Stonewall Moments in the African American Community

By: Evelyn Bailey

In the month after Rochester Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, Shoulders To Stand On will recognize members of the African American community that lived their Stonewall moments before and after 1969 and helped to shape the legacy of Frederick Douglass.  What is a Stonewall Moment? A moment in time when you raise your voice to resist discrimination, oppression and prejudice. When you are empowered to move beyond these barriers to take your rightful place in today’s society with dignity and respect.   

The Rochester community has always been part of a region that has been a powerful voice for dignity and civil rights: a region built on the quest of people seeking to better their lives with opportunities to express free thought, innovation, education and worship. Today, we “stand on the shoulders” of many heroes who made Rochester a city that celebrates diversity and has often set benchmarks for civil liberties throughout the nation. But, even as history is made, history remains fragile and can be quickly lost.

And so we remember.

The Rochester region is well-known for its ties to former slave, abolitionist, orator, and publisher Frederick Douglass, who made his home here in Rochester from 1847 to 1872. Aside from its well-deserved place in abolitionist history, however, Rochester has a rich and varied past that is alive with stories of notable African-American citizens who helped contribute to a more progressive way of thinking not only in Rochester, but in Western New York and the state as a whole. There is Asa Dunbar, said to be the first African-American settler, who cleared land for his farm in Irondequoit (near present-day Winton Road North) in 1795. Austin Steward, a runaway slave who came to Rochester in 1816 and opened his own meat market on what is now West Main Street. Frank Stewart, who started the first African-American baseball team in 1866, called the Unexpected. (Frederick Douglass’s son Charles is rumored to have been a member.) Activist Hester C. Jeffrey came to Rochester in 1891 and founded a number of local African-American women’s clubs, including the Susan B. Anthony Club for Colored Women.  Isabella Dorsey incorporated the Dorsey Home for Dependent Colored Children in 1917. Dr. Charles T. Lunsford, Rochester’s first licensed African-American physician, opened his private practice at 574 Clarissa Street in 1921. The following year, Dr. Van Tuly Levy became the first licensed African-American dentist in Rochester. The city’s first African-American architect, Thomas Boyde, Jr., joined the Siegmund Firestone Architectural Firm in 1930. Boyde was the chief architect for the Monroe Community Home and Infirmary and contributed to the design of the Rundel Memorial Library, the Great Lake Press Building, and the Strathallan, to name a few. In 1931, Beatrice Amaza Howard earned the distinction of being the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Rochester. Howard Coles, who founded the Frederick Douglass Voice newspaper in 1934, was a noted historian, journalist, activist, and expert on the writings of Frederick Douglass. In 1948, Charles Henry Price became the first 

Roc. African-Americans CC20162 African-American member of the Rochester Police Department.  Price became the first African-American captain in the department 30 years later. Kathryn Green Hawkins, the first African-American woman in the Rochester Police Department in 1956, was promoted to lieutenant in 1964. Dr. Freddie Thomas, scientist, inventor, biologist, and scholar, moved to Rochester in 1952 and is known for his pioneering research in genetics and plastic surgery at the University of Rochester.Internationally renowned, Tony Award-winning choreographer Garth Fagan moved to Rochester in 1970. He still resides in Rochester, serving as Artistic Director and President of Garth Fagan Dance.(Sources: Rochester History(various issues); African-American Who’s Who, Past & Present, Greater Rochester Area, 1998.)  Excerpted from Rochester’s African-American History, Research Guide, Central Library of Rochester, and Monroe County.

These are only a few of the many unique individuals in Rochester’s African American history who helped contribute not only to Rochester’s growth as a city, but also to its reputation in the advancement of science, technology, scholarship, the arts and its struggle for equality and justice for all. 

Shoulders to Stand On is proud of these African American Rochester citizens, and invites the Rochester community to provide the Shoulders to Stand On Program with information, stories, names and anecdotes about African American individuals, groups, organizations, and agencies that participated in the Gay Liberation Movement before and after Stonewall.  These individuals were and continue to be involved in the Rochester LGBTQ’s community struggle for justice, equality, and basic human rights. Their contributions are important and need to be documented to make Rochester’s history and the history of Gay Rigts in Rochester inclusive and more complete. Please contact Evelyn Bailey at evelynb@outalliance.com with any information about the African American community’s involvement in the Gay Liberation Movement in Rochester.  

As the end of summer approaches don’t forget Rochester Black Pride Retro September 4 – 8, 2019.  For more information go to: https://www.rocblackpride.com/.

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