September 15, 2013
Over the past year, Rochesterians have engaged in serious debates on how to bridge racial divides, as seen in the RMSC’s groundbreaking exhibit on race and laudable initiatives such as RocUnite.
As the dialogue moves forward, it is worthwhile to look back at another time when Rochester tried to draw the races together.
In the 60′s and 70′s, Rochester, like other Northeast cities, faced deep racial inequality and widespread segregation. One avenue of change was school integration. To advocates, school integration was more than equal education, but one element in a racially just society.
Beginning about 1963, spearheaded by Superintendent Herman R. Goldberg, the RCSD tried various voluntary approaches to integration. Ultimately, they were only partially successful at best. Finally, in 1971 the Board mandated compulsory busing as a means to achieve racial balance in the schools.
Alas, the plan failed and was short lived. The white population reacted with hostility and often undisguised racial antipathy. At the same time, many in the black community rejected busing in preference to keeping students in their own neighborhood schools. By Fall 1972, the schools had largely reverted to their traditional racial makeups. It seemed that Rochester was not yet ready to cross those racial divides together.
Most tragically, 1971 saw outbursts of violence throughout the schools as students were transferred between predominantly white and predominantly black schools (as seen in the news clippings).
I am too young to recall 1971. But for those of you old enough, what do you remember? What are your lasting impressions about the racial confrontations in the schools? How did 1971 shape your attitudes towards integrated schools and communities? Is Rochester more or less divided 40 years later?
Also, below is a comprehensive account of the disturbances taken from Lou Buttino and Mark Hare’s indispensable history of the time period, The Remaking of a City, Rochester, New York 1964-1984.
Violence in the schools had been on the rise since the spring of 1970. Scattered fights, and occasional melees, plagued the schools in June that year.
In June 1971, the violence intensified. All schools were closed on June 16, 1971, after fights and other disturbances at Charlotte, Madison, and West High Schools. A confrontation between about one hundred White students and an equal number of Black students resulted in a chair-throwing fight in the cafeteria at East High on June 21 in which ten students were injured. False fire alarms and scattered fights disrupted classes for two days at East and for several days at Monroe High School.
Then, following the smooth opening of schools in September 1971, violence between the races again broke out. On October 1, 1971, twenty students were injured in massive disturbances at Charlotte and Franklin High Schools. Franklin closed for a day, then reopened. Charlotte remained open.
Fights, false alarms, and bottle-and-rock throwing confrontations between gangs of Blacks and Whites occurred sporadically for a week. By October 31, police had made 34 arrests resulting from investigations of 354 reports of school-related crimes since the start of the year. One-third of the reports involved assault. Most of the violence arose from the newly created junior high schools at Charlotte, Monroe, and Franklin. The most violent of the incidents occurred on June 19, 1972, when twenty-five students and two teachers were beaten during a rampage by youth at Charlotte Junior High which cause about $9,000 in property damage. Thirty students were charge in the incident and suspended.”
Today, integration in the RCSD is not really an issue as it demographically unfeasible. Nonetheless, we may learn much from the tumultuous year of 1971 as we continue our journey towards a united Rochester.