Rochester Black Freedom Struggle -- Marvin Chandler

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Interview Subject: Marvin Chandler
Date(s) of interview(s): 5/13/2009
Interviewer: Laura Warren Hill

The Reverend Marvin Chandler was born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana. He received his bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and served as pastor of Bloomington’s Second Baptist Church from 1954-1955. While in seminary at Colgate Rochester Divinity School from 1959-1963, Chandler ministered to the migrant agricultural population in Monroe and surrounding counties. After his Colgate graduation in 1963, Chandler was appointed as Associate Executive Director of the Rochester Area Council of Churches –as the Council’s Christian Education Director. 

At the time of the 1964 Rochester Race Riots, the Reverend Chandler served as a liaison between the Black community of Rochester and the Council of Churches. He was among a small group of community and church leaders who worked to bring in community activist Saul Alinsky’s team to facilitate recovery from the ’64 riots. Chandler helped establish the Rochester Area Ministers Conference and was integral in the launch of the FIGHT organization. As a part of FIGHT, Chandler not only served on the steering committee, but also played a key role in FIGHT’s negotiations with Eastman Kodak. He worked with Kodak representatives to develop a job training program for the large number of unemployed black Rochesterians. Similarly, in 1971 Chandler put his peacemaking abilities toward efforts to resolve the prison riot in Attica County.

After leaving Rochester, the Reverend Chandler served as an executive with the San Francisco Council of Churches. Mr. Chandler is considered to be a leading expert on the life of Howard Thurman, the noted theologian, philosopher and civil rights leader. Later, Mr. Chandler served as Pastor of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples (which Dr. Thurman co-founded in San Francisco). From 1978-1984 Mr. Chandler was Executive Director of the Howard Thurman Education Trust. Mr. Chandler was a visiting professor at Linfield College, McMinnville, Oregon, and he served as a Visitor for a semester at Oxford University, England. Mr. Chandler has received a number of awards in his lifetime including an Honorary Doctor of Divinity from Franklin College, Franklin, Indiana, and the Luke Mowbray Award for ecumenical work from the American Baptist Churches/USA in 2008. Also, the Reverend Chandler is an accomplished jazz pianist, inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation Hall of Fame in 2003, and a recipient of the Ralph Adams Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He continues to be active in musical and spiritual circles with both musical performances and sermons.

The Reverend Marvin Chandler, community liaison and Associate Executive Director of the Rochester Area Council of Churches at the time of the Rochester Race Riots of 1964, discusses the atmosphere in Rochester before the riots and the complicated aftermath following.   He recalls arriving in Rochester as a minority student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School and the conditions in Rochester at the time including: migrant camps, the influence of the Civil Rights Movement, city housing, tension between the black community and the police force and the black community’s need for social change.  

Mr. Chandler remembers the night that the riots of July 1964 began and the institutions that were formative in facilitating subsequent change, which included the Rochester Council of Churches and FIGHT.  He describes the intensity and emotion of the exact moment in which communications between FIGHT and Kodak disintegrated. He recalls the challenge of winning community support to invite community organizer Saul Alinsky to Rochester as part of the recovery efforts. Mr. Chandler speaks on the topics of Black Theology and Black Capitalism in Rochester. He shares his experience as a pastor and negotiator invited into the Attica Correctional Facility grounds during the 1971 Attica Riot.   

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

Preface by The Reverend Marvin Chandler

My first response to the written transcript of the interview with Laura Hill was embarrassment. Incoherences, sentence fragments, “um”s and “ah”s, aborted phrases—it was almost like discovering that one is undressed in public! The temptation to edit—or to scream—was great. Then it occurred to me that the hesitations, etc., were important to the researcher because they reflect the struggle involved in the process of recovering memories, perhaps a more accurate reflection of the power of the events that occurred. Let the words and the spirit speak.

Transcription of Interview: 5/13/2009;

Laura Hill: So, I am Laura Hill in Indianapolis with Reverend Marvin Chandler.  Today is May 13th 2009.  So we, we talked about this on the way over but you are from Indianapolis, you grew up here.

Rev. Chandler [1]: Actually from Bloomington, Indiana. 

Laura Hill: From Bloomington, Indiana.  Okay, okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Right, my wife and I both grew up in Bloomington.

Laura Hill: Okay, and so tell me how you came to Rochester—what brought you there?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I actually went to Rochester to attend seminary.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Um, I got my baccalaureate degree at IU, at Indiana University and had—actually been a minister in the Baptist denomination, which did not necessarily at that time emphasize educational background, but I had some ministers in Bloomington, uh caucasian ministers who um, felt that the value of a seminary education had some connection for me.  So they, they uh, encouraged me and supported my going to uh, seminary after I finished undergraduate school.

Laura Hill: Okay, and how did you choose Colgate?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, the, the campus minster at uh, Bloomington was an American Baptist. Colgate Rochester was of course the kind of premier American Baptist School.  Um, his name was W. Douglas Ray.  He was, he sat on the uh, Board of Higher Education for American Baptist churches and knew the president of Colgate Rochester very well.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  The President’s[2] name was Wilbert Eddy Saunders.  A very interesting thing was that in those days um, there was a quota uh, for African Americans in seminaries and uh—.

Laura Hill: Across the board or at Colgate?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think it was probably across the board. 

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  But certainly there was at Colgate just—and I don’t think it was any different, although that was a progressive school.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm, right.

Rev. Chandler:  And I mean, they were known as a liberal seminary and uh, whatever those, those restrictions might have been or restrictions of—I was admitted into the seminary.

Laura Hill: How many other African Americans were there?

Rev. Chandler:  Oh my goodness, now that’s a good question.  There’s Obadiah Williamson and Sam Epps[3]--oh my, there were probably three or four of us, I don’t think there were any more than that at that time.

Laura Hill: And that was at, in the school as a whole or in your incoming class?

Rev. Chandler:  Well that was, pretty much in the school—well, there might have been a couple more—I think there was um, Wendell Phillips and one other man who was—he’d come back to Colgate Rochester pursuing his doctorate and was doing some work there.  But, I think there were a very limited number, actually, of uh, fellas.  I would say maybe at the most, even including the upperclassmen, six or eight.

Laura Hill: Okay, okay.

[Recording Paused]

Laura Hill: So, so then there’s a handful of you.  Five or six.

Rev. Chandler:  Right.

Laura Hill: What was that experience like for you all?

Rev. Chandler:  Well I don’t—you know, I don’t recall any, any particular tensions.  I, I think that, that the academic work was demanding enough that it kept your attention on it pretty much. You didn’t think much about the social situ—.  Actually, most seminarians, the caucasian fellas as well—and uh, we had a couple of Asian people there that you—it was so demanding people didn’t worry too much about socializing and so you didn’t think about all the things and besides I was married and uh, my wife and children lived in Buffalo, my field work was in Buffalo.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  So every weekend I would go back to Buffalo, spend the weekend and then go back to Rochester during the week.  So it was—

Laura Hill: I see.

Rev. Chandler:  —almost a commute.

Laura Hill: Oh sure, sure, sure. I have read some things that were coming out of Colgate Rochester at the time that suggested there was really a push on their part to provide arelevant education for their black students.  Do you remember that? Do you recall that?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think—I don’t recall that there was any special orientation towards black students in terms of social relevance, but, but the whole history of Colgate Rochester Divinity School had uh, this strong Rauschenbusch who—social theologian, had that strong emphasis.  So that we called it prophetic ministry and that aspect of ministry was, was certainly um, a focus.  It was a part of the focus of Colgate Rochester Divinity School. 

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Um, and predecessors, Howard Thurman who was great—an eminent African American um, who was widely known around the world.  Uh, he was a good friend of Gandhi, called one of America’s ten greatest preachers. He went to Colgate Rochester and at that time, he um, I don’t want to say suffered, but he endured uh the kind of racial um challenges that anyone would find in, in Northern American cities which is kind of like a minefield. But—uh, and I, I think nonetheless he had mentors at Colgate Rochester and friends who inspired him toward his writing.  And uh, one of Howard Thurman’s, I think, one of his most um, uh penetrating analyses is, is uh in his work called Mysticism and Social Action[4].

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And uh, it, it comes out of his—I think out of his understandings, part of which were influenced by um, Rufus Jones, a Quaker, and other people, but the Rauschenbusch kind of thought.

Laura Hill: Sure, how did you come to be involved with Rochester the city?

Rev. Chandler:  Okay, while I was in uh, seminary I was asked or invited to become minister to the migrants in Monroe County, which of course Rochester.  Some of those camps though were in adjacent counties.  Actually there were—

Laura Hill: Wayne County.

Rev. Chandler:  —yes, and um—let’s see there was Wayne and the other one toward—

Laura Hill: Genesee.

Rev. Chandler:  —Genesee County um, and Orleans and um there were thirty-nine migrant camps of varying size and the responsibility of the migrant minister was to somehow try to be in touch with and address some of the situations.  Uh, the largest camp was at Brockport, New York.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure, I think it still is.

Rev. Chandler:  And uh, a tremendous challenge uh, the people came up in a very, it was really a temporary situation.  Uh, some of the camps, the conditions were, were not too bad and others they were pretty deplorable. I think the whole system though was almost serfdom.  The, the there was this the owner who was kinda sorta like uh, oh what’s the word um—

Laura Hill: —a feudal lord.

Rev. Chandler:  —uh, the landed gentry. 

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And the crew boss who worked for the landowner was often the kind of strategic person, sort of the pivotal figure. They used to bring liquor and prostitutes ‘n things—gamblers out to the camps and it, and it really impoverished people because they  would, you know, get drunk—some of ‘em—and those who didn’t, uh didn’t make enough money to really get out of their very vulnerable situation.  So that they were almost perpetually indebted and it was a sad thing. Uh, and yet there were many people there who, who had, you know, religious uh, experience, uh primarily, I would say, in fundamentalism of one kind or another.  But, tryin’ to reach that population and serve the spiritual needs of people was a challenge.  But, uh—part of it was my own inexperience with dealing with people. We, my wife and I came from the Midwest.  We were, we were unprepared to meet with folks who looked, even looked very different.  I mean, they were very dark-skinned people, beautiful people, but dark skins, big eyes, almost stereotypically, you know, African.  And uh, I’ll never forget it because at first I was, I was pastoring a church in Leroy, New York a little Baptist church, African-American.  Those people at that church wantednothing to do with what they called “those bean pickers.”

Laura Hill: The bean pickers, mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  So the social distance was pretty large.  And I felt that, when I first, when I would talk about “these people.”  And I remember one time, in late fall—it gets cold there—and uh, I went to one-a, to one-a the places and there was a lady there who was ill and her husband, a very large man, they had several children and they had two rooms, very small rooms; she was ill, and this poor man was sitting on the side of the bed and he was weeping because he could not do—couldn’t get any help for his wife.  And uh, I sorta vacillated between being profane [laughs] and trying to be spiritual.  But I called around and couldn’t get anybody.  I finally got a doctor—I think he was an Italian doctor—who said he would come.  And he came out to the camps and uh, and saw this lady, examined her, and got her to a hospital. She got well, actually, eventually.  But I was so angry, so mad and feeling so frustrated and, and inept and uh, and um, ineffectual.  I was so just—cussin’ mad, as they say.  On the way home after everything had settled down and the lady got into the hospital and I’m driving along  and I’d been crying and all this business by myself, I suddenly realized that I had said to this man, “We need you.” And it was the change from “these people need you” to “we need you.” And that, it was enormous, because from then on I feltvery comfortable. My wife—we’d go out and sit and talk with the ladies and they would give us, you know, produce.  They couldn’t pay us, but they wanted to give—we took the stuff that they gave us.

