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It took her death to allow bus stop

Published Feb. 6, 1996
Updated Sep. 15, 2005

At 6:15 Monday morning _ after seven years of frustration, two weeks of angry public debate and the death of 17-year-old Cynthia Wiggins _ a small measure of justice finally came to Cheektowaga's Walden Galleria Mall.

For the first time, the No. 6 bus that runs to this suburban town from the inner-city neighborhoods of nearby Buffalo was allowed onto the mall property.

Since the upscale Galleria opened in 1989, charter buses from Canada have stopped daily in the parking lot. Buses from the affluent and largely white neighboring town of Amherst have been permitted to let off passengers at a bus stop just across the parking lot. But not the No. 6. The mall's developers, according to regional transit officials, refused to allow it on their property, which meant anyone coming from central Buffalo had to disembark 300 yards away, on the other side of a busy highway. There is no sidewalk or crossing.

Then, just before Christmas, a young single mother from Buffalo was crushed to death by a dump truck as she walked from the No. 6 stop to her job at the mall. Cynthia Wiggins became a cause celebre. Her death was taken up in the local media. A boycott was threatened. Monday, after a concession by Galleria officials, the first No. 6 bus stopped in front of the Lord & Taylor department store.

"Does it make a difference?" said Michelle Simmons, as she stepped off the bus, bundled against frigid air. "Yes it makes a difference. I don't have to cross that damn street any more and then walk across the parking lot."

What happened at Walden Galleria has been held up by civil-rights leaders as evidence that racism is not dead, only that it has taken new and more subtle forms.

"People call me up and say, "This is incredible,' " said Buffalo City Council President James Pitts, who led the fight to bring the No. 6 to the Galleria. "But you know, it's not that incredible. There are stories like this all across the country."

The mall's management said it had no recollection of any prohibition against the No. 6 bus.