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Historian and columnist in Buffalo, N.Y., reflects on race in her community


The Tops grocery store on Buffalo's East Side is as much a community center as a place to buy milk and bread. So when Eva Doyle wanted to promote her new book in February, she set up a table in front of that store to autograph copies. It was a collection of columns she'd written for The Criterion, one of the city's Black-run newspapers. Of course, just a week ago at that same store, a white man killed 10 Black people. Eva Doyle, columnist, historian and retired public schoolteacher, joins us from Buffalo. Dr. Doyle, thanks so much for making time for us.

EVA DOYLE: Yes, and thank you, sir.

SIMON: Can I get you to talk about Katherine Massey, who died in the attack? She was a friend of yours.

DOYLE: The way I describe her is she was a fellow writer, very well known in our community for speaking out and writing some very prolific articles dealing with a lot of the issues that we face here, especially on the East Side of Buffalo, which is mostly an African American community. As a matter of fact, the last time I saw her, we were both on our way to an anti-violence rally, which was actually being held on Jefferson Avenue, not far from Tops. And people knew her. They knew her voice. She was a powerful voice in this community.

SIMON: Yeah. I gather you were almost at Tops a week ago.

DOYLE: Yes, I was a regular shopper at Tops supermarket, and this past Saturday, when the shooting happened, I would have been walking out of Tops with a basket full of groceries and going to my car just about the time this shooter started shooting. But I made a decision. I said, well, I won't go to Tops today. I'll go to the cleaners. And my grandchildren - they were calling, and they were shouting, and they were screaming, where are you? And I said, what do you mean, where am I? I'm going to the cleaners. And they said, there's a shooting at Tops. I'm going to tell you I was in disbelief.

SIMON: Dr. Doyle, what - can we begin to understand what this last week has been like for you and other people on the East Side of Buffalo?

DOYLE: Our community has been under a great cloud of sadness and pain for this entire week. These were grandmothers, fathers and mothers, missionaries, community volunteers and supporters of our beloved supermarket, the only supermarket on the East Side of Buffalo. You know, yesterday - I got to share this short story. It's only going to take me a minute to share.

SIMON: Yeah. Please.

DOYLE: Yesterday, I was going to make some spaghetti. And so as I was getting prepared to make the spaghetti, I said, oh, oh, I got to run to Tops and get some meatballs 'cause I always love turkey meatballs. I got to go to - and I caught myself. I said, I can't go to Tops. And it hit me. That's a simple thing of getting ready to prepare some dinner. And I just can imagine so many people just in a split second say, I can't go there. It's going to take a long time for us to get over this - going to take a long time.

SIMON: I think a lot of Americans are wondering, what do we do about this stain of racism...


SIMON: ...In America?

DOYLE: You know, I'm an educator. I want to put this in the atmosphere.

SIMON: Please.

DOYLE: I'm going to ask our good white friends across America to sit down at the dinner table and have a talk with your family. You know, Black people - we call it the talk. We have that talk with our children, and we talk about racism. We tell them what they're going to face. We tell them, you know, you - somebody is going to call you the N-word. I'm asking white America, talk to your family. Talk to your children. And they're not going to be easy conversations. They're going to be tough because you know what? We don't know each other. We don't know each other in this country.

SIMON: How do you hope the world - Buffalo - will be better for your great-grandchildren?

DOYLE: You know what? I'm real concerned about what's going on in this country. But it's going to take all of us. It can't just be an Eva Doyle or just a few people on the East Side of Buffalo. It's going to take people living all over and in the suburbs and everywhere else. Come together and say, we will not tolerate this racism and killing and mowing down innocent people like they are animals. We will not tolerate this.

SIMON: Eva Doyle, historian and longtime columnist at The Criterion newspaper in Buffalo, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DOYLE: I really appreciate it very much. And whenever I get a chance to talk to people and let them know - yes, we're upset. We're crying. We have pain. But we're going to be all right. I really believe that. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.