Clarissa Uprooted exhibit celebrates history and legacy of once-thriving Rochester neighborhood

Exhibit showcases the legacy of Clarissa Street

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Nothing but good times!  That’s how the legacy of Clarissa Street was celebrated Wednesday night.

The unveiling of the grand reopening of the exhibit “Clarissa Uprooted” took place at the Rochester Public Library. It tells the stories of Clarissa Street, a thriving Black-owned business and residential corridor during the 1940s to early 1970s before urban renewal took place.

Many African-American families lived in the neighborhood, owned businesses, employed many in the community and created good times through music. They also looked out for one another’s kids. Then urban renewal happened in the ’60s and ’70s, including building I-490 through downtown — and although it destroyed the neighborhood, it didn’t erase its history.

The night was filled with good vibes, good eats and great culture. Many reminisced, rejoiced and reflected on the good ole days on Clarissa Street.

Marsha Augustin: How old were you there?
Jean Harris: I started marching when I was 6.
Jean Harris: I was in Scotty’s drum corps, and I also marched with the Elks drum corps.

Those were the days.

Harris lived with her family in a four-family house on Garden and Clarissa streets. There were over 10,000 residents and a hundred successful businesses from cleaners to a jazz club to restaurants. However, things changed.

“I loved Clarissa Street. I was very hurt people, moving out and everything. We were told that the urban renewal was going to come through. I just cried why, why, did they take our homes,” Harris said.

It left the neighborhood destroyed, and left families with no choice but to move.

Wednesday night, the grand reopening of the Clarissa Uprooted exhibit, presented by Clarissa Street Legacy and Teen Empowerment Rochester, offered the living history about Clarissa Street through pictures, music and community.

Local leaders and business owners, along with hundreds of people, packed the exhibit to celebrate the work that youth and elders have created to shine a light on Rochester’s hidden history.

“This should’ve never been forgotten. It should’ve never been uprooted — but it was and it’s so important because it’s a vital part of American history,” said LaShay Harris, vice president of Rochester City Council.

Pictures of people and prominent businesses from the heyday of Clarissa Street filled the walls of the exhibit.

George Fontenette took a trip down memory lane, explaining what it meant to him to see the five businesses his grandparents owned on Clarissa Street on the walls of the exhibit.

“I’m so grateful that this project came about, to educate more people about what was going on in the Rochester area,” he said.

The Clarissa Uprooted exhibit is open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Rochester Public Library during the afternoon hours through the end of the year.