Franklin Florence Papers
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Florence came to Rochester, NY, from the segregated south as a young preacher in 1959. He was born August 9, 1933 in Miami Florida to Hozel and Bertha Florence. At age 16, Florence was drawn to the ministry by the influential Church of Christ evangelist Marshall Keeble. Florence attended Nashville Christian Institute from 1948-1952, a black elementary and secondary school affiliated with the Church of Christ where he met Mary, his future wife. He attended Pepperdine College in Los Angeles (also affiliated with the Church of Christ) but dropped out after 2 years. He returned to Florida and was ordained a minister in West Palm Beach where he became the pastor of the 18th Street Church of Christ. At the age of 25, Florence was recruited to become the pastor of the Reynolds Street Church of Christ in Rochester, NY, where he moved with his wife and children.
During the 1960s Florence emerged as a prominant civil rights leader and advocate of black power. In the early '60s Florence developed a friendship with Malcolm X who spoke in Rochester shortly before his assassination. In response to the Rochester race riots of July 1964, The Board of Urban Ministry (BUM) a group of local Protestant clergy, began encouraging black religious leaders to organize their community. The ministers originally invited the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to come to Rochester to initiate a campaign. After sending delegates to Rochester to appraise the situation the SCLC declined the invitation but recommended that the Board turn to the Chicago based Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and its "radical" leader Saul Alinsky.
The bid to bring Alinsky to Rochester was met with fierce opposition by many. In the midst of the controversy Alinsky sent two of his associates, Ed Chambers and Ron Jones, to the Flower City to begin to organize the Black community. Florence was chosen to head the steering committee of the newly formed community based black activist organization that was given the name FIGHT; an acronym for Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today (the "I" was changed in 1967 to stand for "Independence"). For Alinsky, it was paramount that communities organize themselves. He remained in the background in the role of consultant and white liberals interested in the civil rights movement in Rochester were asked to step aside and allow blacks to speak for themselves. These white activists formed Friends of FIGHT (later to become Metro Act) which developed alongside FIGHT as a separate organization. Florence was formally elected president of FIGHT at the first annual FIGHT convention in June 1965. He held the presidency from 1965-1967 and again in 1968.
Rochester's urban problems were typical of many northern cities which experienced a rapid immigration of blacks from the south between 1950 and 1970. As white residents and businesses moved to the suburbs, inner city blacks faced high unemployment, poor housing and substandard schools. FIGHT's mission was to address this defacto segregation and the social problems that resulted from it. FIGHT pledged to train unskilled blacks and move them into the prosperous Rochester economy, to develop and renew urban neighborhoods, to create quality education and, perhaps most importantly, to develop political activism and community participation amongst poor urban blacks. For example, FIGHT insisted that there be greater black representation in other anti-poverty agencies like the city controlled Action for a Better Community (ABC). While these platforms put Florence and his organization into the Rochester news it wasn't until FIGHT took on Rochester's largest employer, the Eastman Kodak Company, in 1966 that Florence and his organization were brought into the national limelight.
As part of FIGHT's ongoing effort to expand employment opportunities for urban blacks, the organization demanded that Kodak implement a job training program and hire 500-600 newly trained black Rochester residents as part of their workforce. These demands triggered a two year controversy between FIGHT and Kodak. The FIGHT campaign was a significant attempt to challenge rooted patterns of institutional and economic discrimination in the north, during a critical period of transition and reassessment for 'the movement' nationally. The FIGHT crusade against Kodak represented an attempt to expand the notion of civil rights in the wake of national legislation ending dejure segregation in 1964 and '65. The campaign is well documented in these papers. Kodak and FIGHT eventually reached an agreement in the summer of 1967 and in the interim, Rochester Jobs Incorporated (RJI) was formed with Florence as vice-president. RJI, formed by a group of interdenominational clergymen in March 1967, aimed to connect unskilled workers with training and jobs. It was intended to diffuse the FIGHT-Kodak controversy. While RJI did not do this, the organization was successful in placing over 700 people in jobs within 8 months of its creation.
While Florence lost the presidency of FIGHT in 1969 to Bernard Gifford, the controversial social and political activist remained a force to be reckoned with in Rochester. Along with his continued participation in FIGHT, Florence was involved with the Rochester anti-poverty agency ABC and The Rochester Northeast Development Corporation (RNED). His papers chronicle these and other political endeavors. The collection is arranged thematically, beginning with Florence's papers from the Reynolds Street Church of Christ. Following these are documents from FIGHT, primarily those of the early years when Florence was in power. Documents from the conventions and steering meetings as well as the specific FIGHT campaigns are included. Also included are Florence's records of FIGHTON the Black owned and operated metal stamping plant that came about through the planning of FIGHT, Xerox, and the Rochester Business Opportunities Corporation (RBOC).
Following Florence's FIGHT papers are materials concerning ABC, incorporated in December, 1964 to effectuate the Federal Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. A large portion of the agency's funding came from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity which allocated money through the state. During its early years, Florence and FIGHT blasted ABC on the grounds that it failed to represent Rochester's poorest citizens. By 1966, Minister Florence was on the Board of Directors as well as participating in two of ABC's committees. Over the years, FIGHT and ABC would come to work together on various campaigns.
Following Minister Florence's papers concerning ABC are papers from RJI. Readers will find references in this section to the Concentrated Employment Program, (CEP), ABC, and Operation Mainstream. CEP was a federally funded program sponsered by RJI. The New Careers Program, a component of CEP was subcontracted to ABC. CEP was the parent organization for Operation Mainstream which provided in part, the funding for FIGHTON.
The last major section of the collection are papers concerned with the Model Cities Program and the Rochester Northeast Development Corporation (RNED). The Model Cities Program was a federally funded operation to revive selected neighborhoods in various US cities. In 1968 Rochester had three proposed Model Cities projects. FIGHT announced it would block the Model Cities program unless it had control of the planning process. FIGHT elected a Model Cities Board that they claimed represented the poor in the three city wards targeted by the program.
RNED arose out of the desire for meaningful citizen participation in the Model Cities Program. In order to ensure an equal partnership between the City of Rochester and the Model Neighborhood Council, 36 voting members of the council formed RNED as an advocacy group for the council. RNED was incorporated August 6, 1969. Minister Florence became its executive director the following year. As well as addressing housing issues, RNED became involved in various education campaigns including the federally funded Talent Search program.
Following the RNED documents are papers from UNITED Incorporated, a consulting firm set up by Minister Florence and Ron Jones, one of Alinsky's original organizers in Rochester and a man active in RNED as well.
In 1972 Florence ran for State Assembly for the Liberal Party. There is a small folder on this unsuccessful endeavor.
Minister Florence's papers contain a large number of publications from various organizations around the country as well as articles from magazines and journals reflecting his interest and involvement in race relations, poverty, urban development and other social justice issues. These are arranged thematically with folders concerning race relations and civil rights followed by specific issues such as the war in Vietnam and the uprising at Attica State Prison. Florence was active on the Observer Committee as a negotiater following the Attica uprising. He was said to have delivered one of his most effective speeches while being held with other observers in the compound.
The collection is divided into two parts: church and social activism. This, however, is a somewhat artificial division. Clearly, Florence and other Rochester Ministers saw their role as clergymen as requiring them to be involved in social justice issues. Florence's Reynolds Street congregation became divided over Florence's outspoken and controversial role in FIGHT and ousted him as their pastor in 1970. Florence and several dozen followers went on to establish the Central Church of Christ (on Plymouth Avenue since 1974) where he is still the minister today (1998).
The user of the collection will find a scattering of sermons, speeches, press releases and personal correspondence written by Minister Florence. The majority of the collection, however, consists of official agency correspondence, budgets, and proposals. Much of the material has been photocopied due to water and mold damage. Originals have been kept wherever possible.
Franklin Florence Papers (D.167):