Rochester Black Freedom Struggle -- Loma Allen

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Interview Subject: Loma Allen
Date(s) of interview(s): 8/7/2008
Interviewer: Laura Warren Hill

Mrs. Loma Allen, community activist and president of Baden Street Settlement at the time of the 1964 Rochester Race Riots, describes two pre-riot meetings called to alert community leaders of mounting unrest in response to living and working conditions in the Baden Street neighborhood. She discusses the purpose and programs of Baden Street Settlement, scattered housing in Rochester, and the early days of Rochester’s Urban League and Metro Act.

Transcription Policy

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has made every effort to transcribe the oral interviews as recorded. It is standard in transcriptions of oral histories to retain dialect, grammatical idiosyncrasies, and the natural rhythm of the spoken word. The transcript is meant to reflect verbal conversation as recorded rather than a polished written document. Our transcription policy adheres to this protocol. While each interviewee was asked to read and edit his/her interview transcript to ensure the proper spelling of people and places, all transcriptions retain their original wording. Any post-interview content additions or corrections are placed in footnotes. Occasional interviewee requests to remove selected passages have been honored, and the point of such removal has been designated. We believe this policy preserves the integrity and spontaneity of the original interview.


This set of oral history interviews was conducted beginning in 2008 by historian Laura Warren Hill in conjunction with her research project, "'Strike the Hammer While the Iron Is Hot': The Black Freedom Struggle in Rochester, NY, 1945-1975." Statements in these interviews are those of the interviewees alone, and in no way speak for the University of Rochester as a whole, or for individual members of the University community. The University accepts no responsibility for the content of these interviews


Transcription of Interview: 8/7/2008;

Laura Hill: I'm Laura Hill. I'm here with Mrs. Loma Allen. Today is August 7th, 2008, and we are in Mrs. Allen's apartment at Valley Manor, East Avenue, Rochester, New York. So, Mrs. Allen, to start, you want to share your story with me this morning.

Mrs. Allen:[1] Yes, because I don't think many people in Rochester know anything about it, that in the February of 1963, Mrs. Nancy Harris, who was the President of the Baden Street Board – and her husband was Joseph Harris, the seed man and garden supply person – called a meeting of about -- a luncheon -- of about twenty people that had some clout in the city of Rochester. The only people from the Baden Street Board who were there were myself – I happened to be vice president -- and a terrific black man from Kodak, called Bill Knox.  And he was a Ph. D. in their research department and he was also a vice president. And she had, well she got Chief Lombard, who was the Chief of Police.  She had representatives from Kodak, from Xerox, the television stations, the newspapers – any people she felt should know what was going on in the neighborhood.  And because the Board was – consisted not only of people from outside the Fifth  Ward, but also neighbors, we had a pretty clear idea of what was going on and she allowed as how there was a crisis that was mounting, based upon the fact that the housing situation was perfectly dreadful. People had slum lords who were not taking care of the houses.  The only public housing in the entire city was right next to the Baden Street Settlement. It was seven buildings, seven stories tall, on seven acres of ground. And it was a mess, because it was crowded, over-crowded and so forth. Jobs were scarce; nobody was hiring the young men in the neighborhood, and they were just getting very itchy, particularly after a lot of the things that were happening in Alabama and all over the country at that particular point. So, she wanted to alert the community, or the people in the community who had power, that this was going on and they should do something. There was representative from the mayor's office and so forth. Well, in the middle of the whole thing, a guy by the name of Herb[2]—wait — what was his name?.  He was the head of one of the big TV stations, I don't know which one. He got up, slammed his hat on his head and he said, "I don't know what crisis you're talking about," and walked out. She[3] left with her husband immediately after that meeting and went to the Caribbean on his vacation, which meant that I was the vice president in charge of Baden Street.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: Well, we got through that summer all right, by hook or by crook, but things still hadn't worked out. And black people were stopped, as they were driving their car. And we had a good man who was our assistant director, and they kept stopping him. When they found out that he was Assistant Director of Baden Street, there was no problem. They let him go, but it was harassment. So, time marches on. In 1964, I went, I made an appointment—oh, right after that, we got a scathing letter from this man who had walked out, and I got Tom Hope, who was a member of our board and a PR person at Kodak to help me write a letter to this man that was okay. So we got him out of the way.  Time marches on. Early July in 1964, I called Monty Dill[4]  at Kodak and said, "Monty, I need to have an appointment with you because things are getting pretty thick down here." So I had an appointment with Monty, and he said, "Oh, Loma, don't worry." I said, "Monty, please get the people busy and do something about this housing, harassment, and so forth and so on." "Oh, Loma, now don't get excited. I'll take care of everything." So I left him and he said, "Nothing's going to happen anyway." On a Friday night, late in that month, the mothers at Baden Street were having a picnic and it cost money for the people in the neighborhood to come because they were raising money to do something with the kids at Baden Street that they wanted to do.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: And right in the middle of the picnic, a drunk came along and he was absolutely obnoxious and he was raising so much Cain that they called the police to come and take him away. The police arrived with police dogs – [claps] we started the riots.

Laura Hill: Were you at the, at the event?

Mrs. Allen: No, no it was a neighborhood event.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm, okay.

