Rochester civil rights icon Rev. Franklin Florence dies

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Rev. Franklin Florence was a civil rights pioneer who literally changed the face of Rochester and much of corporate America.

He died early Morning at the age of 89. Rev. Florence believed his spiritual commission was not only to prepare souls for the next life, but also work for the betterment of Blacks during this life. And his son believes his death on the first day of Black History Month is a divine call to continue his work.

With a name like Franklin Delano Roosevelt Florence, his ability to inspire change seemed to be ordained from birth. And the Rochester pastor believed his call to serve God and his work for equality were one in the same.

“And I think that’s what fueled his passion is that how can one claim to be an evangelist or a Christian and see all of the injustice and stay behind the walls? He thought it was very important to get among the people,” said Rev. Clifford Florence, Franklin Florence’s son.

Following the Rochester riots of 1964, he led the organization F.I.G.H.T, which stands for Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today. He took on corporate giants like Bausch and Lomb, Xerox, and Kodak, forcing them to confront discrimination in their ranks. The Xerox CEO, Joe Wilson quickly came on board, vowing to provide jobs and training for Blacks.

“Joe Wilson came down with the limousine on Prospect Street, to come in to see him [Franklin Florence] and talk about what he could do,” said Clifford.

But Kodak wouldn’t bend. Florence was formidable – picketing shareholder meetings, taking the corporate giant to court, embarrassing Kodak on a national stage. And that finally brought Kodak leadership to the negotiating table with a promise to train and hire more African-Americans. His son says it was his uncanny ability to connect, communicate and organize.

“In this community, if there was an issue that he wanted to champion, he’d have 1,200 people at your door,” said Clifford.

But being a change agent does not come without its challenges, both for Florence and his three sons.

“Many times, my brothers, we had to be escorted to school,” said Clifford.

That was because of the racist threats against the family.

Today, the fight continues. At F.I.G.H.T village they provide GED and digital literacy classes as well as affordable housing. And Rev. Florence’s executive assistant says the work will continue.

“One thing he said to me the last time I saw him was Willie, fight for F.I.G.H.T.”

It’s a fight that continues from the village and from the pulpit. For 54 years Rev. Clifford Florence has pastored beside his father. Now he’ll be alone. But Clifford argues he’s far from alone.

“I have the lord with me. I have a great opportunity. And we believe at Central that everybody can be great because everybody can serve,” he said.

And serve they will, just like the man who taught them.

Clifford says in lieu of flowers, his father would want money to go toward his missions. You can donate to his church, Central Church of Christ by clicking here.