Laura Hill: Of course.

Rev. Chandler:  This was their—.  And, and we just felt very much at home after that, we loved it.  Uh—but I’ll never forget that, because that was the turning point I think that you have to feel when you, when you’re there.  I don’t understand preachers uh, who, whatever their denomination, who want people to look up to them.  We are servants; we are the servants of the church. I really feel that deeply.  So, that was, that was my experience with uh social relevance in Rochester my first year. 

Laura Hill: You, you said uh, the church you were at in Leroy, um you felt a social distance.  Who, who facilitated your involvement with these migrant camps? Do you recall?

Rev. Chandler:  The Council of Churches.

Laura Hill: The Council of Churches. Okay so—.

Rev. Chandler:  The Rochester Area Council of Churches appointed uh, guys each—whenever there was a, you know, an opening, and uh they felt that it had to be somebody African American ‘cause most of the migrants were African American.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And the fella who preceded me was a wonderful guy, Willie Collins was his name, and generally had been, the, the migrant minister was the Minister of the Second Baptist Church of Leroy, which was the little church there. So it sort of fell to each person who came.

Laura Hill: I see.

Rev. Chandler:  And, but the people from Leroy Second Baptist and Mumford Second Baptist were generally people who, um, were a step above in terms of the social ladder. They were the house people, not, not slaves, but house people, servants.  And, and uh, so they didn’t want anything to do with this.

Laura Hill: Maids, chauffeurs, porters. Mm-hmm, sure.

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah, exactly, exactly.  And they had great—the people there in that church—they had great dignity and self—you know, they were very poised people, um, very interesting, very needy, spiritually.  And uh, we loved it, we loved, we came to love those people at that church, really very, very much.  We only spent a year there, but we maintained the relationships way after that.  It was an interesting experience.

Laura Hill: So you start to get involved through the Council of Churches, with the city—

Rev. Chandler:  Through the migrant ministry—

Laura Hill: —with the city itself.

Rev. Chandler:  —and then that, well my ministry with the migrant ministry, or situation, gave me a contact with the Council of Churches and I was uh in my junior year, I think, at the seminary, and my final year there, um, that the uh Board of Directors and the Director, Executive Director, Richard Norman Hughes began to look at me for some position. They, they wanted to integrate their staff there, you know.  The migrant minister was kind of an ancillary position um, but they wanted someone in their core staff. So when I graduated from Colgate Rochester I was immediately invited to become an Associate Executive for the Council of Churches.

Laura Hill: I see, and so what year is this?

Rev. Chandler:  Oh my, let’s see, that would have been—’68?

Laura Hill: No, that late?

Rev. Chandler:  Huh, yeah, let’s see—no, no, no the riots occurred in ’64—.

Laura Hill: That’s ’64.

Rev. Chandler:  ’60, ’60 it would have been; ‘cause that’s the year I graduated [laughs]. Long time ago.

Laura Hill: [laughs]. Okay, and so you have this position now with the Council of Churches.

Rev. Chandler:  My position, my portfolio was as Christian Education Director.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  So I was putting together all these little cut-and-paste programs, [laughs] for churches—young people and vacation Bible school and that kind of thing, continuing religious ed. and weekday religious education classes.  That was the first year and it wasn’t long after that, that the riots occurred.

Laura Hill: But I am interested in the time in-between.  In, in ’60 to ’64, how would you, how would you characterize what was happening in Rochester?  How do you remember those, those years? ‘Cause there’s a ton of stuff happening.

Rev. Chandler:  Oh yeah. Well my, my recollection centered more around the churches and there was no way that an American city the size of Rochester could ignore what was going on around.  It was in those days, that the Civil Rights Movement was occurring in America.  And I think poverty uh, discrimination in Rochester was not so obvious, but it was there.  And the problems of poverty and displacement were, were beginning to, you know, come into the purview of the churches, and they began to look and say what can we do.  Not just about migrants out there but what can we do to move toward uh more contact, cross-contact with African-American churches and so forth.  So, there was this effort, I think, during those years in the churches to um, to at least not so much integrate as to have some kind of uh, interconnection.  And the, in the industries and the businesses of Rochester I don’t recall any particular, um, dynamic that was taking place that, that would be striking.  But, there were—the Civil Rights Movement in general was beginning to affect all kinds of things—the young people, the kids in the high schools.  Uh, Charles Price and I and there was a woman; a social worker—I think she was in the school system—Effie Williams, I think her name was Effie, Effie, I think Williams was her last name. Portia[5], she’s a friend of Portia’s, you can check that.  But anyway, she and Chuck and I used to meet each other constantly downtown. We would be down there tryin’ to—the kids were getting pretty feisty, and they would have these fights and—in, on the streets, and we were tryin’ to keep ‘em from gettin’ into trouble with each other.  And uh, so um, I would—Charles was the community liaison and he was meeting with groups and families and these kids trying to help do that and I was trying to help on behalf of the churches ‘cause we could see all of this kind of unsettling um, dynamic that was taking place in communities all—and—the whole thing was going across the country and Rochester was not exempt from that.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm there’s also um, there is either an actual increase or more visibility of police brutality and, and harassment.

Rev. Chandler:  Oh yeah.

Laura Hill: What do you recall about that in Rochester at that time?

Rev. Chandler:  I—I would hear from time to time, that some things had occurred and there was not a cordial relationship between the African American community and the police in Rochester, generally speaking.  But, when we moved into Rochester, that year after seminary, my neighbor across the street was the Police Chief.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Bill Lombard.

Laura Hill: Lombard, sure.

Rev. Chandler:  William Lombard. And we had a very cordial relationship.  I think Bill Lombard tried as much as anyone could, to—I think he, he really did try to make connections in the black community and try to ameliorate some of the things.  But some of the cops were pretty brutal. I mean I remember that there were instances that people talked about, of brutality and uh I can’t remember whether it was, let’s see, 1960—because at that time I believe, across the country, the Black Power Movement hadn’t come into prominence yet.  But there were all kinds of groups around the country trying to do various and sundry things and very often because they confronted the establishment, as they said in those days, um, they would run into the police.  And on top of that there were of course, there were those situations like family situations and where if there were confrontations in the family it would explode into something and the cops would come and people would get beaten up and that sort of thing.  I don’t recall any particular thing at that point.

Laura Hill: Okay. Um, in these years another dynamic in Rochester of course is that Malcolm X is coming in frequently. 

Rev. Chandler: Oh yes.

Laura Hill: Tell me about that.

Rev. Chandler:  Oh—I, I didn’t have much to do with most of that at—

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  —but I do remember at one time, uh Malcolm came, it was before, just before he was killed.

Laura Hill: Okay, so this in February of ’65.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right, well and I believe it was only a few weeks—Gus Newport at that time was a bodyguard for Malcolm X.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Malcolm came in and he spoke at Corn Hill United Methodist Church.  Well we knew Gus and, you know, I had kind of a cordial relationship with Gus, and we would laugh and talk about things. But, um, Malcolm was doin’ his famous speech about the difference between field folks and house folks and using the N-word and all that stuff.  And I used to say, “Well, how can you be that way, Gus? You know, I would be one of those people you’re talking about, but I’m tryin’ my best.” [laughs] And uh, I, I remember when Malcolm came in, but I didn’t know him, I never did.  I think I met him once.  I did meet Minister Farrakhan.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And as a matter of fact, I was doin’ a radio show and interviewed Minister Farrakhan, for my radio show ‘cause, at his insistence, ‘cause I was the only African American doin’ radio at that time, doin’ the kind of interview kinds of things, and I said to him, “Minister Farrakhan, the only restriction I would put on interviewing you is one I’m going to put on myself and that is I feel that I need to be able to ask you freely, to ask you any question. You may not want to answer it, but I feel that I should be able to ask you any question that I feel is appropriate.” And he said, “Oh yes.”  Well, I found him to be very articulate, very articulate and uh a wonderful interview. He was a good man.

Laura Hill: And so then Rochester?

Rev. Chandler:  In Rochester.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Rev. Chandler:  For WBBF.

Laura Hill: [laughs]. Okay. Okay.  In these years, you’ve mentioned some of the problems already, the poverty, the massive migration, the discrimination.  What, what was being done, leading up to the riot, to alleviate some of these problems?  What, what was being done by churches, what was being done by civil rights groups, what was being done by the city?

Rev. Chandler:  I wasn’t basically, wasn’t too much aware of the organizational efforts that were taking place.  I know they were—the Urban League was there, um as matter of fact I think—.

Laura Hill: It comes a little later, I think it’s ’65 that the Urban League—

Rev. Chandler:  Was there?

Laura Hill: —gets underway.  Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  Well there was a commission, New York State Commission for Human Rights.

Laura Hill: That’s right.

Rev. Chandler:  And, the Baden Street Settlement was one of the focal points for trying to make change.  But, I remember the Baden Street because they represented the kind of community organization in the classic sense of the word.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  That these were polite people who would have nice programs and they would invite people to come in and speak about the problems and then—and that’s pretty much what got done.  Um, so there were these kinda what I call “chamber of commerce” type programs going on.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And kind of community relations in Rochester.  I remember a little of that.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  I don’t remember, I think the Fair Housing or that Fair Housing Act, had, had some arms and legs in Rochester.

Laura Hill: Commission—.  Mmm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  Um, housing discrimination, I think probably was still pretty potent.  Although, um my wife and I lived—we bought a house in the Browncroft area, and I think the reason that was, was because I was a Council of Churches executive.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  So that the social distance wasn’t very far.  I think people like Walter Cooper and others were able to buy and—in integrated neighborhoods, some of the neighbors were becoming integrated.  People like Connie Mitchell and John stayed in—at that point was essentially “the hood” and they had their connections there.  Um, but that’s pretty much the way I remember it.

Laura Hill: Okay.  And so then, tell me about the riot.  Where are you, how do you hear about it, what do you do?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, let’s see.  I remember, I—I’d gone to bed actually and someone called.  I can’t remember—I think it might have been St. Julian Simpkins—

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  —who, he was the Urban Canon for the Episcopal Church in Rochester.  And he had just gotten there like forty-eight hours earlier.  And I get this call, I believe it was from St. Julian, I’m not sure—‘cause I didn’t even know Franklin[6] at that point, but he wanted to know what could we do.  And I said, “Well, I’ll be right there.”  So I got up out of the bed and I got—St. Julian and I met at St. Simon’s church, I think, or someplace.  And we go over to where the riots were.  One of the first places we went to was this bar, that Kenny Stevens, a fella named Kenny Stevens owned. And here’s Julian with his Episcopal collar on and me with my shirt and tie.  And we go into this bar and I think it was Kenny or somebody like him says, “What’re you doin’ here?” You know, “Who do you think you are?” and dah, de—dah, de—dah.  And I said, “now wait a minute,” and of course they—some of those people called us everything but a child of God [laughs].  And I’m, I’m lookin’ at poor St. Julian and St. Julian was a great big man—

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  —but very Episcopalian.