Mrs. Allen: We, we didn't belong there at all. But the next morning, I woke up and heard over the radio as I was waking up, and it was a Friday morning I think. "Something absolutely unexpected and unknown in the city of Rochester happened last night. We had a riot." Nobody had ever heard of it.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: So, uh, and then it got over into the, oh the other ward – the Nineteenth Ward, over on the other side of town. Now, the interesting thing that happened during that—and of course, our staff was out working all the time—not one thing at Baden Street was hurt. There was a strip of shops along Joseph Avenue of all kinds. The ones that had been good to the neighbors were not touched; the other ones were trashed.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: It was fascinating. They knew exactly who to pick off. And the Governor called out the, oh what is it called?

Laura Hill: The National Guard.

Mrs. Allen: The National Guard and they all came in that next day. And I got right out and stayed away because I feared it was no place for me to be. Our staff was capable and they could handle everything. So that's the story that I have to tell. And it's a story that I don't think very many people in Rochester know -- that Rochester was put on the alert a whole year before the riots. Now, in the mean time, Mrs.—what's her name?—the current president who called that meeting,[5] she died in the Caribbean, so I automatically became president.

Laura Hill: I see.

Mrs. Allen: That's how that happened.

Laura Hill: I see.

Mrs. Allen: At a very interesting time.

Laura Hill: Yes, yes. So, if we could back up a little – what is the purpose of the Baden Street Settlement?

Mrs. Allen: Well, the main thing is to help the neighbors help themselves.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: And we have basketball programs for the kids and some good basketball players have come out of there. We try to get the young people involved in good things. We have parents groups. I don't know what they're doing now, because I haven't been there and, you know, it's so long ago. But I know, I was in New York one day walking down the avenue and Whitney Young, at that point, was the head of the National Urban League.

Laura Hill: Urban League, mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: And I knew him very well and so we walked down the avenue together. And he said – I said, "How are you doing, Whitney?" He said, "Well, I've got a man from the IRS literally sitting right outside of my office now, checking on how much political action I'm taking in order to see whether we should be a tax deductible agency or not." And he said, "I just came from Washington and it was overrun with people from settlements, and they were going in and out of their senators' offices and everything else." And he said, "They don't seem to be having any problem at all." And I said, "No, and you know why? Because we train our people how to put the pressure on the politicians and we stay out of it." And so, it was individuals that were down there doing their thing.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm, right.

Mrs. Allen: Now, I don't know whether they're still doing that or not. I have no idea.

Laura Hill: So the idea wasn't that Baden Street was a charity or an organization to—.

Mrs. Allen: Well, it was a 501-C3 organization supported by the then Community Chest. There was no United Way at that point.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: And, it was responsible for appearing before them saying this is the money we need and this is what we're doing and so forth.

Laura Hill: Did you feel beholden to the Community Chest?

Mrs. Allen: Uh, not particularly. We felt that they were more beholden to us, because of what we were doing.

Laura Hill: Okay. Did the money ever dry up?

Mrs. Allen: Not when I was around.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: Now, FIGHT came along and tried very hard to get us to join FIGHT, which would have been one of the worst things for it to have organizations belong rather than individuals.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: It would've absolutely tempered them. And we were accused at that point – and I had a board meeting, and some of our board wanted to join FIGHT and most of it, thank goodness, didn't want to. But, when we announced that we were not joining FIGHT, we were accused of having been pressured by the Community Chest and bless its little heart, it had never been in touch with us at all.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: We had made our own decision at our own time. And the sad part of Alinsky coming in and organizing FIGHT was that they would appoint people to positions of chairman of this committee and that committee and give them no training, so Baden Street was training all of the people who were in FIGHT for how to run a meeting, how to call a meeting and so forth and so on.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Why, um, why does Baden Street decide not to join? What was that meeting like?

Mrs. Allen: Well, it was an interesting meeting, but we decided not to join because we didn't feel that FIGHT should be an organization of organizations.

Laura Hill: What did you think it should be?

Mrs. Allen: An organization of individuals.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: See? And unfortunately Franklin Florence, bless his heart, did all the wrong things. And particularly when he marched to that annual meeting of Kodak in—

Laura Hill: Flemington.

Mrs. Allen: Flemington and had his gang there and they were going to raise hell, and when he was called on, he walked out, which must have relieved Kodak immensely, because he did have a story to tell. But Franklin was ineffective.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: I just felt that Alinsky should've found somebody else to be his man in Rochester, because when you've got somebody walking out and they're not saying anything, what's the matter with Kodak? Nothing. And they were discriminating at that point.

Laura Hill: Well, let's back up a little, because I think that's a very interesting insight into what was happening, and I want to sort of understand how these things took place. So, if you think back to 1963 when you would have been the vice president, there were a number of things happening around these issues of police brutality – not just harassment, but some brutality. There was the Rufus Fairwell case, there was the A.C. White case, and there was the case of the Muslims, the Black Muslims.

Mrs. Allen: That's right.

Laura Hill: What do you recall about all of that?

Mrs. Allen: Well, I remember, as far as the Black Muslims were concerned, after I found out what they stood for and what they believed in, I felt that they were a good bunch. And very misunderstood, and I still think it's the same thing today.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: I don't think things have changed that much.

Laura Hill: Right, right. So tell me about – how do folks at Baden Street respond to those cases? When something like that happens, how is that, um—.

Mrs. Allen: Well, I don't think that the organization responded; it was the people in the organization.

Laura Hill: That's what I'm interested in.

Mrs. Allen: The individuals, because at that point in time – and as I've said, I haven't the foggiest idea what's going on – we were interested in educating individuals in what they could have. For example, if they wanted something, they would go down to the mayor's office. I'd sneak in the back door of the mayor's office, and he'd get squeezed from both ends, but they would never know that I was in that back door. And um, and it worked. And, for example, Lena Gantt – now, David Gantt is one of our powerhouses in Albany.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure.

