Black activist group from the 1960s has long lasting impact on Rochester

Black History Month

In the early 1960s, Rochester liked to boast that it was a city on the rise.

The city itself had lots of jobs. But the Black community was left out. At the time, young men like Nathaniel Wise told the story to anyone who would listen.

“They feel like they’re being mistreated, only because of jobs and houses and education and they want better opportunities for these things,” Wise said in a television interview during the time.

But July of 1964, the frustration erupted into civil unrest. Three days of disorder that brought the city’s third ward to its knees and the National Guard to city streets.

From the rubble, sprouted a group called Fight.

Through the rest of the 60s, Fight put pressure on the city’s largest employer to increase minority hiring at entry level and in the boardroom. It took years, but Kodak finally succumbed.

Then in 1969, Fight dew huge crowds when it opened a company called Fight On — the nation’s first Black-run community development corporation — formed in partnership with Xerox. It was the brainchild of Minister Franklin Florence.

“We’re now on the road to true independence. Fight On means that blacks can now have cooperative identities. It is truly an historical achievement.”

FIGHT-On was renamed Eltrex. By the late 1990s, it had become a conglomerate employing hundreds. In the aftermath of the recession a decade later, its assets were sold to canon industries. But all of its employees transitioned to canon.

“We demand that the city race commission take immediate action to establish more jobs for Blacks in Rochester.”

For much of the 60s, unemployment in Rochester was less than 2% but for unskilled Black workers, it was 25%.

Fight helped change that and though its now gone, it will forever be known for its role in the fight for racial justice in Rochester.

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