Laura Hill: I’m an Episcopalian, I know all about it [laughs].

Rev. Chandler:  And, here we are up here in this bar, and I said, “Well, now wait a minute. We’re down here in this place because we wanna be.” I said, “We don’t have to be here”—cause that’s when one of the guys says, “Well you out there on Browncroft Boulevard.” And I said, “Yeah, I live out there and I’m down here because I wanna be here.” And I said “I haven’t always lived in a middle class neighborhood.” I said, “I grew up in a family of eight, and smelled feet the first six years of my life ‘cause I slept with two other brothers.” And we went through all this.  So that kind of, you know, allowed us then—but we went down and we talked to the police, tried to talk to people to calm them down and that sort of thing.  So, that’s how we happened to be there.  And, and after that, we went—the Council of Churches, I called Dick Hughes, he was the executive of the Council of Churches.  And we said—he immediately said, “Well, what can we do?”  And I said, “Well, I don’t know yet, but, you know, we need to stay in touch with it.”  So, that became my portfolio just like that.  Boom!  I was—

Laura Hill: Liaison.

Rev. Chandler:  —suddenly a liaison.  And um, the—the Council asked me, to, you know, stay in contact.  So the next day, um I was down in the—that was the Seventh Ward—and then we went down in the Third Ward, because they—that stuff broke out there the next day. That’s where one man got killed and—there was just a whole bunch of stuff.  I remember that—it’s a confused jumble in my mind, but I remember.  And Julian and I were sorta the first church people that we knew anything about, that were there. There were street people, Mildred[7] was very much involved trying to help calm people down. Some of the ministers, um, Murphy Greer, Reverend Jackson, whose church was there, Seventh Ward I remember. Uh Reverend Shankle[8], and uh, I think—and Franklin was there.  These were guys, they were out on the street more than I was at that point, talkin’ to people and tryin’ to get them, you know, kinda, kinda calmed down a little bit.  But, the main, the issues that came out of it were, you know, this was—folk didn’t have jobs, they were poor, there was brutality, and that sort of thing that came out of the—that seemed to be the sore points that people were feeling.

Laura Hill: Were you surprised?

Rev. Chandler:  No, I wasn’t really surprised; I felt that—I think people felt that the pot was boiling, that somethin’ could happen in Rochester.  Because there had been incidents of police brutality, there was a lot of poverty and, and the distance between downtown and the Third and Seventh Wards.  And, I think anybody lookin’ at it would have said somethin’ could happen.  I mean, we didn’t, didn’t know it was that close to boiling over but—.

Laura Hill: Yeah, yeah.  Well what um, what kinds of structures were in place that, what kind of structures were in place that you were then able to utilize afterwards, right? And so by this I mean, what were the relationships you were drawing on, what were the networks—how did all of that function?

Rev. Chandler:  Well we—one, we had a new urban minister named Herb White. Herb had connections and had really worked on trying to establish relationships so that some of these people began to emerge.

Laura Hill: And this is the Council of Churches? He’s working for the Council of Churches?

Rev. Chandler:  Right, right. Mm—hmm.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  He was the urban minister for the Rochester Area Council of Churches.  And Georgiana Sibley who was then the President of the Council, made her home kind of a, what did they call it, it was not headquarters, but it was sort of like a headquarters.  Her son was the Commissioner, Police Commissioner, and so it was kind of funny ‘cause we were meeting at her house and sometimes she was on one side of the issues and her son would be on the other.

Laura Hill: I’ve heard that.

Rev. Chandler:  But we met there and I—that’s where I met Franklin and some of the other guys because—well I didn’t meet them there, I met them on the streets but we all met together and began to say, “What can we do?” when things began to calm down just a little bit.  In the middle of the thing we were just sorta runnin’ around, you know, tryin’ to put out fires wherever they were.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  But, what began to emerge from the anger and some of the young people whose names I can’t remember to this day, but I remember their faces.  And they said, “Man, we need jobs. We need—it’s, it’s awful, we need this, and we need some place for the kids to go,””We need de—dah, de—dah”. So they began to really express the needs of community. And then we said well okay, then how can we respond in an organized fashion to this? So we thought about how can the church be involved?  And we realized, that white churches—there’s no way they could, and most even black churches would—had some distance from some of these “street folks” we called ‘em.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  So how could we do this, how could we get involved and develop relationships?  And we began to think about things.

[Recording paused]

Laura Hill: So I was asking, you about the structures that were in place and you were saying that you met a bunch of these people that you really sat down and talked with them at Mrs. Sibley’s house.

Rev. Chandler:  Right, I think what happened—I was just thinkin’ about this as we took a little break there. Leaders began to emerge from the situation.  There were people who seemed to have groups of people around them and that’s a very important point, I think, in terms of leadership because, um, as the FIGHT organization emerged, these leaders became more visible and your definition of leadership was affected by it.  For example, the news media would say, “Who are the leaders of the black community?” And of course they were thinking about the established things like the churches and the political organizations and even the quasi-political organizations. 

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, Minister Florence, the head of the FIGHT organization had a wonderful way of responding to that.  He would say, “Well, you know, a leader is somebody who has followers,” which makes perfectly good sense [laughs].

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  And it’s a good theory of leadership actually, you know.  So at—these people began to emerge and, um, and we then said okay, how do we, how do the church, how can we do what you want us to do?  And one of the ideas that, that I tried to encourage our Board of Directors and other people representing the churches was, um, we can’t tell this group of people how to organize whatever it is they wanna do.  I think what we have to say is what can we do as churches to assist you?  Now that’s a different kind of position than churches and institutions generally—institutions love to have, you know, their program carefully formulated, and their policies, and then you know, you organize around that.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  Well in this case, I felt that we had to turn that upside down and say, you know, um—we can’t just have those people fit an institutional pattern.  This is, this is the people who are telling us uh, that they want us to do, what they want us to do. So—.

Laura Hill: How, how did the institutions in Rochester respond to that message?

Rev. Chandler:  Not very well, some of them.  I think there were a number of churches, I think really the mainline denominational churches had questions.  But it was very interesting I think they trusted the Council as a representative body. They trusted it enough to say, “Okay, we’ll give it a chance.”

Laura Hill: So then let’s, let’s back up a little. Tell me about the Council of Churches.  What is it? How does it function? Is it affiliated with the National Council of Churches? If so, in what ways?

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah.  Actually the local, the Council of Churches movement, the conciliar movement, um was pretty much locally based.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And representatives of the National Council of Churches did not necessarily come from the local Council.  Very much, as a matter of fact, the National Council of Churches was more denominationally based so that the denominations sent representatives—

Laura Hill: I see.

Rev. Chandler:  —to that body.  It’s an ecumenical body that was representative of most of the major denominations.  The local Council of Churches, any local congregation of the churches could be a member of the Council of Churches.  Their programs were simply cooperative efforts in education, religious education generally, and mission, and they called that migrant, generally the migrant ministry and in some instances in foreign ministry, some councils did.  Um and then they had social programs, some kinds of family uh, structural things where they tried to strengthen families, and that pretty much.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  But, that was, that was pretty much what councils of churches did, and they were organized—I think in Rochester the Councils organized back in around 1915, maybe?

Laura Hill: Okay.  And does the Rochester Council of Churches have membership from both white and black churches?

Rev. Chandler:  They did not at the time, principally.

Laura Hill: Okay, okay.

Rev. Chandler:  I think maybe St. Simon’s Church, St. Simon’s Episcopal Church.

Laura Hill: The Catholic? Uh, Immaculate Conception?

Rev. Chandler:  Not at that time.

Laura Hill: No? Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  No, the—as a matter of fact, Roman Catholics were not a part of the Council of Churches, in those days.  That came later, and actually it was later that we dissolved the Council of Churches as such and became Genesee Ecumenical Ministries.

Laura Hill: I see.

Rev. Chandler:  And part of the reason was they wanted to include the diocese, the Roman Catholic diocese, so, so that the editor of the diocesan newspaper, uh Father Henry Atwell, became the Council of Churches executive, or the Ecumenical executive.

Laura Hill: Okay. The Genesee—sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And I became, uh an executive for Black Church Ministries.

Laura Hill: Well okay, so there’s also—is it RAM? Rochester—

Rev. Chandler:  —Area Ministers Conference.

Laura Hill: —Conference, and that is a group of black ministers?

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right.

Laura Hill: Okay so—.

Rev. Chandler:  Now they had not been—that group came into existence partly out of the riots because we had to organize and part of my portfolio was to help the ministers to organize.

Laura Hill: I see.

Rev. Chandler:  And that was, you know—I, I really went to them saying, “The churches want to help.  And if you’re organizing, whatever I can do to bring the strengths of the council which—money, and people and whatever else—I want to come to do that.”  So I came in there as a kind of liaison, but really as a servant and I really carefully—just didn’t cultivate it, I really felt that way and felt that I was there to be a missionary from the black community to the white community and the white community to the black community—the mutuality.  I had this very uncomfortable feeling, and I still do, that white churches were very willing to give and support and do all these things.  But it was always a kind of “we’re giving you”, and my feeling was that the black churches had the gift of their own particular experience and their strengths to bring to the table so that this was a mutual coming to the table.  I always felt that way, I felt very strongly that, and I resented the notion that some white congregants would give to me, “Well we’re gonna help you poor people.” And I’d say, “No, you don’t need to help us poor people, we want to help you.”

Laura Hill: Right, right well I mean that’s the kind of paternalism that Rochester is famous for, right?

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right, and that’s what—that, that came to focus in the FIGHT/Kodak issue.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  Because Kodak was—had a reputation as a liberal institution and it was an earned reputation, they did some good stuff.  But it was always on their terms and they just, they had great difficulty in somehow changing their posture so that they weren’t being the beneficent Eastman Kodak.

Laura Hill: Yeah, yeah absolutely, absolutely.  Um, how does the seminary, as an institution, respond to the riots? I mean you’ve kind of moved on at this point, but I assume you’re still in touch.

Rev. Chandler:  Oh yes, yes.  Um, well as an institution I don’t think the seminary did anything.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  I mean, they, they made no particular um, program out of anything.  Or, I shouldn’t even say that. They, they—their actions were not direct, they had no direct connection.  But as we begin to try to seek some organized response to the riots that had occurred, and as the needs and desires of that community in Rochester began to be articulated, then we said, “Okay we can use the resources of the Council to reach some of the groups around the country,” because at that time SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and so forth. So Jim Bevel[9] came up.

Laura Hill: I’m glad you raise this; it’s on my list of questions.

Rev. Chandler:  Okay.

Laura Hill: Tell me how that process worked.  What were the connections?

Rev. Chandler:  Well it worked really well, I think.  We called Dr. King’s office and uh—.

Laura Hill: The Council of Churches called?

Rev. Chandler:  The Council of Churches, through Herb White he—this was an urban ministry deal.  And my, my job as associate director was to help him, in terms of keeping the connections and so forth.  So, Jim Bevel came up and uh spent you know a day or two with us.  Uh, Jesse Jackson came and we spent some time with Jesse.  And uh, there was another—

Laura Hill: Andy Young.