Mrs. Allen: And he was a naughty boy in the Baden Street days when I was there. And Lena just kept his nose to the grindstone and she really got a great deal of credit for making David what he is today.

Laura Hill: Now Lena is the mother or the wife?

Mrs. Allen: The mother.

Laura Hill: Has to be one or the other.

Mrs. Allen: David didn't have a wife. Never has had one.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: So anyway, I was with – we had our bunch down in Washington for one of our legislative sessions. Lena was down there, and I invited her up to my room after the session to have a Coca-Cola and chat, and she was sitting there and she said, "You know, they call me a community leader, but," she said, "I don't do anything." And I said, "Now wait a minute, Lena. People instinctively come to you with questions, problems." "Oh, they sure do." And I said, "What do you do with them?" She said, "I tell them where they can go to take care of those problems." "All right, and they go and they come back and they report to you." She said, "They certainly do." And I said, "That is a community leader." I said, "Whether you realize it or not, you are it."

Laura Hill: And so where were some of the places that they should go? Where did somebody like Mrs. Gantt send them?

Mrs. Allen: Well, she'd send them to welfare or to, uh, city hall, or you know. And she knew all the resources for anybody, the housing and everything. Now, one of the things that we did – and it kind of tickles me in a way – a few years later, and I was on the housing board, public housing board and everything, we put scattered housing all over this community.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: And I can go by places now and I kind of giggle, because I still don't think the neighbors know it's there.

Laura Hill: Tell me, tell me about scattered housing.

Mrs. Allen: Well, they – of course nobody liked the idea of getting those people out of the ghetto, all around the community.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: So, we had to do it very quietly, and we'd just buy up little parcels of land and build a double house on it. Now, Mrs. Harris, before she died – so that was before '63— was involved with a piece of land right over here, of—between Winton Road and I think it's still called Harris something-or-other. Between Winton Road and New Amsterdam or someplace, there's a housing project in there.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: And she worked really hard to get that in there.

Laura Hill: So one of the functions, then, of the Baden Street Settlement – at least the administration—was to work on these issues of housing.

Mrs. Allen: That's right. And the board members, from outside of the Fifth Ward became so aware of the problems that they were perfectly willing to take leadership and do things all around the community.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: So, it was a very interesting time.

Laura Hill: If we could return to this issue of the relationship between the Baden Street Settlement and the community – I was asking about the police brutality cases because I understand that there was a very big meeting that took place at Baden Street in 1963, surrounding those issues of brutality. Malcolm X was actually one of the members in the audience at that meeting. Do you happen to recall it?

Mrs. Allen: No, because that was called by our staff.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: And we kept out of the staff's prerogative. We were told about things, but we weren't involved.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: So, I don't know what happened at that meeting. But you see, that's – I've often said that a good settlement house is the radar system for the whole community. And if today you wanted to know what was going on, head down there and find out, because their people are involved.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: It's all very, very interesting, but I'm so far out of it now, that I wouldn't know.

Laura Hill: Yeah. Tell me what your, um – give me some more background on the functioning of the settlement house. You have a staff and you are the president, you are some form of administration – tell me how decisions get made between those two groups.

Mrs. Allen: Well, like in any good, um, community organization, the board sets policy and the staff carries it out. And if the board says go ahead and get everybody in the community involved, that's up to them. I mean, they have perfect freedom to do it, and our staff, in calling that meeting, had perfect right to do it because they knew that the board stood behind them as far as the community was concerned.

Laura Hill: Were there ever times when the board wasn't behind them?  When the board had to reprimand them or pull the staff back a little?

Mrs. Allen: I don't think so. We did have one staff member – and as a matter of fact, he was the executive, whose name I can't even remember at this point, and he reached the point where he was locking himself in his own office. And we realized that he was not simpatico with what was going on and so forth, so we got rid of him.

Laura Hill: He was administration?

Mrs. Allen: Yeah.

Laura Hill: Art Ferrell?

Mrs. Allen: No, Art was a good man.

Laura Hill: Tell me about Art Ferrell.

Mrs. Allen: Well, Art Ferrell was the assistant director and he was the one they kept stopping. Then when they found out that he was with Baden Street, they'd let him go.

Laura Hill: I see, I see. Art Ferrell is a black man, I didn't realize.

Mrs. Allen: Well, he certainly was, and a wonderful guy and had a darling wife, and you know, he was a good person. So anyway, we got rid of—.  Between Dr. Knox, who was absolutely marvelous, we had a good gang in the research department at Kodak who were very helpful. Then, after all the excitement, we had a small children's committee, or I mean, a small children's, oh—

Laura Hill: Group, or—nursery, day-care?

Mrs. Allen: Well, yeah it was day-care, but also health, which was run by a good nurse. I can't remember her name, but she knew that neighborhood and she—. So then, a guy by the name of Kenneth Woodward, who was black—

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: —a pediatrician— Ken came down, got involved in our clinic and we had the first clinic that was available— a full-time clinic for anybody in the neighborhood.

Laura Hill: And it was free.

Mrs. Allen: And it was free.

Laura Hill: Do you remember what year this was?

Mrs. Allen: Well, I can't quite remember, but I remember when we opened it, we had a big deal, so the whole community would know what was happening, and our representative in Washington – Horton, brought one of the flags that had been flown – that was one of his trademarks – one of the flags that had been flown over the capitol to fly over our clinic, so it was quite a deal. Frank Horton was the man.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm, sure. Is this before the '64 riot?

