Rochester's Roots: What happened to the Rochester NAACP?

February 07, 2019 10:23 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC)-  Throughout National Black History Month, News10NBC is focusing on the part that African-Americans have played in Rochester's roots.

The NAACP had been a Rochester institution, launching here only 10 years after the national chapter began in 1909. But in recent years, the local chapter went silent. News10NBC wanted to learn why.


"The educated black community has failed in its responsibility," Dr. Walter Cooper, Ph, D. said. 

When Cooper came to Rochester to attend graduate school in the 1950s, he says the Rochester chapter of the NAACP that was located on the University of Rochester's campus was dynamic.

Nearly 60 years have gone by and the NAACP is not even a mention in Rochester. 

"We have probably 25, 26 lawyers in this community but we don't have an NAACP," Cooper said. 

Some recent events have prompted people in this community to ask, where are Rochester's African-American leaders and the NAACP?

"There's no organized structure though...I fault our only unique institution...if you look at civil rights nationally and locally, you had ministers who were active," Cooper said, referring to the black church leaders.

The NAACP is unique in that it provides legal assistance to victims, thanks to lawyers within the black community.

Edwin Goolsby was the last official president of the local chapter around 2011. He told News10NBC he became ill and then injured in a car accident and couldn't find anyone willing to take over.

"We are inundated with calls here by people looking for some type of legal advice and legal counsel, " Rev. Lewis Stewart, who heads the United Christian Leadership Ministry, said. 

He says he would welcome a partnership with an NAACP chapter, but he wonders if the 110-year-old civil rights organization is still relevant.

That's exactly what Courtney Thomas, Jr. hopes to accomplish.  

The recent University of Rochester graduate and city council legislative aide has his eye on starting a new NAACP chapter. Thomas says he thinks the key to a new chapter's success is diversity.

"Essentially, the historic name is for the advancement of colored people," Thomas said. "It's such a household name, you can't change it. Everybody knows it as the NAACP...but if I could, I would redefine it to say all marginalized people." 

For more information on the Rochester NAACP, click here.


Lynette Adams

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