Rev. Chandler:  —Andrew, did he come up? He might have, I don’t recall—my relationship with him was—I didn’t have it at that time; I’ve since then become friends with him.  But anyway, yes, and as it—as we talked together with these guys, it became clear to us that the kind of church-based direction that SCLC represented with Dr. King and all that, was not really quite um, the approach we thought that would be effective in Rochester.  Because we had some very disaffected people.  On the other hand, we didn’t want to abdicate that whole arena to um, the emerging Black Power Movement. There were some organized things, but mostly it was amorphous, but very powerful.  There were figures coming out and we began to think well somewhere between black revolution, which is being talked about, and, and the Southern Christian—there had to be something in-between.  I remember going to the Black Panthers one time.

Laura Hill: In Rochester?

Rev. Chandler:  Mm-hmm.  And they had some guns an’ some stuff, and maybe a few sticks of dynamite or somethin’ but—.  And they were gonna have a revolution.  I was scared to death. [laughter].  But I said to them, “Listen, now listen you guys each of you take out a million dollar insurance policy and make me the beneficiary ‘cause you gonna die out there if you go out there with these things.”  I said, the police had—and I knew they had anti-tank weapons and half-track, I mean they can do a lot of damage to the community and kill these guys in the process. And I was scared, you know, I’m sittin’ there and I’m scared and I said, “I am scared, but I’m tellin’ you the truth.”

Laura Hill: Was the Black Panther Party substantial in Rochester?

Rev. Chandler:  I never knew exactly the extent to which the, the party—. But, you know just—if you had six of ‘em that, in the eyes of the people, is—as confrontational as they were, people didn’t know how many there were.  And there were people of course who sympathized with ‘em so it was always amorphous. You didn’t know how many there were.  On the other hand, those who were, were vocal enough and articulate enough that they scared everybody else to death.  So, and I knew some of those guys.

Laura Hill: Who were they?

Rev. Chandler:  Oh, I can’t, you know to this—I’m, I’m being very, I’m very honest, I cannot think of their names. 

Laura Hill: Okay, no, no, no that’s okay. I—.

Rev. Chandler:  There was one woman, Mary, Mary somethin’—I remember her.  Big, heavy-set lady.  Mary, what was Mary’s name? And she was a—she palled around with ‘em anyway.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm, they have not been a very visible presence in all of my research.  And so I’m a little curious.

Rev. Chandler:  But they were there.

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  They were there [laughs].

Laura Hill: They were an element [laughs], they were an element.  Okay, so you’re, you’re somewhere between this sort of nationalist revolutionary and the SCLC.  And so how are those decisions made? Who makes the decision that SCLC is not gonna be the driving force?

Rev. Chandler:  I think that between conversations with Franklin and um, Herb Shankle and um, some of the street folks—I can’t think of their names, isn’t that funny?  Not Kenny Stevens, what was the other guy?  He was pretty, he was very vocal, that I was—well now I can’t think.  And Connie and John Mitchell, Mildred Johnson. Conversations with them, they’d say, “Well, man, you can’t be bringin’ no church organization in here, ‘cause that, that’ll—.” And that was right, “That’ll kill you right off.”  So, on the other hand, they also recognized that—.

Mrs. Chandler:  Lakie Ashford.

Rev. Chandler:  Well yeah, but Lakie was more establishment ‘cause he was, he was the city, he worked for Hiram[10]—for the Sibley, for uh, what’s the Sibley guy’s name who was commissioner, police commissioner?  Anyway, so it was between those that we said, we began to look around and say, “Well, who can we get?” And Herb had done some research and came upon Saul Alinsky.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  So, in the meantime, there you know, we had these confrontations; well they were conversations with the news media.  And uh, Al Newhart—he’s, he’s now with theUSA Today—I’ll never forget one time we were in a meeting with him and I almost lost my temper and uh we almost came to blows, I’ll never forget that one but [laughs]—.  Anyway, out of that, out of the conversations with them and conversations with churches, knowing—and I think Mildred and, and uh even the militant people from the streets recognized that the church had to be involved.

Laura Hill: Okay. 

Rev. Chandler:  And they also, they felt mainly that the black church had to be involved ‘cause it hadn’t done anything, they felt, but they felt that it should be involved ‘cause they knew that it was a power base and they also felt that the Council of Churches could be involved as kinda broker for some of this stuff. So—.

Laura Hill: Well in fairness it sounds like they would have had some experience with the Council of Churches already if a number of these people are, are migrants, right?  That are settling into Rochester, then there is at least the understanding that the Council of Churches—

Rev. Chandler:  Well yeah, they, knew the Council of Churches existed and kind of a basic—

Laura Hill: —that there’s a familiarity.

Rev. Chandler:  —and then basically that the Council was on the right track.

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  I think they felt that of all the church organizations, the Council of Churches was pretty much as close as anybody could get to being something that would be amenable to them.

Laura Hill: Okay, okay.  So the decision is made.

Rev. Chandler:  To see—to, to talk with Saul Alinsky and see.  So we went out to Chicago.

Laura Hill: Who’s we?

Rev. Chandler:  Murphy Greer, Herb Shankle, Herb White, Dick Hughes, me, Franklin and—

Laura Hill: Connie.

Rev. Chandler:  —yeah, Connie Mitchell went and Mildred, I think.  There were a group of us, all went out to Chicago. Had lunch with Saul and he had us in stitches.  He had a wonderful way of, of sayin’ whatever he had to say in very humorous ways. He, he was talkin’ about getting outside of peoples’ experience.  He says, “Let me show you.”  So he goes over to some guy and says, “Is that your Lincoln out there with the um, the Wisconsin license plate, license plate on it?”  The guy says, “Yeah.”  And he said, “Well some,”—what was that, it was a bumper sticker of Barry Goldwater—he said, “Well some idiot put a Barry Goldwater sticker on your bumper.” And the guy goes [laughter]—.  And we’re all dyin’.

Laura Hill: ‘Cause he had put it on there himself of course.

Rev. Chandler:  [laughs] And we’re dyin’—and it was so funny.  But in our conversation with Saul, he knew more New Testament than a lot of preachers.  I mean the guy really knew the New Testament.  And his biggest concern in our conversation was what it was goin’ to involve in terms of the churches and those ministers who were goin’ to be—he’s talkin’ about black and white ministers ‘cause he felt that if the Council of Churches was involved that it was going to be a very strenuous experience.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And he had great concern for the ministers and I respected that.  That was one of the reasons we felt—well, huh.  And on the other hand we also knew that the work he had done with the Yard—the uh—.

Laura Hill: —the Back of the Yards[11].

Rev. Chandler:  Mm-hmm. And Chicago.

Laura Hill: The TWO, the—

Rev. Chandler:  Yep, yeah.

Laura Hill: —I can’t think of what it stands for now, but TWO—.

Rev. Chandler:  Um—.

Laura Hill: —Woodland.

Rev. Chandler:  And, Woodland[12].  And then in California, his work with Cesar Chavez. So we felt, yeah this was the kind of approach. Number one it was tough, it was confrontational, but it wasn’t violent.

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  He had never been arrested for anything that we knew anything about. And, and that it also emerged from the communities themselves, ‘cause it was a community really, organizing a community.  We liked that.  And his genius for talking and for ideas, just really impressed us.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  So that’s how we, we came to kinda center on Saul.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.  And so you go out, you meet with him—

Rev. Chandler:  Then we came back, talked to—.

Laura Hill: —he’s talking about crazy things; you know giving people beans and sending them to the philharmonic. 

Rev. Chandler:  Well that was later, that was all later. [laughs].

Laura Hill: Okay [laughs].

Rev. Chandler:  Sometimes we wondered about all these—.  But we knew that for example, he had talked about integrating the Marshall Field’s stores in Chicago and that they had this tactic where they knew that there would be somebody in that audience who was spyin’ for the stores and all that kind of thing.  So they let it be leaked out, leaked—that they were all gonna go down and buy handkerchiefs down at Field’s because they didn’t have any people of color in sales positions there, and positions of authority.  So, and they wanted to pick out the best handkerchiefs so it took a while for each person to do this, but they were gonna have all these people in the stores buyin’ handkerchiefs and of course that would tie up the store [laughs]—I mean that’s really literally what it—.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, when that story got to the, the story to us was that—when that got to Marshall Field’s that that was gonna take place on Saturday, on Friday they integrated the Marshall Field’s staff. [laughs].

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  Well it was that kind of ingenuity that was impressive.

Laura Hill: Sure, it sounds like it was a, a kind of strategizing interview in some ways.

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And he was—of course his, his Don Quixote-ish approach to things was just really wonderful.   So we felt, well okay. So uh, we had to get the churches on board for this.

Laura Hill: Yes. Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  So we got as much information about Saul and about the Woodlawn organization, their effort there and the, the um, organization he represented in Chicago.  And then we went out to churches. And our strategy was to develop the relationship—have those churches feel a relationship to what was gonna go on there and to Saul.  So I went out—not—I mean we went out for a year every night practically to churches, to explain why we were putting this kind of community organization into the picture.  And we told them, you know, this—the alternatives are not good. Either you let this brew and you have something worse, or you got the black nationalist groups wanna come in and wanna do Rochester.  So, or you’ve got this which is impolite and all that, but hey. We think that the people in the black community will welcome this approach.  That was the other part and very important part.  So we had a series of meetings with just ordinary street folks, some of them pastors, some were gang leaders, some were housewives and we would talk about Alinsky and so forth.

Laura Hill: Where are you holding these meetings? How do they come about?

Rev. Chandler:  In houses, uh, in churches we would meet.  We even met one time in Syracuse, at one point, ‘cause it got it out of the way.  And uh—very informally, you know we would meet with people. And so the consensus began to grow.  And of course the newspapers found out about the effort immediately.  And they helped us to organize the black community, ‘cause they were against it and a lot of people said, “Well, if they’re against it, I’m for it.” [laughs].

Laura Hill: That’s right.  That’s great.

Rev. Chandler:  There’s a lot of—there, as I recall it, you know, there a lot of community tension and all that but there were moments that were absolutely hilarious, they were just so funny.  ‘Cause people would get to talkin’ about this stuff in the vernacular.  So that, that was—two things: we told them we’re gonna hafta go to these white churches and communicate this process to them.  So you gotta trust me and a few others to go out there and do that.  And, ‘cause, you know, they could go, but I think, uh—the distance between them and—you know, some of ‘em were not skilled diplomats—

Laura Hill: Yes.

Rev. Chandler:  —and you had to really be a diplomat.  So I was just chosen to do that.  Went out night after night to explain this.  Never will forget, one time I was in Brighton, in a church, great big church, talkin’ about Saul and this effort. And there was this huge cross up in the chancellery of this church.  We’re sitting down there in front of the church and the members are asking questions and one lady says, “Well, I just don’t understand how in the world you could—this Council of Churches could get this Jew to do this work.  I just—Saul Alinsky’s a Jew.”  And I thank the Lord to this day—I don’t know where it came from, I didn’t even think about it for two seconds and, I just looked up at the cross, and turned around and looked at her and said, “Lady, Jesus was a Jew.”

Laura Hill: [laughs]. Of course!

Rev. Chandler:  Coulda’ heard a pin drop, and that lady just quietly sat down.  And the newspapers were vehemently against it. And, um—.

Laura Hill: Why?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, they just thought that this man was too radical for Rochester.  They didn’t want any radicals coming to Rochester and rattling the cages. 