Mrs. Allen: Oh, no, this was after.

Laura Hill: It was after, okay, okay.

Mrs. Allen: It was after they tore down that awful public housing deal and put up town houses.

Laura Hill: Sure, yep. I actually think I've seen a newsletter from the Baden Street Settlement where this health clinic was opened. That's fantastic. Do you, um, do you recall the creation of the Police Review Board?

Mrs. Allen: Sort of vaguely.

Laura Hill: Okay. It was something, of course, that members of Baden Street were involved in, but it created a huge stir in Rochester.

Mrs. Allen: Well, of course it did, because Rochester wanted to do things their own way, you know what I mean?

Laura Hill: Tell me about that.

Mrs. Allen: And I remember, there were two men in Rochester – we called them the two, oh... One was the head of a big law firm and the other was the head of, I think, Bausch and Lomb, and they were Republicans and they sort of ran the Republican Party. And I can remember that they – one of them lived in the same apartment house that my mother did. They  called me in and he was asking me all kinds of questions about, "Did somebody from outside come in and start the riots?" and so forth. And of course, nobody from outside did. I mean, they just simply couldn't take the fact that they were not [clap]  being [clap] fair [clap] – Smugtown.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Right, right.

Mrs. Allen: But it was a very interesting period. And there were three of us – we used to laugh, there was Jane Goldman and she was a good Jewish gal; there was Nancy Harris, who was a good Catholic girl; and there was Loma Allen, who was a sometime Presbyterian gal. And the three of us were a combination.

Laura Hill: Are the other two living still?

Mrs. Allen: No. No, I'm the only one left.

Laura Hill: It was – you said Jane Goldman?

Mrs. Allen: Jane Goldman.

Laura Hill: And was she Manny's wife?

Mrs. Allen: She was Manny's wife, yeah. And he was quite a guy too.

Laura Hill: I've heard that.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah.

Laura Hill: Were you – outside of your involvements with Baden Street – were you involved with any of the Civil Rights organizations – the NAACP ?    [Train noise in background.]

Mrs. Allen: I was one of the founders, along with Walter Cooper.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: And Bill Knox, of the Urban League of Rochester, and it's very interesting because they had their 40th anniversary last year and nobody'd ever heard of us.

Laura Hill: Right, right.

Mrs. Allen: So I don't know what they're up to at this point, except they have a scholars program and so forth. And forty years ago, Walter and I worked on lead poisoning and nobody would listen to us. So it only takes forty years for something to happen. Now, it's the fashionable thing.

Laura Hill: Yeah, my son was tested at one and then again at two.

Mrs. Allen: Absolutely, and it's good because we realize that a lot of these kids were absolutely going brain dippy because of lead poisoning.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: Eating paint off the old houses and everything else, so—,

Laura Hill: What was the purpose of the Urban League? You have the NAACP, you have CORE, you have FIGHT – why bring in the Urban League at this point?

Mrs. Allen: Well, at the point that we brought it in – and it never really worked out that way – it was supposed to become the tool through which we worked the business community.  

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: The connections between business and industry and the Urban League and the problems in the black community. And, actually, it was very interesting because there was an outfit of activists here called Metro Act.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm, they would have been Friends of FIGHT first.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, and Metro Act was mainly white people who were activists and they challenged the Urban League to have a meeting that they wanted to attend. So, in four days' time, our president called a meeting and we all got there and they walked into this room and every – there were as many black people in the room as there were white people, and it was very obvious that the Urban League was run by both blacks and whites. That it was not a white organization and the gang from Metro Act's jaws dropped and they said, "We don't really think that we should be here, because we've seen what you are and we're going to leave with our blessings."

Laura Hill: Who was the President of the Urban League at that time?

Mrs. Allen: You know, I haven't the foggiest idea.

Laura Hill: Was it John Mitchell? Was he the first president?

Mrs. Allen: No, it was not John. He came in after – John wasn't even involved in the organizing of it.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: Now, Connie was the only person that you could legally call a representative of the black community because she was elected. And I remember, after the riots, taking somebody from Alinsky's staff over to her house.

Laura Hill: What was the purpose of that?

Mrs. Allen: So that she would know who he was, and she could clue him in.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: That was so long ago, I haven't any idea of why I did it, except that I felt if they were going to be around here, they should talk to the one person in town who represented black people and that was Connie, because she was elected.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: Simple as that.

Laura Hill: You indicated that the Urban League is supposed to be a mediator of sorts between the business community and the black community.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah.

Laura Hill: Why doesn't FIGHT do that?

Mrs. Allen: Why doesn't it? [Laughter.] You ask me?

Laura Hill: Why do you think?

Mrs. Allen: I wouldn't  – I couldn't read the minds of Franklin Florence and his gang. I just think that Franklin was an inadequate leader, but he thought he was a leader.

Laura Hill: Okay. What does that mean to you, to be a leader?

Mrs. Allen: To get people inspired to do something. Not particularly to do it yourself, but to get people really passionate about something and go ahead and do it. I think that's what's missing in today's world. There's nobody who's really passionate about what they're doing; they're all just doing it.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Well, I talked to many, many people who think that one of Franklin Florence's strengths was that he was anything – if he was anything, he was passionate. That he was able to bring together a different type of black person – a person who was not reached by some of the organizations, so I wonder if what you're saying was  that he—

Mrs. Allen: —He didn't know what to do with them after he got them.

Laura Hill: Got them—okay.

