It was then published as a newsprint pamphlet. A surviving copy is now online at NYHeritage.org.

Embarrassed by the exposure, the Klan sent its own investigator, Thomas Austin, to Buffalo. Austin soon identified Mayor Schwab’s spy: Officer Edward Obertean. On August 31, 1924, Austin confronted Obertean. Both men drew weapons, exchanged gunfire, and died. Edward Obertean was 35 years old, Catholic, and unmarried.

Buffalo has never properly recognized our martyr in the fight against the Klan and the bigotry and hatred for which it stands. As plans proceed to convert the Dillon Federal Courthouse into Buffalo Police Department headquarters, the undersigned respectfully urge the City of Buffalo to recognize the highest of American values embodied in our successful battle with the KKK.  We ask you rename it the Edward Obertean Building

Further reading:

Lay, Shawn.  Hooded Knights on the Niagara. New York University Press, 1995.

Van Ness, Cynthia. Buffalo Takes on the Ku Klux Klan. Western New York Heritage Magazine, Fall 2012.  Drawn heavily from Dr. Lay's book.



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