Laura Hill: They didn’t realize they had radicals in Rochester already.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s it.  And uh, um— there was one guy on the radio, his name was—what was that guy on the radio, Portia, on W—WIBC? Richard—he had a very authoritative voice and he was, he was a commentator, and he, dang— he was the Rush Limbaugh of his time [laughs].

Laura Hill: Yes, I think I’ve seen old clips or heard old clips of him.

Rev. Chandler:  He challenged, he challenged the then president, George W. Hill, who was president of the Council.  He challenged George to a debate on the radio on this business of FIGHT and organizing with Saul Alinsky.  What he didn’t recognize or realize was that George had been a debating, a national debating champion.  I felt—I said, “George, just please don’t do overkill, ‘cause—.”  He handled this guy with humor and I mean by the time it was over this guy’s voice had gone from being a deep, authoritative voice to saying, [imitates high-pitched voice] “Well I don’t know what.” [laughs].  It was funny.  But that was the process.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  One, explain to the white churches what—how strategic this was and saying to the black churches, you know, what do you want us, what kind of message do you want me to communicate? ‘Cause they wanted me to be their spokesman as well.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And I was grateful for that, ‘cause there was an enormous amount of trust that both black and white communities were giving.  And it was a burden, but I didn’t recognize it as much. I think it was just more a burden for Portia and the family ‘cause I was gone night after night after night.

Laura Hill: Yeah.  I, I actually—Herb White is one of the people I interviewed on the phone, and, you know, his telling of going out to these churches, of, you know, going back to these churches, of having the conversation a third time.  You know, why are we doing this? And you know, so much hand-holding and, and really pounding the pavement to make this, to make this happen. 

Rev. Chandler:  Yep.

Laura Hill: So I understand that Alinsky requires signatures from the black community. He wants to be invited by the black community before he comes in, is that right?

Rev. Chandler:  Yep, I believe I remember something of that, ‘cause I wasn’t—at that point Herb was handling that aspect of it.

Laura Hill: Okay and so he comes. 

Rev. Chandler:  Yep.

Laura Hill: How does FIGHT form?

Rev. Chandler:  Well it—they had a community meeting. Anybody, any families, churches, clubs, whatever, could become part of this effort.  So they had a big organizing convention, is really what it was.  And they elected officers and they elected—they hadn’t yet become FIGHT.

Laura Hill: That’s right.

Rev. Chandler:  And they say what’s gonna be our name?  And they thought well we gotta have something—now I don’t know where it came from, probably from Alinsky and Franklin,  but they elected Franklin to be the president at that point.  

Laura Hill: Were you at that first convention?

Rev. Chandler:  Mm-hmm

Laura Hill: What happened there?  How do they elect Florence?

Rev. Chandler:  Well it wasn’t by ac—it wasn’t quite by acclimation.  They had—there were several people that they thought about as community leaders, even St. Julian Simpkins and others.  There were delegations from the churches and they, you know, they had to register as delegates and we all did.  And they had caucuses and they caucused, and Franklin’s name just began to emerge and he became the one to whom people looked. And I thought it was great, ‘cause it was all—it was really a wonderful dynamic that was taking place.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.  And what an education for some of these people too, to be involved. 

Rev. Chandler:  Oh yeah, they had never been involved.  And, and a lot of ‘em were like me, I’m not as—I’m as political as a stick of wood.

Laura Hill: [laughs].  Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  But, but here I was and, you know, up there in a caucus talking.  As a matter a fact, I think my name was put up there at some point as something, vice-president or somethin’.  And I said no. I felt that my position ought to be neutral and—

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  —I, I wanted to stay where I was.  But that’s how it started.  And they hadn’t even picked up the name yet.

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  And uh, that’s, that’s—.

Laura Hill: How did they make the decision that this was going to be an organization of organizations, as opposed to of individuals?

{Recording Paused}

Laura Hill: Okay, so FIGHT has formed. Um, Minister Florence has been elected.  And—what happens?  How does FIGHT function?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think um—there was a lot, it to me anyway—I felt that there was um—what is the word I want to use?  Tension—

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  —between the varying um, images that people had of what was really necessary to do.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Uh, I think that some people, a lot of the church people, wanted the changes.  They weren’t absolutely sure about how you go about doing the things.  Like for example, there was a need for better housing, better jobs.  But, how do you do this if you are goin’ to the people who have the jobs and, I mean you—some people felt well, we can strongly say that we need the jobs and all that.  Other people were saying well yeah, but you gotta demand them.  And so there was this tension between the approaches and, and, you know, I think African-American communities are, well they’re just like a lot of other communities in that sense.  People don’t want impoliteness, and they—I mean they’ve grown up with a sense of values, that um, that you don’t—you’re not rude to people and that sorta thing.  So it was a—it was difficult for those groups, some of them, to accept the notion of the kind of approach that Saul Alinsky um, represented. And yet they wanted—they felt that it was necessary to have professional leadership, or to have some form of leadership that they could, that they could recognize.  So, there was that.  There were of course, I think, there were people, individuals—and I’m tryin’ to think of who might be representative of that—um, who wanted to be leaders.  ‘Course there are a lot of folks who wanna be that.  And then among the churches there are those—.  But, I think um, as people began to talk about the issues, they began to realize that something had to be done.  They found, uh, it seemed to me, that they found that the churches could get enough support in what they were seeking, once the church had committed itself to it.  That, I think, that gave it some validity.  Uh, I think they also felt—I had never seen this before, at least it was not uh, visible at the immediate level in Rochester—the need to have an organized effort in whatever you’re doing. It’s just not enough to have a single church here doin’ something and a family over there doing something.  That really you, you could affect conditions, you could, could uh, influence situations a lot more if there were more of you in common with each other.  So that, that idea of unity began to be, I think, more than it used to.  Even the people who opposed FIGHT in the church communities, in black churches, felt that, that they had to be unified.  And, you know, sometimes they would come as a unified group to protest something that was going on. 

Laura Hill: I’m, I’m gonna ask you this, and I’m—I have my motivations for doing it.  Um, I’ve recognized this sense of unity um, and so to clarify you’re saying this was not something you had seen in other places?

Rev. Chandler:  Not to the degree—not, not as an organized fashion as it was in FIGHT.

Laura Hill: Okay, okay. I’m fascinated, I’m absolutely fascinated by these early years in Rochester because it’s clear that all of these tensions you’re describing existed.  And yet leading up to the riot—I think things start to change a little after the fact—but leading up to the riot, these various factions—we were joking on the way over about which black community, right?  The black communities

Rev. Chandler:  Right, mm-hmm.

Laura Hill: —managed to, arrive at some kind of peace.  There’s, there’s some kind of a unity amongst these, these groups that you know in other cities you see all kinds of rivalries and problems.  And there’s, there doesn’t seem be this organization you’re referring to. And I see it in Rochester prior to that.  There isn’t the class conflict—not that it doesn’t, the tension isn’t there—but it’s not that kind of conflict.  Um, it’s, you know, you have um, NAACP attorneys testifying on behalf of Nation of Islam, you know, adherents. These are, these are the kinds of divides that people were sort of able to overcome in Rochester.  And I, I’m at a loss as to explain it.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think part of it, it just occurred to me and I may not be right on this, I have to think about it, but, I think—there was not, there was not the political structure in Rochester that there is in many cities.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.  Meaning?

Rev. Chandler:  That there are ward bosses and there are the people in the community who are the political stars and around whom these clusters of power get to be pretty, pretty visible and pretty structured.  I didn’t see that in Rochester, I didn’t see—

Laura Hill: Because they’re not there.

Rev. Chandler:  —there was no, there was no boss that people went to in Rochester.  They went to a, a Mildred Johnson, this lady who had an informal social agency. They’d go to her or they’d go to their church or something.  And in a sense they were leaders of the various communities that we were talking about, but they didn’t, they didn’t have the kind of political structure, quasi-political structure, that you see in a lot of other cities. 

Laura Hill: Okay. I, I suspect that this has to with um, again the migration patterns, right? There isn’t time for all that to develop in Rochester.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right.

Laura Hill: Most of these people have just come. 

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right, a lot of them—

Laura Hill: I mean the population, right?

Rev. Chandler:  —just bloomed, mm—hmm.

Laura Hill: Um,—.

Rev. Chandler:  Although there had been, you know, Rochester had long-, long-standing black community.

Laura Hill: Absolutely.

Rev. Chandler:  But, and then again I think that community was a black community in a lot of senses. But in a different way they were not a black community.  That is they were black, they had the church, primarily as the organization that represented community, if there was.  But, I think they saw themselves as Rochesterians—first.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.  It’s very interesting, I’ve been reading a lot lately um, they see themselves as Rochesterians first.  And it’s not that they are not aware of the race issues that are happening, but again, we talked about this in the car, they seem to come to some kind of truce with white Rochester.

Rev. Chandler:  Exactly. 

Laura Hill: This works for you, it’s imperfect, but it works for us.

Rev. Chandler:  Sure, it’s an accommodation without giving up, you know, yourself in the process.  You give up a lot.  You can give up a lot if you can maintain your sense of self.  And I think that’s what happened. 

Laura Hill: Yeah. It’s very, very interesting dynamics.  But, again, I think this, this organization is key. I mean I think it’s one of the things that makes Rochester so strong in terms of producing a kind of model for what’s possible.

Rev. Chandler:  Right.  I think so.

Laura Hill: Okay. So, FIGHT is functioning and they decide they are going to take on Eastman Kodak.  Tell me about that.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, yeah [laughs].

Laura Hill: How does it start? How does it develop?  Where does it go?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, my recollection is not all, you know—that’s been so long ago, but I think, I think the notion came out of the fact that um, Eastman Kodak, along with Xerox, along with Bausch and Lomb, um, these major corporations, um, wanted to do something.  And Eastman was very proud of its record. And did have a good record of being a liberal, white company. And I think Alinsky, I think that Alinsky wanted to change the dynamic of the thing.  And I don’t know—as I think about it now and I haven’t really, you know, put all that together—but, I suspect that what came into the FIGHT/Kodak struggle in terms of the proposition uh, was partly Alinsky. Part of it, I think, came out of the community itself which said, “Okay we know better, we know our folk better than you do.  You think you know us.” And this is kind of—this was an underlying emotional dynamic that was taking place. That I think was aided, in some respects, not just by the white press, but even by churches in their efforts to be supportive and be beneficent and all that sort of thing. It gave the impression that well, we know what you need and so we’ll go along with this. Even the, the FIGHT organizational effort—the community organization effort itself, you know, being uh—having the acquiescence of the churches, was sorta like saying, “Well okay, we can put up with that. We know what—.”

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  So, when this came along, when this program came along it was very simple.  FIGHT said we want, you know, six hundred people—to get jobs for six hundred people.  Of course, Kodak says, “No problem.”  And FIGHT says, “Well, we wanna train ‘em, we want ‘em—. Now there’s certain technical training that you can do, ‘cause we can’t do that.  We don’t know how to do photography or whatever.  But, I mean you take the people that we’re talkin’ about, we want in there, they’re people who do not have the kind of experience, life experience that you think is just automatic.  And we know that it’s not.  For example if on a Monday morning, somebody’s gotta call some guy who’s not been used to having to get up at 6 o’clock on Monday morning and say, ‘Get up outta bed, you gotta go to work.’”

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  So it was that kind of practical thing that FIGHT was talking about.  And, and I think the other thing was, if I remember correctly, I can’t remember where it was, it was either in the newspapers or it was in the editorial on the news, that these poor, thatthese poor people, the poor community, the poor whatever of Rochester—they called ‘em poverts.

Laura Hill: Poverts?

Rev. Chandler:  Poverts.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Now you know, that’s a terrible word. [laughs].

Laura Hill: It’s a terrible word [laughs].

Rev. Chandler:  It’s a terrible word!

Laura Hill: It’s P-O-V-E-R-T-S?

Rev. Chandler:  Yes.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And I—they said, well the reason they used this kind of nomenclature was that these were people who didn’t have job skills.  And I said, “No,”— I used to go around and I said this many times and I don’t know that it’s written anywhere but it’s true, I did say it in many places—“You’re wrong. It is not that these people have no job skills, it’s the fact that most of the people who came to Rochester lately came from agrarian states.  They had skills in agriculture, this is an industrial economy.  It’s just the fact that their skills don’tmatch the skills that you’re talking about.”  They’ve got skills, and they did, they had all kinds of skills that farm workers and people of that kind would achieve over years.  So I got, I took umbrage at the language that was used to describe people and at the attitude that said they didn’t have skills. And so when it came to workin’ this out—.  The, I was with the negotiating committee and they put together this little statement that said, you know, FIGHT will um, cope or partner with Eastman Kodak—using the word partner very carefully—will partner with Eastman Kodak to make certain that community people were introduced and absorbed into the market.  And that’s really essentially the language that was, was the statement that we were gonna do. 

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  Okay so, things eh, they were guarded, but they were okay.  And we went on working—I can’t remember now who, ‘cause I didn’t go, with Franklin and uh, Herb and those guys on the first kinda negotiating sessions—and Franklin called me and said, “Boy, they’re gettin’ kinda stuck.”  And I said, “Well, what’s gettin’ stuck?”  “Well, we’re gettin’ stuck because these guys wanna be all technical.” And I said, “Uh-oh,” I knew they were talkin’ legal language.  And it seemed that the Industrial Park had started the negotiations. Now they were unionized, the other part of the company was not.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And so, if I remember correctly um, when the initial kinds of agreements were made  everything was fine, it was taken to the legal department and there—I can’t remember the name of that guy, Ken something-or-other, who headed up their team—they began to balk on this business.  So, and Franklin just went, you know, like this and he swelled up [laughs] and negotiations broke down.  That was early in the fall. And for several weeks things were a stalemate.  In the meantime, if I remember correctly, Bill Vaughn resigned as president and Louis Eilers became the president.  And I was invited up to his office one time for lunch—I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Mr. Eilers went on to describe their position and I was trying to explain to him that FIGHT was in a position to be the contact with these folks many of whom didn’t have the experience of working in that kind of situation.  And he said, “Well, you know,” at one point, “You know, we did your folks, we did you an enormous favor.  We took you out of Africa where you were eating worms and things and got you, you know—.” I said, “Mr. Eilers, number one, why do you want to bother people who are very happy in their own culture?  They’re perfectly happy if they’re—they don’t need all these gadgets.” I said, “If they’re happy with what they’re doin’ they’re a lot happier than some of the people in your corporation.” [laughs].  That’s what I told him.  It was insulting. 

Laura Hill: To say the least.

Rev. Chandler:  Very insulting.  But, and it, you know, his background was as an engineer, I think, it was not in human relations, certainly.

Laura Hill: Clearly [laughs].

Rev. Chandler:  So I felt—I came away from their feeling, “Oh my God” [laughs] “Who is this man?”  So they were stuck. And finally I got a call from Third Presbyterian Church, and there was a fella in that church who was also—had become a staff member on the Council of Churches, Eugene Tennis.  And I got a call from Gene telling me that there was a man named John Mulder who was a vice president and that uh, Mulder would at least talk about it.  And I said, “Well, that’s all I—,” ‘cause I—I said, “That’s all I can hope for.” ‘Cause at that point nothing was going on.  Franklin—we talk every now and then but nothing.

Laura Hill: Now, Mulder was a member of Third Presbyterian, is that correct?

Rev. Chandler:  Mm-hmm.

Laura Hill: So this is again, the churches negotiating, facilitating—.

Rev. Chandler:  In an oblique way, yeah.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And I think, actually the pastor of the church was not necessarily the guiding spirit behind this.  I think it was, it was in the church people, the membership itself.  So John[13]—I called John and he said, “Well I can give you a half hour.”  And I said, “Well that’s good enough. Let’s just talk.”  So I went to meet him, I didn’t know him, and I, and uh, we chatted a little bit and finally in the last ten minutes we started to talk about the FIGHT situation and I tried to explain it from our position.  And he said, “Well you know there are legal ramifications.” And I said, “Well of course there are.” But and, I said, “But you know with—it is a community organization, they’re not lawyers they just want something to happen.”  We ended up—what started out as a half-hour lunch became three hours and we sat and talked and we walked and at the end of the day John said, “Well let’s meet again.”  And I said, “Okay.” So he went back and talked to his folks and I went back and reported to Franklin.  And I said, “Well he’s open,” and uh, I said, “We can go at it again.” So we did and finally, it ended up—we had a session with John and there were three or four people from, from Eastman Kodak and the Council of Churches.  Dick Hughes was there, Herb, and there were—seems to me that there was another minister from the United Church of Christ—and we all met down in the hotel, down there—motel, down there on the, downtown in Rochester. And this went on for about two days. And finally we said, “Well, why don’t we just make a statement that just says that we will cooperate with each other on this all?”  It was merely that—it didn’t get—and that the goal was to meet. And I think we used the word goal, if I remember correctly, I got that paper somewhere here—.

Laura Hill: I have a copy of it.

Rev. Chandler:  Okay.  But I wrote the original thing, typed it, never will forget it. And—so then we could get to the press.

Laura Hill: If I can just ask you here, why was this so important to FIGHT?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think it was important because it would further validate FIGHT as a negotiating institution with the business and industrial community.

Laura Hill: Kodak recognizes us—we’ve arrived.

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah, pretty much.  I, I think that—and it wasn’t that they depended upon that, I think it just validated what they were. It helped to substantiate their claim to represent their people.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm, okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And, ‘cause there was nothin’ else.  I mean you—no political party, no other—the Black Panther Party certainly couldn’t, wouldn’t. And so um, I think that this was—it was further validation of their position as kind of pivotal in the community.

Laura Hill: Absolutely, I mean the only thing that FIGHT has at this point—and I, I’ve read this material a number of times—what they have is the threat of violence, right?

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah, pretty much.

Laura Hill: You know, Florence essentially says, time and time again, “You can deal with us in this way, or you’re gonna have long hot summers,” right?

Rev. Chandler:  Mm-hmm.

Laura Hill: And long hot summers was his stand-in, right? 

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right

Laura Hill: It’s language.

Rev. Chandler:  And I, I think Franklin—he was saying that from two points of view.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  One as a quasi-political leader, the other as a church person.  I think he really truly felt that this was a prophetic message.  That, you know, you had to do this.  You have choices you can either live or die, and this is the path—this is the way to death and this is the way to life, I think, to use church language.  And I think there was enough church influence in this to see it that way. I mean, I think the churches saw it’s not so much as a politi—and—this is a difference, I wanted to say this to you earlier, this was one of the differences in perspective of the caucasian churches who saw FIGHT and this whole business as a kinda political exercise.  Well, FIGHT saw it as in political terms, but they saw it as a kind of spiritual struggle for hearts and minds.  ‘Cause you know—this had to do with saving souls, in terms of understanding in the black church.  So um, it wasn’t so much just to gain political power and be the institution, it was to—and I think the whole Civil Rights Movement, the reason that it had the power that it did was because it saw itself in spiritual terms. And I think that was the same thing with FIGHT.  It was essentially—but some of the meetings were like revival meetings. You’d go and boy, people would sing. It was really wonderful.  And I thought about that because the struggle was not just in terms of gaining a social end, some kind of social goal. It was to fulfill the destiny that we felt God had called us to, as a people.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And it wasn’t to be—it wasn’t to turn the tables, it wasn’t to be over the white Church, it was to be a partner with and a part of.  And that’s even—that took an institutional and organizational um, bit when I became—my portfolio changed, to be the Council of Churches executive for Black Church Ministries and I used all my time and effort to go and be with black churches.  And it used to tickle me because I come from a Bap—a very, humble Baptist Church background, so I was very much—and very Pentecostal. So I am very much at home when you clap the hands and have the tambourine. I’m feelin’ very much at home. [laughs].  They couldn’t get used to that.  They’d be like the Council of Churches executive gets up here, he’s up here clapping his hands [laughs], you know. And I wasn’t puttin’ it on; I was havin’ as much of a spiritual experience as they were. And it tickled me.  I remember one morning I went to a church ‘bout as big as twenty feet long or thirty feet long. And it was cold, it was early February. And I didn’t have a regular church responsibility so I would go visit. And I went to this little storefront church where when you come in there’s no vestibule, you’re right in it. 

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm, that’s right. 

Rev. Chandler:  And as I walked in the door, the minister announced that I was gonna preach.  Now he—I had not been invited to preach, but that’s the way it was, that was the pattern with some of these little churches.  So I always had a little sermon in my back pocket. And I went up there and, of course, it was just essentially a one step up platform and they had a little desk, a little podium and uh there came time to preach. I got up and I started preachin’ about the prodigal son and in true fashion amongst our black ministers, by the time I got to the third point I was goin’, I was in high gear [laughs]. And I started talkin’ about this Jewish boy feedin’ pigs and I was goin’—


Rev. Chandler:  —I mean I had my head and my tone and there’s a lady on the front row, she’s pretty big, and she leaped up and said, “You better cut that out!” [laughs]. Which was the pattern in our churches, the congregation was callin’ response out loud and this lady tickled me to death.  I had to laugh myself at that one.  But, it was that kind of dynamic that was taking place at the same time we were doin’ all this negotiating.

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Rev. Chandler:  And I think the wonderful thing about that for me was that John Mulder didn’t understand all that, he didn’t understand all that. But, I was surprised and delighted at this man who didn’t know me that well, but who really honored me by giving me his trust to try to make these connections, which we did.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And it was about—after we had made, signed the agreement, and then about two or three days before Christmas, they were having a party at our house. Franklin and Shankle  and all of them, we were all over there celebrating the fact that this thing had been done and I get a call about 10 o’clock at night from John, John Mulder. And he said, “Marvin, I gotta talk to you right away.” And I could tell from his voice that something was really bad and I had no idea what it was.  He came over, he said, “Can I come over?” And I said, “Well, by all means.” He came over to my house and we went into an upstairs room while they were downstairs talkin’ and he told me that they had reneged on the agreement. And I said, “Oh my God, John. We’ve gotta tell Franklin.” He said, “I know.” And I said, “Well he’s here.” And he said, “Well—.”  So we went downstairs and told Franklin, and Franklin went livid, I mean absolutely livid. And he didn’t—he was not a cursing man, but he just, you know, “How could they do this?” And so, then he was gonna go public right away with the fact that they reneged and of course he did. So, through the—even though all that had happened—I still called John and he would call me, we remained friends until he died.  But, of course, you know, they kicked him sideways. He was in line to become a president, I think, at some point.  But, what we didn’t know about the reneging on that agreement was that there was an intra-company struggle going on at that point between the powers of the CE—the President of the Board and the President of the company, the Chairman of the Board and the President—we had no idea. But that was the dynamic that was going on inside that company.

