• The Rochesterian in Your Inbox:

    Join 624 other subscribers









As the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Rochester race riot approaches, there will be many news stories and events reflecting on what happened. Here’s a summary from the Monroe County library website:

Rochester, New York, is a city known for its tolerance and forward thinking concerning the civil rights of all individuals. In the 1800s, leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony championed the rights of African Americans and women from the environs of our town, setting the stage for the twentieth century. Yet despite efforts for social justice, persistent discrimination in areas like employment and housing institutionalized inequality in the city and throughout the nation. Racial tension between African Americans and whites mounted in many urban areas, sometimes culminating in full-scale riots like those that gripped Rochester in July 1964. 

Rochester’s race riots began the night of July 24, 1964, at a street dance held on Nassau Street between Joseph Avenue and Joiner Street. City policemen with dogs arrested a young man, eliciting protest from onlookers. The situation escalated and by 3 o’clock the following morning the city had declared a state of emergency. While most of the violence, looting, and vandalism affected the city’s northeast neighborhood in the 7th Ward, sporadic rioting also broke out in the 3rd Ward southwest of downtown and spread to the 5th Ward around Central Park. State police and, later, the National Guard joined city and county efforts to quell the unrest. On July 26, law enforcement brought the rioting under control. By August 3, the Guard and state police had withdrawn and city police returned to normal operations. 

In addition to the debris and property damage left in the wake of the riots, hundreds of people were arrested. Five people were killed; four of the deaths resulted from a helicopter crash near Clarissa Street. From this upheaval grew community organizations such as the Urban League of Rochester and FIGHT (Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today), which advocated for change in hiring practices, urban renewal, and additional measures for equality and set the agenda for other northeast cities as well. 

Click here for a timeline of the riot.

Fifty years later, inequality persists. Our schools and neighborhoods are segregated by race and income. Some city ZIP codes have enormously high poverty and unemployment rates. Young black men have a higher chance of dropping out of school, becoming victims of homicides and going to prison. Suburban flight, the drug war and  a lagging economy have exacerbated the problems of the very neighborhoods were the riot took place.

Could such a riot happen again?

Despite the entrenched problems in poor neighborhoods, there has been a lot of progress in diversifying the police force and City Hall over the past half-century. There are strong neighborhood groups with a voice at City Hall, even in poor sections of the city. There are many agencies working hard to lift people out of poverty, provide more opportunities, keep an open dialogue and hold governments accountable. People of color now make up a majority of city residents.

Yet, a recent survey found more than half of non-white residents and residents of northeast Rochester, where the 1964 riot started, do not trust police. Also, the bleak statistics of life in challenged neighborhoods suggests many residents are as disenfranchised as residents were fifty years ago. Could that translate into a riot, or as Minister Franklin Florence calls it, a “rebellion?”

I don’t know.

(Click here to see a number of events marking the anniversary.)


Links of the Day:


– Whatever Congel and Golisano were planning in regards to the Bills, they’re not anymore. At least not together.

– Check out where Cuomo spends most of his time. (He went to Syracuse more than Rochester…)

– Buffalo will start ticketing Lyft drivers. (Rochester is taking a wait and see attitude.)

– Horrific violence fueled by drug trade threatens children of Honduras.

– There are states where you technically can’t hold public office if you’re an atheist.

– B.B. King struggled at the Syracuse Jazz Fest, but no one cared.


Tweet of the Day:


6 Responses to Fifty Years Later

  1. I remember it well. I lived in the Hudson -Norton Street area. I was 13. It was a riot. Why…..why not? What actually is inequality….not having the opportunity to succeed or not taking the initiative to succeed. A culture existed in these areas which were NOT consistent with the culture that existed in other areas. Poverty has nothing to do with acting in a depraved mannor. Sitting on your porch all day and night with a 40 oz and being told you are being oppressed by whitey creates this culture. I remember as a 12 yr old walking down Joseph Ave to the YMCA downtown to go swimming. I walked to save the 25 cent bus fare. I person of color came out of a bar and chased me down the street calling me racist names. Think of it, a grown man chasing and yelling at a white kid. Racism has always been big business. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or own locals as well, have become rich and famous by preaching about racism. No, it will NEVER change as long as it makes money. Today is proof…..50 years later and NOTHING has changed. Actually, something has changed. Today, the City Administration, School administrators, even the POTUS, Attorney General, numerous members of Congress are people of color. So why are we still talking about inequality of blacks…..you tell me.

  2. July 13, 2014 at 7:46 pm Ivan Ramos responds:

    just as disenfranchised at 50 years ago? wait, wait, what about the war on poverty? are we making headway or what? or is the war on poverty, like the war on drugs, a massive failure?

  3. July 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm Orielly responds:

    The 1964 Riot

    4 People were killed likely 100s injured
    Fair business owners who supported that area and its people for years lost everything… taken from them, their stores looted and burned. Most could never re-build.
    All citizens of the city Rochester, lost the right to free movement as a state of emergency and curfew was put in place for 3 nights.
    It cost taxpayers millions that had to be taken away from other uses.

    And Today we are “commemorating” the event and are spinning it with a different name .. a rebellion?

    Instead of commemorating it those involved should be ashamed of it. IT was directly opposite of the non-violent protest promoted by MLK in order to achieve more equal rights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *