The Humanities Project

Inequality, Race, and Rebellion:
Rochester '64 and Ferguson '14


Event Poster
Event Poster

In July 1964, the city of Rochester faced three days of urban unrest, alternatively understood as riots or rebellion, which escalated after police attempted to arrest a 19-year-old African-American boy at a block party. A curfew was instituted, allegations of police brutality were leveled, and the national guard was called in for the first time in a northern city. Almost exactly fifty years later, as the city of Rochester concluded a month of official commemorative events and the legacy of the riots remained marked on the landscape, the country watched as urban unrest unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the police killing of an unarmed 18-year-old African American boy, Michael Brown. Again, the national media descended, the national guard was called, and hundreds of protestors were arrested. Both events, separated by 800 miles and 50 years, raise ongoing questions about racial inequality, urban space, police force and militarization, and the role of media in shaping political protest. This symposium will explore continuities and discontinuities between the two contexts, asking how reflections on Rochester in 1964 can help us understand the unfolding situation in Ferguson in 2014-which, also symbolically, is fifty years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, and during the supposedly "post-racial" Obama era.

The panel discussion will address the following themes:

  • What is the role of the media in shaping the narrative framing of events, along lines of race, class, and gender in particular?
  • What is the role of public history in thinking about these events, past and present?
  • How can we think about the ongoing racialized dynamics of "crime", policing, and space in Rochester and America's cities, 50 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act?
  • How can we think about the ongoing militarization of the police, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial complex, in Rochester and elsewhere?