Laura Hill: And, and Louis Eilers is the President of the company or the Chairman of the Board?

Rev. Chandler:  He was—I thought he was President of the company, at that point—

Laura Hill: I don’t recall at this point.

Rev. Chandler:  —I think he took Bill Vaughn’s place.

Laura Hill: No, I think that’s right.  I think that’s right.

Rev. Chandler:  I think that was it.  But there was this struggle, whatever it was, and of course this, this got in the middle of it.  And—that really, that became a very costly and terrible episode. You know, our good friend Lee Beynon who’s the minister of the First Baptist Church, hanged himself in the church under the pulpit.

Laura Hill: I’ve heard that story.

Rev. Chandler:  And he had been to our house, he and Richard Norman Hughes—I just saw his daughter, Dick’s daughter, not long ago. They were over at our house and just like a night or two before he did that.  He was, very, Lee Beynon was very upset;  he was a gentle man, but they had put him and his family through—“they”  meaning we don’t know who, but some—. They’d gotten veiled threats, cold phone calls at three in the morning, heavy breathing, loose—someone loosened the lug nuts on their car.  That’s pretty bad.

Laura Hill: This is the white people and the white community? 

Rev. Chandler:  Some middle management people, you know, who worked for Eastman Kodak company.

Laura Hill: And what was his position that he was, he was targeted?

Rev. Chandler:  Lee?

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, he was the pastor of a very influential church.  And he, he was one of the leaders of the Council of Churches and very visible, had many—and he had spoken out very forthrightly, you know, on behalf of FIGHT and of the Council of Churches program. 

Laura Hill: Rochester, at this point, is only about forty years out from the big Klanvocation, right?

Rev. Chandler:  Yep.

Laura Hill: I mean the Klan was alive and well in Rochester.

Rev. Chandler:  Yep, yep.

Laura Hill: And so, this doesn’t surprise me, um—.

Rev. Chandler:  No. I didn’t know that much about the Klan and that, that part—I, later on I was told that they, you know, that they had been—‘course I was from Indiana where the Klan was headquarters [laughs].

Laura Hill: Stronghold [laughs].

Rev. Chandler:  So we knew about all that, but—oh that’s right um, you know, I think it was the iron fist in the velvet glove.  Institutionals, the—institutions are very moral in one respect: you can always depend upon them to protect their interests.  They will do whateveris necessary to maintain the integrity of the institution.  Doesn’t mean that it’s moral in the sense that you and I and generally thought as morality, but they are moral in the sense that they are going to be coincident with whatever their idea of what they are about.  So that’s what that was.

Laura Hill: How does it, how does it affect the black communities?  Let’s start there, how does this struggle between FIGHT and Kodak affect what’s happening in the black communities?  Because it goes on for nearly two years.

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah, yeah it does.

Laura Hill: I mean that’s, that’s a very long—.

Rev. Chandler:  Well I think, I think—I was surprised.  No, I take that back, I’m not—wasn’t surprised, but I was impressed with the staying power that these churches and community organizations—we went out a lot, I mean I went out.  But, but having the base in the church was wonderful, because there people could maintain the sense that this was not just a political structure—struggle.  This was, this had to do with people’s lives and you were trying to do something so you had to stay with it.  And—.

Laura Hill: This is God’s work.

Rev. Chandler:  Yeah, and it was seen that way.  I made lots of visits to the Church of God and the little Pentecostal Church of God in Christ and others and the A.M.E. Zion Church. And, fortunately, while I was a Council of Churches executive, I was being a choir director in one of the—gospel choir director in one of the churches, so I had that identification.  And, and so people could see the churchiness of what the struggle was about.  And that helped.

Laura Hill: And how did you all keep the people that were not affiliated with the church involved? So they’re labeled, right? This hard-core unemployed, like this sort of untouchables. 

Rev. Chandler:  Right, the street folks. 

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I went around with them too [laughs].  I’d go to the taverns, I sat in a lot of bars and I had the Street, so called Street Ministry.  I would just be on the street every night practically, talking with guys in all kinds of situations and if—tryin’ to work with Mildred and other peoples. If Mildred needed somethin’ she’d call me up, some folk needed somethin’ down there, at the little Podunk church we’d go down there. And I just, sort of, like—I was the minister-at—somebody said minis

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right. And they saw me as not—well they, I was Reverend Chandler all right, and Minister, but I wasn’t pastoring.  Pastoring has this kind of aura about being up there.  And they weren’t quite sure, they—I think they respected my spirituality; they weren’t sure how that worked, with being an ordained minister in the church, especially if you were out there in the streets.  And, you know, I wasn’t playin’ jazz, but I was out there, and then I was anywhere, and then I was in the churches on Sunday, you know.  They were never quite able to figure that out.  I—and I don’t blame ‘em, I wasn’t either.  But, at least I had a starting point and I felt—. They, and yet they did, I think they did pretty well.  Franklin and Shankle and Murphy Greer and those guys, they learned how to be a little—to have their feet a little more on the ground, ‘cause they had to.  And I highly respected them for that. ‘Cause it took effort not to take yourself so seriously as the Reverend and the Elder and Minister Florence and so forth.  You know, I mean, those guys could have really just taken themselves very seriously and gone off. They didn’t.

Laura Hill: Tell, while we’re on the subject, tell me more about the Rochester Area Minister’s Conference.  Tell me.

Rev. Chandler:  Well they—it started out, the—we decided to call ourselves Rochester Area Minister’s Conference as opposed to the Council of Churches as opposed to something else because, this was inclusive enough that anybody who wanted to join it who was a minister could.  Um, it was, I think there were maybe one or two women. I know they were, I remember they—no, I don’t think there were any women in it, which is not unusual in black churches, of course. There, and it was kind of a fellowship. We met for breakfast most of the time and just kinda kept each other up to date.  And we would strategize in terms of what the churches could say and do in the bigger meetings.  So that the ministers were pretty much together if they wanted to support a particular thing.  If they thought that something was not appropriate or somethin’ and they shouldn’t, then they felt it was better to speak with one voice, and that’s very true.  Um, but it was more of a brotherhood, more of a kind of, of giving individual—giving group support to an individual minister and there were times when churches needed the broader support for their own particular circumstance, and that was given.  It was—and then they felt that that helped them, and I wasn’t their spokesman.  They had guys who would meet with the Council of Churches or with other denominations. Sometimes the denominations would go singly to them and ask about stuff.  So, as they would say behind my back, I didn’t care.  I said, “I don’t care how you go.  You can do whatever you want to.”

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  But, um—my feeling was that this, this was—they were attempting to be a black ecumenical organization.  The difference between what they were as Rochester Minister’s Conference and my position was that I was trying to have a broader black uh, presence as uh, a kind of arm of the Council of Churches from black churches that would have lay representation rather than just clergy.  ‘Cause there were a lot of ministerial groups, but there was nothing in the black communities that, that was like a black Council of Churches that had representatives from the congregations that may or may not be ministers.  They can be lay people and should be lay people.

Laura Hill: I see.

Rev. Chandler:  And that was a very, that was a very—and I forgot, we had a name for it at one point and it got lost in the shuffle.  But they did work—I mean it worked that way.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  As a matter a fact, I gave a report on what had happened in Rochester to the National Council of Churches board meeting a little later on.  And it was outta that board meeting that a national uh, group—ecumenical black group was formed.  And their first person was—what did they call that organization? It’s still going.  Um, and their first executive was a guy named Don Jacobs, a Methodist uh, minister out of Cleveland, Ohio. Hmm, anyway.

Laura Hill: Do you have any idea how frequently, in the course of these interviews, I have heard where something that was born in Rochester is presented on this broader um, field and it has become a model for a national uh, organization or strategy or what have you?

Rev. Chandler:  Well that, yeah.  For example, after the riots in, at Attica, there was a group of United Church women started “court watching,” they called it.  And they watched the process in court to see if justice was being done and they saw instances where it wasn’t right.  It was out of that—and there was a guy, there were two—there was a guy named Bill Lincoln who was honored with me a couple of weeks ago.

Laura Hill: He’s a Rochester guy, mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And there was another guy, Bob—what was Bob’s name? He and I were on the streets doin’ this kinda street ministry type thing, out of which there was a woman named Jenny Mackey and the Church Women United group became the Judicial Process Commission and the Judicial Process Commission was a kind of watchdog thing, that became a national group.  And Jenny ended up out at Boulder, Colorado.  That was her headquarters after that. But that became a national program and it grew out of that street ministry that we were doing in Rochester.

Laura Hill: Right, right.  You mention Attica and it’s one of the things that’s on my, my list of uh, topics, uh, to discuss.  Do you want to do that or should we finish with the Rochester stuff?

Rev. Chandler:  Well let’s go with the Rochester—if you have other, let’s keep ourselves honest here.

Laura Hill: I do, I do actually, um—.

Rev. Chandler:  Now some of this, if we don’t get to it today—.

Laura Hill: We can do it on the phone, sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And I’ll be glad to spend as much time as you wanna spend.

Laura Hill: No, no it’s not a problem at all, I appreciate that.  So, there’s two sort of these broader trends that I’m really interested in that again, sort of start in Rochester or, you know, come to fruition there.  One of them is black theology and the other is black capitalism. 

Rev. Chandler:  Mm-hmm.

Laura Hill: And so in terms of the black theology of course, James Cone, Gayraud Wilmore are both invited, at different points, to Colgate Rochester. What is going on there? Why Rochester?  What’s the relationship, again, between the seminary and the city? Um—.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think that Gay Wilmore came as a result, partly as a result of the black students and their situation at Colgate Rochester.  They had lockdown at Colgate Rochester, outta which came a black Chair, temporary Chair, called Martin Luther King Jr. Chair and a fella named Dr. Henry Mitchell became the chairperson for that, and at the first year that they organized that.  Then Gay Wilmore came after that, but the first person was Henry Mitchell. And uh—.

Laura Hill: Okay.  So why do the students take over, what’s that story?

Rev. Chandler:  Well that was part of, the whole push for uh, kind of uh, what’s the word I want to use?  There was a desire on the part of the black students at Colgate Rochester to have more say in uh, in the whole process, I think, from a black perspective.  They wanted the African American-perspective included.  Now it’s very interesting because Mr. Gene Bartlett was the president and Gene and I, he was a good friend, he had every good wish and desire, but they had no idea how, how they could respond institutionally to what the students were talking about.  Of course they found a way after the kids locked the place down.  But I think this was—one, they wanted the black church to be a part of the whole curriculum and the whole institutional stance.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm, that all of the students were learning from.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right.  And so, they thought that that hadn’t been taken seriously.  Which is you know, they were not included uh, really in a significant way and that was simply because that’s the way things were in those days.  Well, they decided to change the way things were in those days.

Laura Hill: The days are gonna change. That’s right.

