50 Years after 1964: Still Agitating

Racial Justice report

By Pat Mannix

It was a hot July Friday night with a street dance on Nassau St. near Joseph Ave. Police were called to arrest an intoxicated partier there. Several youth confronted them and were also arrested. Then rumors of a police dog biting a child became the match that lit the tinder. The violence escalated and continued over the weekend. By Monday morning, 350 people, including 35 police, had been injured, and four were dead. Over 800 had been arrested. Property damage was estimated at more than $1 million. It was 1964, and Rochester was in a state of shock.

White city leaders and residents in both the city and county did not see the signs that this bonfire of rebellion was building. With the recent diaspora of Southern blacks to Rochester, conditions of unemployment and substandard housing combined with growing prejudice and segregation created a climate that was just waiting to ignite.

In the aftermath groups formed to address the underlying problems. FIGHT, Friends of FIGHT (Metro Justice), and Action for a Better Community (ABC) continue to this day.

Let's re-examine the statistics to measure the progress we have made since 1964. In a report issued this year by ACT Rochester, Rochester can now claim the title of second poorest in the country among comparably sized cities, with 50.4% of households led by a single mother living in poverty. The current state minimum wage of $8 per hour is below both the living wage rate of $28.14 for one adult and two children and even below the poverty rate of $8.80 in our area. In education, we have the worst performing urban district in the entire state; this year the district posted a graduation rate of 43%, the state's lowest. And whatever the statistic, people of color always fare the worst across the board.

So, it's July again, 50 years later. Conditions have not improved for most. Indeed, many who were living a lower middle class life no longer are. The heat and humidity are here once again. Is the handwriting on the wall? Are we reading it?

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