Fifty years after the Rochester Riots: Where are we now?

Updated: 07/24/2014 8:46 PM
Created: 07/24/2014 6:26 PM WHEC.com

Fifty years ago today, violence erupted in Rochester. The riots of 1964 forever changed the history of the city.

The riots broke out after a 19-year-old man was arrested at a street dance on Joseph Avenue and Nassau Street for public intoxication. Many say racial tensions in the city were at an all-time high with people frustrated with the lack of job opportunities, poor housing conditions and alleged police brutality.

At the end of the three day riots, four people were killed, nearly 1,000 people arrested and more than $1 million worth of damage left behind.

Darryl Porter, who witnessed riots, 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 and whatever is near you, that's what you break.”

Warren Doremus, a reporter in 1964, said, “A lot of people who’d never heard of Rochester N.Y. were suddenly made quite aware of this city.”

The F.I.G.H.T organization, under the leadership of Minister Franklin Florence, helped address some of those concerns then. By taking action against big businesses like Kodak and working with Xerox, it helped to open up more jobs and make the workforce more diverse. The organization also built the old Fight Square on West Main Street and Fight Village on Joseph Avenue, which covered some issues with jobs and housing.

Fifty years later, where are we today? Is the community more united or separated and just how much progress has been made?

Ann Johnson, of ACT Rochester, said, “First of all, depending on who you are, you may have a different answer as to how far we've come.”

Lt. Governor Bob Duffy said, “I think we've come a long way in the last 50 years in so many ways, but on a sad note, I think we have some of the same issues and some of the same problems.”

Bill Johnson, former Rochester Mayor, said, “There is less opportunity now, then there was then.”

Ann Johnson, of ACT Rochester, says the data shows there are still disparities and racial inequalities.

The population in the surrounding suburbs has grown over 200 percent and decreased 37 percent for the city of Rochester.

Ann Johnson said, “We are talking about all those areas of qualities of life, from housing to health care, to employment to education, which were the things that were part of the problem 50 years ago.”

Former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson agrees.

Bill Johnson said, “We see these disturbing reports, like the report that was put up a few months ago, that said that New York and Rochester had some of the most segregated schools in the nation. I find that ironic because I’m a southerner and my hometown of Virginia is more open and diverse than Rochester is today.”

New York State Assemblyman David Gantt says something needs to change. “The rich make their money, but still give the little guy over there so he can take care of his family. You say the reason they are not learning is because they are living in poverty. Well how the hell can they get out of poverty unless you give them a job?”

James Norman, the CEO and President of ABC, or Action for a Better Community, which was born out of the riots says many are frustrated.

Norman said, “I think there's a lack of hope these days, a resignation that things aren't going to get any better.”

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