Mrs. Allen: See, and he had a darling wife and two sons and I think, eventually, the wife left him and one of the sons landed in jail – I don't know for what reason, but he was not a good husband and father to begin with. And, and he just – he didn't know what to do.

Laura Hill: Is he pushed out front before he's ready?

Mrs. Allen: It could have been. See, he was very young, 'cause his wife was young and the two little boys were only, oh, seven- and eight-years-old at that particular point.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: And I think he got ahead of himself.

Laura Hill: Tell me a little bit more about your recollections of Saul Alinsky and his people coming to Rochester. What brought him to Rochester?

Mrs. Allen: Well, I'll tell you what brought him to Rochester was the Council of Churches.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: And they felt that a good person who'd had action in the back of the yards could do something in Rochester, and Mrs. Sibley was involved, and Dick Hughes was the head of the Council of Churches. And I felt that we had enough good community organizers, like Art Ferrell and that gang, here that we could do something, but they insisted upon bringing Alinsky in.  And I don't know whether it proved anything or not, I really don't.

Laura Hill: What was the relationship between the Baden Street Settlement and Alinsky or FIGHT after you all decided that this should not be an organization of organizations?

Mrs. Allen: No problem because we were still educating their people who were committee chairmen and everything else. I think it was a test case.

Laura Hill: Tell me how.

Mrs. Allen: Well, I think they thought if they could get Baden Street forced to join then they could get other community agencies forced to join. And as I say, one of the worst things in the world would be an agency of agencies. That was proved in the good old days when they had a Council of Social Agencies; they got absolutely nothing accomplished because all the agencies were trying to be in power.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: And that I learned through experience, so it was not a knowledge of how a community should work – or how a community works.

Laura Hill: Right. Tell me a little bit more about FIGHT's battle with Kodak.

Mrs. Allen: Well, I think that – I do think that at that particular stage of life Kodak was discriminating as far as the employment of people of color.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: And I think that's one of the things that they were working on. Now, in their, in their research department, they had several people of color – good, I mean Bill Knox, Walter Cooper, you know, there's a whole gang. And they were leaders. They were very good, but in the rest of Kodak, it was all white.

Laura Hill: I see.

Mrs. Allen: And that's what they were working on. And for him to take his gang down to Farmington, was it?

Laura Hill: Flemington.

Mrs. Allen: Flemington and walk out of that meeting without standing there and telling it like it was, I thought was the dumbest thing I'd ever known.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: He had a golden opportunity – but he was so young, I don't think he really knew what he was doing.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: When you've got seven- and eight-year-old kids you're not very old.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure. So if we could return to your life history, I'm very curious – you were indicating earlier in our conversation that you took a job at Colgate, at the Divinity School.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah.

Laura Hill: Tell me about that job. Tell me about Colgate at that time.

Mrs. Allen: Well, Colgate was fairly active and it had, oh, probably 125 students, which was its capacity. And I was in the department that placed students in community agencies, because they wanted them to get experience in the community to learn how community agencies work. I ran a couple of seminars up there on the way boards worked because the boards of churches functioned  in pretty much the same way as they do in the community agency and so forth. And that's about all. When they ran – they had a couple of, oh what do they call them? Conferences, on the ministry. They had one for students in various colleges all of the country who were considering entering the ministry, and having run conferences before, I was a big help there. And then they had one right after Easter when all the ministers would arrive and let down their hair for a week because they'd had a tough Easter period.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: And they were good conferences. I heard – everyday they had a half-hour chapel service with a speaker – that's where I first heard Martin Luther King.

Laura Hill: Tell me about that.

Mrs. Allen: He spoke at chapel one day and he was a marvelous young man. And we had that ilk up there, so I learned a lot when I was there.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. How does the Divinity School respond to the Civil Rights Movement? Do you have any recollections of that?

Mrs. Allen: Well, I remember – oh this was long after I got out of there – some of the black students took – didn't they have a sit-in?

Laura Hill: They did. It is much later. I believe it is 1968 – is the year that happens.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, so they were doing their protest, there's no question about it. And, I don't know.

Laura Hill: So, when you're placing students, how did you – how did you, how did the seminary decide which students would go where? Because I understand at this point there are some efforts to get white students into black churches, and then, later, to get black students into white churches – that this is one of the things that Colgate is trying to do.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, under Gene Bay. Yeah, he would do that, bless his heart. Well, we would have meetings of, for example, the ministers of a denomination.  Now, Colgate was Baptist to begin with.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: But it took in Episcopalians and it took in Presbyterians and everything else. But we'd have the ministers, say, from the Baptists – talking to them about what kind of assistance they would need and how they would train whoever we would send. Then we'd have meetings with the students, asking them what kind of a church they wanted to be in, where it was— and we placed them in the country and we placed them all over the place.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. And were more and more students wanting to be in urban churches?

Mrs. Allen: Well, they wanted to understand them before they went out as full-fledged preachers and were working in the community.

Laura Hill: Do you remember any particular students? Anybody stand out in your mind?

Mrs. Allen: No, but I can remember an awful lot of arguments about "God is dead." [Laughter.]

Laura Hill: Yes, that was – I don't really understand that whole movement, but I understand that Colgate was at the front of it, or a particular professor was.

Mrs. Allen: Yes, and he was marvelous. He went on down to Florida or someplace.

Laura Hill: Hamilton? Was that his name?

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, Bill Hamilton and he was a good, good person, but he could get those students so charged up. And the "God is dead" thing was that people in the communities weren't paying any attention to God, therefore, he was dead. And they were to bring him alive, so—.

