Seminole Way in Brighton and the era of racial covenants

Seminole Way in Brighton and the era of racial covenants

[Intersection of Seminole Way and Sylvan Road]

As seen in (Un) Writing an old wrong in Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood , in the summer of 2020, the residents of Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood voted to expunge racial covenants existing on deeds for decades. While not always explicitly stated, the covenant deeds were designed to prevent Blacks, Jews and Italians from living in Meadowbrook, then a neighborhood developed by Eastman Kodak to provide housing for some of its employees.

As the restrictions have not been enforced for many years, the signing of the petition was largely symbolic — but highly laudable. My mother, Carol Kramer, signed.

9/27/20 Carol Kramer, in green pants, signing the indenture. [Photo David Kramer] See (Un) Writing an old wrong in Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood  and CORD: Confronting our Racist Deeds

The other day, I was at the Brighton Memorial Library and passed Seminole Way, a nearby street in the Roselawn neighborhood.

(left) Intersection of Seminole Way and Elmwood Avenue; (right) Intersection of South St. Regis Drive and Monroe Avenue.

Seminole Way piqued my interest for several reasons. First, while our western New York landmarks are frequently named after Native American tribes, for the most part those tribes are or were local. Brighton has a Delaware Road off Crittenden, although it is unclear if the road is named after the Delaware nation who lived in present day lower New York.

In contrast, the Seminoles developed in Florida, and after fighting fiercely in three wars to maintain their traditional way of life, most Seminoles were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma.

The Haudenosaunee Trail in Brighton Town Park, used by Native Americans for hundreds of years. David Kramer holding a Native American Dream Catcher [from Carol Kramer’s collection; photo Leslie Kramer]. See Living the Native American way of being at Haudenosaunee Days at the RMSC

More so, I was struck by the historical irony. Like Meadowbrook, although not as stringent, the deeds of Roselawn contained racial, religious and ethnic covenants.  Hence, I doubt Seminoles would have been welcomed on the street named after their tribe (nor any Native Americans at that time).

I spoke with Matthew Bashore, Adult Services Manager at the library and a past president of Historic Brighton, which publishes the Historic Brighton journal several times a year.  Matt shared his research on Roselawn which, apparently, allowed Italian and Jewish Americans before Meadowbrook did.

Attached is a copy of the Roselawn (or Rose Lawn if you prefer) deed restrictions. The race covenant is under article #26, and says “undesirable race or character,” but does not point out specifically which race (or character) these are. Some other Brighton neighborhoods’ deed restrictions specify.

Roselawn deed restrictions, 1919. Provided by Matthew Bashore, BML Adult Services Manager and past president of Historic Brighton.

The earliest street directory for the neighborhood I can find is 1930. It contains the following names, which likely indicate that Italian Americans and Jewish Americans were residents of Roselawn:

Harry Ross, Moe Cohen, Enzio Cantarano, Sol Leffert, Nunzio Cerniglia & Vito Danelo (who lived at #15 Seminole)

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 9/1/29 “Roselawn,” a step from Elmwood Avenue and beautiful new Eastman development. Improvements under way and contemplated in immediate locality as an assurance of increase in value. Note the advertisement is a little slippery. In a quick glance, the reader might think Seminole Way is in the tonier Eastman development, but actually it is adjacent.

96 Seminole Way

Since Seminole Way was probably named in 1917 or 18, and Florida State University’s athletics department teams were not named the Seminoles until the 1940’s, I don’t think the developer was an FSU fan.

We will never know why the developer named the Way after a Southeastern Native American tribe, although presumably the name was chosen for its appeal and salability — even if no Seminole could live there when the street was named in 1917 or 1918.

A reader of the Democrat and Chronicle in 1917 would encounter conflicting representations of the Seminole.  On the one hand, an article on land development in Florida characterized the Seminoles as “semi-savage” if not akin to alligators.  Another piece, a young adult short story about Florida boys fighting the Seminoles in 1836, uses imagery reinforcing the trope of the semi-savage.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, (left) September 27, 1917; (right) June 24, 1917

On the other hand, in 1917 following race riots in East St. Louis, the film The Bar Sinister was screened in Rochester. As seen in the notice, the film is applauded for its vision of the “spiritual equality” extended to all races — an “impressive argument and demonstration against race prejudice.”

Democrat and Chronicle, July 12, 1917

The Seminole character is depicted positively:

The strongly appealing impersonation of the giant Seminole Indian, gentle usually, but fierce, when rights are imperiled, given by Mitchell Lewis, is so sincere and natural that it does much to drive the lesson home.

The era of racial covenants was more than unfortunate. Nonetheless, perhaps we can imagine the developer saw The Bar Sinister in 1917 at the Avon, and made his own statement about prejudice and oppression.



(Un) Writing an old wrong in Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood and a look back at B.H.S. in the late 70’s and early 80’s

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


  1. Richard BORISOFF

    You really caught my eye. I lived until 1956, when I was 10 years old, on the corner of Sylvan and Seminole,, exactly where the sign you show non your article stands. 277 Sylvan Road. I never knew about any restrictive covenants and my parents never mentioned them to me.


      Richard, I didn’t know about the restrictive deeds until summer 2020. Glad we have gotten rid of them. Sylvan Rd. must have been a nice place to grow up — a hop, skip, and a jump from the library and the town hall. David


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