Local politician reflects on riots in Rochester 50 years later

Updated: 07/22/2014 5:56 PM
Created: 07/21/2014 5:00 AM WHEC.com
By: Janet Lomax

When the riots in Rochester broke out in 1964, Darryl Porter was right at the center. Porter, the former assistant to two mayors and a three term president of the Rochester City School Board was a 14-year-old back then. He was also the leader of a gang called the Matadors. They were invited to that street dance at Joseph Avenue and Nassau Street. It was their friend, Randy, who got a little intoxicated. Police were called. Officers wanted to arrest him. Porter says they would take him home and make sure he did not come back. He says the officer didn’t want to hear that. 

Darryl Porter said, “The officer said we are taking him to jail and we said you are not going to take him to jail and he said we either take him or we are going to take all of you to jail and that is how the whole thing got started. So, they snatched and grabbed them, and that is when we started snatching and grabbing them.”

That is how Porter remembers that Friday night, 50 years ago at Joseph and Nassau Streets. He says seeing their friend being arrested, combined with a pent up anger that many already felt, just exploded.

Porter said, “It just happened. It was not planned or anything. We did not think anything would happen like that, otherwise, we would have taken him home before we even got there.”

Some say agitators in the crowd that night helped fuel the fire. The word of the arrest spread, along with rumors of what was actually happening with the police. Porter says there were no rumors. He was an eyewitness to the facts.

Porter said, “They had dogs. They claimed they didn’t have dogs there, they had dogs there. They claimed the fire department was not there. The fire truck was using hoses on us, knocking us down, knocking people down that were just trying to get home.”

Porter saw it all first hand. Rochester City Police Chief William Lombard rushed to the scene. He was assaulted. The crowd flipped his car over. More law enforcement was called in. Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies and the state police were called, all in riot gear.  People on the streets smashed the windows of businesses. They looted whatever was inside.

Porter said, “It was just the pent up anger that came out. It was not only that, it was just you know how you get mad?” 

Over the three day period, the violence moved from Joseph Avenue, to the Third Ward in Corn Hill, which had a thriving business community. 

Porter said, “You actually had in the Third Ward, you had people going down the street with furniture.”

Governor Nelson Rockefeller made a call to the National Guard. Many say their presence brought an end to the violence. But Porter says gang leaders played a role too and that's the part that isn't talked about.

Porter said, “They talk about the National Guard and what they did and give them credit and all that. God bless them. But they didn't give any credit to the gangs and the clubs who were working together.”

When it was over, there were more than one million dollars in damage. One thousand people, black and white, were arrested. Four people were killed. Three of them were killed when a helicopter crashed into a home in Corn Hill.

Porter says there is obvious progress that's been made in 50 years since the riots, but Porter says Rochester has seen the highest percentage of homeless children in the district and a lack of jobs still exists.  

Porter said, “As affluent as we are in Rochester, there is no excuse for that. None.”

There were many black leaders in the community that teens, like Porter, looked up to.

Constance Mitchell was one of them. She had already broken one racial barrier when she was elected to the Monroe County Board of Supervisors as the first African American woman.

On Wednesday, News10NBC will share her story. 

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