Laura Hill: Resurrect him, so to speak.

Mrs. Allen: That's right.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: But there were more arguments, and those walls just echoed all over the place. And then there was the professor who had been working on his Ph. D. for x number of years and as far as I know, he's still there working on his Ph. D. He never got around to getting his Ph. D.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: But he was a good professor. And they sent their whole library over to the U of R.

Laura Hill: Did they really?

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, I can't understand that.

Laura Hill: Just recently?

Mrs. Allen: About five years ago.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: Well, they were having trouble getting somebody to run the library who was qualified and I suppose they felt that as long as kids had automobiles and things today, it wasn't too hard for them to get over to the U of R.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: So U of R has all of the library from Colgate Rochester.

Laura Hill: What was the relationship of Colgate to the community, to Rochester itself? How would you characterize it?

Mrs. Allen: Well, all I know is  that in the spring and the fall, the head of Colgate, the Rabbi from the Jewish Temple, B'rith Kodesh, the Minister of Third Presbyterian Church, Bill Hudnut— and there was somebody else who played tennis over there. And we'd hear their golden voices all over the place. I think it was very strong at that point. But something happened – and I never kept track of it after I left, I mean – when I get through with something, it's done.

Laura Hill: You're done, sure.

Mrs. Allen: But it was very helpful when I was looking for something to do after my children were all gone and everything and I heard that they had a new president at RIT. So, I made an appointment and went out and talked to the president for _____(??).  I mean, why not? And it was Paul Miller and he was brand new and RIT had just moved out to the new campus.

Laura Hill: I'm sorry – is this Paul Miller that was associated with the Democrat & Chronicle?

Mrs. Allen: We always call him the "other Paul Miller." [Laughter.]

Laura Hill: The other Paul Miller, I thought – that would be too strange, okay.

Mrs. Allen: His wife was a good friend of mine, Louise. Yeah, I could tell you stories about him too.

Laura Hill: We'll talk about that in a minute.

Mrs. Allen: But anyway, this Paul Miller came and he was on a brand new campus. And, as he explained to me, he said, "From your background and what you've been doing, I know you know this community. Now, I have people on this campus who know nothing about Rochester and I know there are people in Rochester who know nothing about what's going on in this campus. So get them together." So that was my first job description.

Laura Hill: How did you do that?

Mrs. Allen: I had a lot of fun because I went with three different – we talked about my training there, and I went with the man who was their community events director, part- time. I went with the person who was working on creating a school of social work, and I worked with somebody else – there were three people I had to work with closely. I was always fascinated because the man who was doing the community events, one of the questions he asked me was, "Are you flexible?" And I said, "Well, having raised two teenage daughters, if I wasn't flexible, I wouldn't be here today." And after I got to work with him, I found out he was the most inflexible person I have ever known in my lifetime.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: Things had to be just so, gung-ho, you know what I mean.

Laura Hill: Well, that's why you needed to be flexible. [Laughter.]

Mrs. Allen: That's why I needed to be flexible, but it worked out very well and Paul Miller made me the Director of Community and Governmental Relations. And my job was to get community agencies out there and involved in RIT and the governmental agencies and so forth, in any way that I saw fit.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: Which was very interesting, because I checked with Debbie Stendardi  who is now the vice president – I was just director-- and I set up the whole thing just as she's running it today, with x number of assistants and all the rest of it. But it works.

Laura Hill: And how did you see fit?

Mrs. Allen: Pardon?

Laura Hill: How did you see fit? How did you determine what groups, community agencies, needed to understand RIT?

Mrs. Allen: Well, for example, we had a co-op program there, one of the oldest ones in the country, and a lot of our young men and women were working in co-op jobs out in the community. And so, I would get them together – for example, if they were working with RG&E through the  college, and we had a good Dean of the College of Business, and we would take a handful of students down to the boardroom of RG&E to meet with Board members of RG&E while they told the problems of the company and the joys and sorrows and everything else so that the young people were seeing that the people at the top were human beings, you know what I mean?

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: And we also tried to get a representative from RIT on every business board in the community, and we did very well, because then – the first one of the things that I did was to get the telephone company to have their annual meeting out at RIT. I thought, well, that will bring a whole lot of people on campus. But before I did that, I talked to the Dean of the College of Business, and I said, "This is an opportunity for our students to learn what it is to be  part of a big outfit – how to own stock, what to do with stockholders, and so forth and so on."

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: He said, "That's marvelous." And he said, "I'll start a couple of classes." So when I announced that they were coming out for their annual meeting, our chief financial officer had a cotton-pickin' fit because he said, "My gosh, you're going to make us lose our IRS deduction and everything else by having this on campus." See, it was many, many years ago and people weren't doing that. I said, "No, this is an educational deal for our students." And I told him what was set up and he said, "Go ahead. Don't worry."

Laura Hill: Sure. [Laughter.]

Mrs. Allen: And they had more people at that annual meeting than they ever had in their lives. And it was a good one. But it was interesting because I got the deans – they were the first people I went out to introduce myself – and I got them to say, "We would like a local committee working with us."

Laura Hill: I see.

Mrs. Allen: But they were the ones who did it.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm, I see.

Mrs. Allen: And it worked.

