ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Local civil rights leader, legal champion, and World War II veteran Peter Pryor has died at the age of 95. Family says Pryor passed peacefully at home.
“My mother was laying beside him and the sun set outside the window of their apartment, you just knew he was tired. He was ready to go home,” says Peter’s son, Marcus Pryor.
Peter Pryor was well known in the Albany and surrounding areas and stood tall among civil rights leaders in Upstate New York. It’s a legacy Marcus says is not lost on him.
“I’ve always known the large figure that he cut, but the outpouring of support just reminds me that the way my father did it, his love for family, his love for community, his love for country is how it should be done,” Marcus says.
Peter Pryor, born in 1928, joined the Army at just 14 years old and served in World War II. After the war, he came home and decided to make change by pursuing a law degree. He first attended Siena College before moving on to get his law degree from Albany Law School. He was the first Black graduate of Albany Law since the Reconstruction Era.
“To my students, I say learn about Mr. Pryor and be inspired and know that you’re not the first one fighting some of these battles for justice, but you have some big shoulders that are carrying you,” says Albany Law Dean Alicia Ouellette.
A statement by Siena College reads:
We have lost a good and decent man with the passing of alumnus Peter Pryor ’52 – a favorite son of Siena. But the shining light of wisdom and justice he provided will never be extinguished. His dedication to the fight for equality and equity in the Capital Region and beyond will live on in perpetuity. As our society continues to strive for racial justice and the rights of all its citizens, his determination and diplomacy serve as an enduring example to us all.Chris Gibson, Ph.D. / Siena College President
Peter went on to litigate in several police brutality cases, and Anne Pope, the NYS NAACP Northeast Regional Director, says the one that sticks out most to her is when Peter was representing Samuel Clark.
Clark was from Connecticut visiting family when he was reportedly stopped, harassed, and beaten by Albany police in 1962.
“I always thought Peter was a very strong, strong leader for that, because back in those days, that was just what police did. They beat up Black people, especially Black men, and I just thought Peter was very courageous and I have a lot of respect for him,” Pope says.
Peter Pryor went on to help found the Albany Urban League and served as the former president and legal counsel to the local NAACP chapter.
“It was Mr. Pryor who would whisper in my ear about what was really important, and times when I really wanted to give up, it was Mr. Pryor who said, it ain’t time yet,” says Elaine Frazier, another former NAACP president who served several years after Pryor. “I think he relished in being able to fight these struggles on behalf of the people and the community he loved and who loved him back.”
She says there are also many accomplishments few know or remember about Peter Pryor, like the fact that he sat on the board of the Albany Interracial Council and that he was elected to sit on Albany’s first ever school board.
“He was a proud, brilliant, tough as nails, smooth talking African-American man who understood his power, who had exercised his power, and who did it with incredible grace,” Frazier says.
Marcus adds his dad was troubled by current events that echo the past he fought so hard to change in the 1950s and 60s.
“He was dignified and eloquent, but he was very angry that we are right now fighting some of the same battles he fought as a young man,” Marcus explains. “Even to the last moment, he was encouraging leaders to push forward and to be bold and to right wrongs.”
However, Marcus Pryor says while there is certainly a gilded image of his father remembered by the community, he, his children, and Peter’s wife, Barbara, will also always remember what he gifted to their family.
“My father was a wonderful parent, a wonderful husband, and a wonderful community servant,” he says.