Laura Hill: Let's, um, let's switch to the other Paul Miller. Tell me about him – the Democrat & Chronicle Paul Miller. He seems to be quite a lightening rod figure.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, and he was quite a guy and, of course, he was very much involved with the Associated Press and everything else, but Louise, his wife, was a friend of mine. And many years ago, she had gone down to Palm Beach.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: And she bought a little house there, on a little street that was only a block long. I think she paid $27,000 for it. And she called it – Paul called it "Louise's Folly." But, I noticed that when he retired, guess who was down using Louise's Folly all the time?

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: It was Paul Miller. And it was on the street right next to Mar-a-Lago  which had been purchased by – oh, he's still around, the guy from New York. Oh, the New York guy who hires and fires people?

Laura Hill: Donald Trump.

Mrs. Allen: Donald Trump bought Mar-a-Lago and he – in the process, he bought a couple of the houses on this little street that Louise's Folly was on, so of course, her house went up, up, up.

Laura Hill: Of course.

Mrs. Allen: And after Paul died, I used to see Louise a great deal. And he was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, I think, because a lot of the stuff – I went into the house and she had a whole room just filled with memorabilia of his. And I said, "Louise, don't keep this here, give it to his alma mater," and that's how I know it's Oklahoma. So she did get it out to Oklahoma. So I didn't know Paul as well as I did Louise. I knew him through her.

Laura Hill: Right. Did you know him during the '60s?

Mrs. Allen: Well, I knew him, but I didn't really know him.

Laura Hill: Right, mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: I knew him to say "how do you do" to.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure. What are some of the other, other things you thought I might ask you about that I haven't? What's important to this period that we haven't discussed.

Mrs. Allen: I think you've done very well.

Laura Hill: Thank you.

Mrs. Allen: Of course you must be – how long have you been doing this?

Laura Hill: Um, this is about my second full year of research.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, and when you get through, what happens?

Laura Hill: I should have my Ph. D. and I hope to get a book contract to publish the work.

Mrs. Allen: Good. That's great.

Laura Hill: I have to tell you, I feel very strongly that Rochester is on the cutting edge in this period in so many ways. And the story of Rochester is the national story, except for Rochester is frequently ahead of what's coming for the nation.

Mrs. Allen: Well, I was called down to Elizabeth, New Jersey by the Chamber of Commerce gang and I got down there and I said, "Why do you have me here?" And they said, "Well we want to know what happened in Rochester?" This was after the riots. And I told them and I said, "You know, as I left the airport and looked at this city, I can see the same kind of a city that Rochester was before the riots." And I said, "You better listen to what the people have to say, or you're going to be in trouble." By golly, they had a riot.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: What, a couple of weeks later? Three weeks later or something, so it was popping up all over the country.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Yeah, absolutely. You know, in many of the changes that take place after the riot, Rochester was in the forefront of.  [Train noise]

Mrs. Allen: Absolutely.

Laura Hill: Tell me what you think some of those changes were.

Mrs. Allen: Well, I think that there was a greater deal of listening to what was going on. They didn't listen before. I think that there was more cooperation between the city government and the county government. Now, there's not an awful lot of – well, they're going through the motions right now. But, I think that made a lot of difference because it all boils down to communication.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: And knowing what is going on. And, as I say, Walter and I sort of laugh about it only took them forty years to get interested in lead poisoning – but at least they finally got interested.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mrs. Allen: And I do think that Rochester, even today, is ahead of the game.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: National polls signify that, and it's a good place to retire to. And I'm not going to complain about the weather, because when I look at what the weather is doing in other parts of this country—.

Laura Hill: Sure. It's getting less and less predictable.

Mrs. Allen: Absolutely.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm, sure.

Mrs. Allen: And I went all over the country trying to pick a place to retire to in the winter and then come back to Rochester in the summer and the more places I saw, the farther I got, the more I realized that Rochester was the place to retire to.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: Good medical care, that's very important, good housing.

Laura Hill: Are those things available to everybody now?

Mrs. Allen: I think they are. As a matter of fact, I almost think they're over-housed at this point, as far as the senior community is concerned.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: But Legacy is all over the place and they're advertising like mad. But, on the other hand, the baby boomers haven't reached the age yet, so who knows?

Laura Hill: That's right, that's right. I'm teaching a class on the 1960's right now, and one of the themes that the students have been quick to pick up was how the baby boomers affected the United States at every new stage of development they got to. And, of course, they're very aware of them retiring and moving on to that stage in their life.

Mrs. Allen: And what is happening in Medicare and Medicaid and all of it – social security.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: And Congress is down there sitting on its duff.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure. Phyllis, before we wrap up, did you have any questions that I didn't cover? Things that you hoped we would discuss?

Recorder:   No.

Mrs. Allen: Have you followed this gal around?

Recorder:   Mmm-hmm.

Laura Hill: Patiently and graciously. We were at the library last night, gosh, 'til almost quarter to midnight.

Mrs. Allen: Oh boy.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: Downtown?

Laura Hill: At the University of Rochester.

Mrs. Allen: Oh at the—yeah.

Laura Hill: Yep, yep. She has been so patient and so flexible [Laughter.] to my schedule and to the schedules of the people we've been talking to.

Mrs. Allen: Oh, that's great.

Laura Hill: So, thank you so much for talking to us.

Mrs. Allen: Well, I just felt that it was a good opportunity to tell the tale that most of Rochester has never heard. 

Laura Hill: Yeah, I think that's true.

Mrs. Allen: Because the city was warned.

Laura Hill: They deny it – I mean, I've read document after document, "We had no idea. We had no clue. Rochester – how did this happen here?"

Mrs. Allen: And they sat right there that day and heard it. It's fascinating. Well, they didn't – and that morning when I woke up and heard on the radio that something had happened in Rochester, that nobody had even thought would happen, I thought, "What in the world is the matter?"

Laura Hill: Let me ask you this, Mrs. Allen . Do you think that they weren't listening because you were women?

Mrs. Allen: Well, it could be.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: It, it definitely could be. Although we had men there, you know, but there was a feeling that – for example, I've told the minister at Third Church that I would never belong to that church if it was not all inclusive. It takes in people of any color. It takes in people of any sexual orientation. It takes in people – it doesn't make any difference, and to me, that's a good Christian church.

Laura Hill: This is Third Presbyterian?

Mrs. Allen: Third Presbyterian. And it is, it is a healthy church. It's got members from all over the area who come in on Sundays and it shows that people want that.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mrs. Allen: And then there's the church that has the bishop who's gay and they're having a fit about it – and you know, it's a very interesting time right now.

Laura Hill: Sure. The Episcopal Church is splitting all of the country over it.

Mrs. Allen: All over the world, and it's too bad.

Laura Hill: Yeah, it is.

Mrs. Allen: So, and the Presbyterians have had trouble too. We had one Presbyterian church right across the street here, Brighton Presbyterian, who tried to get us kicked out of the presbytery because we were so all-inclusive.

Laura Hill: Too liberal.

Mrs. Allen: That's right, and the good old presbytery would have none of that, bless their hearts.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Recorder:   I did want to ask if you had any more comments about Mrs. Harper Sibley.

Mrs. Allen: Oh, she was quite a gal. Yeah, and young Harper – he was something in the administration at one point, her son.

Laura Hill: The administration of?

Mrs. Allen: Of Rochester.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mrs. Allen: Now wait a minute.  It was a fancy name, but he was part of the administration of the city of Rochester for a while. [6]

Laura Hill: Okay, that shouldn't be too hard to find. But, what about her? How does she operate in Rochester?

Mrs. Allen: Well, she was sort of a grande dame.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: Episcopalian. Very highly thought of, very broad-minded – extremely. And I think that was part of her problem, you know. She had a black minister and his wife and daughter living on her property down there – tut, tut, tut. Julian Simpkins.

Laura Hill: Sure. Canon Simpkins.

Mrs. Allen: And Julian had a darling wife and daughter and I've seen them – every once in a while a run in to them. And he was on a tight rope during those days. It was very difficult for Julian.

Laura Hill: Why?

Mrs. Allen: Well, because he was black and he didn't agree with some of the things that were going on in the black community. And on the other hand, he agreed with a lot of them. And I just think that he was in a very difficult position and carried it off rather well.

Laura Hill: And he's an Episcopal minister?

Mrs. Allen: Yep, he was an Episcopal priest and a good man. And their daughter wanted to go to school and become a – I think she wanted to become a, whatcha-call-it? A preacher.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: In the Episcopal Church and her mother wouldn't let her because she felt that having one in the family was enough. And that's too bad, because I think she would have made a good minister.

Laura Hill: Yeah, yeah. My church is the Episcopal Church.

Mrs. Allen: So you know the troubles they're having – and it's just unreal.

Laura Hill: I'm absolutely – I was absolutely fascinated to start to understand how political the dioceses are.  I mean, the Diocese of Rochester is enormous and the concerns are so wide and so broad.

Mrs. Allen: But what do you think about this new bishop they have?

Laura Hill: I don't know anything about him.

Mrs. Allen: Well, he is a—

Recorder:   —Indian.

Mrs. Allen: —Indian or Korean?

Recorder:   No, Indian.

Mrs. Allen: Indian, yeah.

Recorder:   Prince Singh.

Mrs. Allen: So he has a very broad spectrum of the world, and I was sure that they were going to get somebody from Yale – you know, the usual type. Now, what he is going to accomplish, I haven't the foggiest idea.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: But by golly—.

Laura Hill: Who was the last Bishop? Big guy, big white beard – gosh, what was his name? McKelvey.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, that's right.

Laura Hill: Bishop McKelvey, right. He was, well he made me nervous.

Mrs. Allen: Yeah, I never knew him very – never knew him at all. See, I lived on Barrington Park, right behind the Episcopal Diocesan House, so I used to see these boys on their way around the corner for a cup of coffee or something like that, and we were good neighbors, but—. So, he's been very – now, Charlotte Spears, when he was bishop – Spears --  he and I took a computer course together with two other people. He was way ahead of his time, as far as the use of computers.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mrs. Allen: So we had a lot of fun.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Well Mrs. Allen, again, thank you so much for doing this with us. If you, if you come up with things, if you think of things that you remember after the fact that you wish you had told me, feel free to call me.

Mrs. Allen: Shall do.

Laura Hill: I would really, really be interested in hearing some of those things. Yeah, this has been fantastic.

Mrs. Allen: Okay, well I hope it's been helpful for you and your work and so forth.

Laura Hill: Absolutely.

End of Interview


[1] Mrs. Allen made additions/corrections to her transcript in February 2009.  Spelling corrections are reflected in the transcript text.  Content additions and corrections that change the transcript text have been included in footnotes. 

[2] Hugh Rust. Mrs. Allen supplied the name during a subsequent conversation.

[3] Mrs. Harris.

[4] Monroe Dill. Mrs. Allen supplied the name during a subsequent conversation. Mr. Dill was Eastman Kodak's industrial relations director.

[5] Mrs. Harris.

[6] Hiram Sibley, Jr. served as Rochester's Public Safety Commissioner in the 1960s.

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