Rev. Chandler:  So that’s how—.  And I think it was, I don’t—well, I think it had—there was no cogent state—theological statement that guided that process. I think any theological statements came out of the process, which is a good, good theology actually.  I think good theology doesn’t start there and then, you know, the process.  The process creates the theology that comes out of it.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Rev. Chandler:  And so, but then you had black church theologians who were talkin’ about, you know, about black theology on the national level, but I don’t think that was really in the minds of those students at that point.  They wanted to establish this—well, I mean I didn’t see it as kind of um, certainly to my knowledge, not a coordinated and cohesive process that said we’re gonna end up with this.  That was not it, I think.  Uh, Gay came later and gave a more scholarly um, basis for black church and its—the dynamics in the black church and the theology.  I remember one time, later, when Leon Pacala[14] was president of Colgate Rochester, they were, there were some people agitating for Colgate Rochester to lower its standards in order to—lower the standards of entry requirements in order to facilitate greater, uh—

Laura Hill: Parity, mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  —numbers of African-American students.  And I went to Leon and I said, “Now listen, do whatever you wanna do. Get a mentor program, get a tutorial program, do whatever you want, but don’t lower the standards. The people who come to Colgate Rochester, black and white or whatever, come here to this school partly because of its excellence and its level of theological training.  And I don’t think we need to short shrift the black church because you want to get more people in.  Give ‘em some help, but keep the standard.” Leon just laughed at that[15]. But I felt that very deeply, because the scholarship of the people who did go to Colgate Rochester was pretty good.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  You didn’t get there and then you didn’t stay there if you didn’t really meet some level of scholarship. So, and I didn’t wanna drop that for the black church, ‘cause I felt, if anything, we needed more excellent leadership then we had. 

Laura Hill: Sure.  I was in Atlanta uh, last week, and one of the places that I visited was the King Center.  I wanted to look at some of the archives.  And so in the process of searching for materials, um on this trip that James Bevel made to Rochester, one of the things that popped up were all of the people involved with SCLC who had been trained at Colgate Rochester.

Rev. Chandler:  Colgate Rochester, yeah. 

Laura Hill: It’s like, I had no idea.  I mean it was huge, huge numbers. 

Rev. Chandler: A lot of these people, you know, when I think about some of them to this day, I mean—it’s an amazing thing.  But I think it was because those people, from whatever their historic background, their personal history, and the history of their churches, that Colgate Rochester enjoyed a reputation for being a progressive institution that understood the connection between religion and social dynamics.  They did.

Laura Hill: Yeah, absolutely.  So, FIGHT eventually moves in the direction of black capitalism, how—

Rev. Chandler:  FIGHTON

Laura Hill: —how were you involved in that?

Rev. Chandler:  I wasn’t.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  I actually didn’t have much at all to do with that.  At that point, I—my job had kind of moved from being this direct liaison to working more with the Rochester Minister’s Conference, just being present and, you know, doing the ministerial thing. I did a whole bunch of that. 

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And then FIGHT had a succession after Franklin, I think Raymond, Deleon McEwen—

Laura Hill: Deleon McEwen.  Then Florence again—

Rev. Chandler:  —Bernie Gifford, then, yeah—had Bernie Gifford—

Laura Hill: —then Gifford, then Scott.

Rev. Chandler:  —then Scott.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  So, it’s so kinda funny ‘cause I knew Raymond Scott in Buffalo.  And my first church assignment was at Salem United Church of Christ, and there was Raymond and Clarence, his brother, who were young people in that church.[16]

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  And we laugh about that, Scotty and I were laughin’ about it—oh, and you just reminded me I’ve got to send him a CD, a jazz CD I promised him, if I can get it.  So anyway um, that was—and I think Deleon did more, it started with Franklin and after the FIGHT/Kodak struggle, out of it came the idea of FIGHTON and uh, but Franklin did somuch, to really head it, to head up the process.  And uh, took a lot of heat from a lot of people and not just white people, he got it from the black community as well, some people.  And uh, there were all kinds of accusations that floated around as they always do to people in leadership, you know, about him being on the take and all this.  I never, ever in all of my experience with Franklin, some of it—and of course there were people who were a lot closer to him maybe than I was, except that we were always friends—but I can, to this day I would stand on a book, on a truckload of Bibles and say, “I’ve never seen Franklin do anything crooked, never anything wrong,” and that, you know. He was not a dishonest man. 

Laura Hill: There—I have encountered some, questions is probably the best way to put it, about money down the line, but the finger has never been pointed at Franklin. Not ever.  He was rough, he was rough, he was abrasive—

Rev. Chandler:  Oh yeah.

Laura Hill: —but nobody’s ever said he was crooked.

Rev. Chandler:  He had immense, immense integrity. And Raymond, Raymond, you know, same thing. Course with people in positions of leadership that’s always true.  People used to wonder if I wasn’t.  One time I had a group of ministers, ‘cause I was doing another program on another council, and uh, there was a government program where they would fix your church kitchen up and give you new stuff, equipment and everything, and then they’d run the program out of your church.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  I went to this group of ministers told ‘em about the program and they said, “Now look, we’re just a bunch of poor preachers.  You cannot—can’t you find—.” I said, “No, there is no money under the table.  If you want to know what my salary is you can go right down there to that council office and look at it, ‘cause it’s public knowledge, that’s my salary.  I don’t get paid from anybody else.” Never did ‘cause it’s a lot less trouble, number one. I didn’t want to violate my own sense of integrity to begin with, but, number one, it just doesn’t make sense. But anyway Franklin, no.

Laura Hill: No.

Rev. Chandler:  And I don’t know what went on with FIGHTON, I sort of, you know, I kinda looked at it from afar.

Laura Hill: Okay.  What did it look like from afar?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I think—I felt that it was a struggle and that it wasn’t just a struggle uh, to get an honest relationship with the white industrial business community. ‘Cause the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial—what do they call themselves? They used to tickle me ‘cause they were so very much self-serving.  Anyway uh, I watched that and wondered how they were gonna manage, first of all, to create a business, I mean a really significant business.  ‘Cause that’s complicated process and who are they gonna get to help them—to you know, who had the expertise?  I knew that Franklin didn’t have that kind of expertise; I mean I didn’t know of anybody.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And Walter Cooper and, there was another guy there—community who was outside FIGHT.  Well, Walter was in and out sometimes but—these were, were people who had an intellectual level of competence that, you would say, but they were not business people either.  Not in the, they didn’t have a record for creating big businesses.  So how were they gonna do that? 

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And I, I don’t, I didn’t follow it closely, but that one of the questions I kept wondering was how in the world they did and I don’t know how they pulled it off even to the point of having FIGHTON even ever begin.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  But they had a big, you know, ribbon cutting and the whole business.  And I—and it was a significant business there for awhile.

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Rev. Chandler:  I lost track of it.

Laura Hill: It continues to exist today.

Rev. Chandler:  Does it?

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.  It’s under—they, when it changed hands in ’75, Matt Augustine bought a controlling interest.  He still runs it.  I interviewed him.

Rev. Chandler:  For heaven’s sakes.

Laura Hill: But he changed the name to Eltrex.

Rev. Chandler:  Eltrex.

Laura Hill: And it still exists—

Rev. Chandler:  That’s wonderful.

Laura Hill: —still serves the same kind of mission and purpose. 

Rev. Chandler:  That’s marvelous.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I’m glad to know and I’m glad it came out of that.  Well there was—there were ancillary things, Friends of FIGHT we mentioned that a little while ago.  And I always thought the problem with Friends of FIGHT was that they tried to be blacker than the black people.


Laura Hill: I’m not really sure what that means, but I hear ya! [laughs].

Rev. Chandler:  Well they tried to be more militant and more out there and more what—. And they didn’t understand that, that for black people this was a necessity, this was not a hobby.  You didn’t get your jollies by goin’ out there and taking the chance of getting your head beat in.  This was necessary.  And I think that was part of it.  And, and course they had the—you know I think their motives were like all human motives, they were mixed.  But they did have at some level they had this, business of wanting to be—but then I think there was also a slight tinge of arrogance that says “we know”.  They used to tell me, you know.  They didn’t think we were, they didn’t think the Council of Churches was militant enough. 

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And, and I look at these guys and say, “You’re crazy. You wanna go out there and get your head whipped, go on out there!  I’m not going out there and get my head whipped unless it’s absolutely necessary.  If it is, I will, but I’m not goin’ to.”  We didn’t go around there lookin’—Franklin didn’t go around there lookin’ for fights, they came to him most of the time.

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  These people, anyway well enough of that.  Except that I think that, that’s always a danger.

Laura Hill: No, I think everything you said is borne out in the record in the material of that group.  Tell, tell me about Attica, tell me how you came to be involved in ’71.

Rev. Chandler:  Oh, okay.  Well that was a huge—a huge experience that started when Franklin called me and um, I knew about it.  I knew that something had happened at Attica, of course it was the papers and all that on Thursday.  And Franklin called me on Thursday night, er Friday morning early actually it was, and said that some of the women and girlfriends of some of the prisoners and their families wanted to know how they were and we didn’t know and the only way we could find out was to go down there.  And he had made a contact with the Sheriff of Monroe County and the Sheriff said he’d take us down there.  So we got down there and uh, you know, there had been the initial disturbance and a guard had either pushed, had been pushed or fell from a catwalk and he died.

Laura Hill: I-I’m sorry to interrupt you.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s all right.

Laura Hill: You were there with Franklin? Or Ray Scott? Or both?

Rev. Chandler:  I—excuse me, with Raymond. Raymond called me, I beg your pardon.  At that point Raymond was president. 

Laura Hill: I just wanted to make sure that I had it.

Rev. Chandler:  No, Ray Scott was president.  It was Raymond who called me.  Franklin did come down there by the way, he did get down there.

Laura Hill: But later, later that day. Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Later.  Yeah.  Raymond and I got down there as early as four o’clock in the morning or something.  And uh, [laughs] in every awful situation there are things that just tear you up that are so funny.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  Like, I had to go to the bathroom and we were outside of this huge place and it’s like a fortress and it had a guardhouse in the gate.  Well the chaplain of the prison, I knew him, so I go over whisper to him that I had to go to the bathroom.  And he says, “Oh, come on.” So we go in the guard’s thing, and the guard lets us in this little restroom I go in there and come back out. And there’s suddenly all kinds of cameras going and reporters and microphones and they’re going, “What’s happened, what’s going on in there?”  And I said, “I’m not at liberty to say.”


Laura Hill: Well a black man coming out of the bathroom, he must know what’s going on.

Rev. Chandler:  Well they didn’t know that they just saw me coming out of this guardhouse, out of the wall and they—you know it’s so funny ‘cause news people are on the scenes and they’re so hungry for news—

Laura Hill: Of course.

Rev. Chandler:  —they just ask any—you know. And well I laughed, but it wasn’t long after that, that Scotty and I got this uh—somebody approached us who was an official,  I don’t even remember the guy’s name now—but wanted to know if we would, um, be willing to work with the negotiating team that they were putting together and the prisoners.  And I said, “Well, what do you mean?”  They said well, they wanted us to be not negotiators, but to kinda help the process along. And actually, I think they just wanted us to give it legitimacy—

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Rev. Chandler:  —as black ministers.  So, we both knew what that meant, but we also took seriously the fact that if they asked us to do that and that’s what we were gonna do. So it didn’t take us but a second or two, to say yeah we’d do it.  But, Minister Scott said, “Well, we’re willing to do this but we have to have the assent of the prisoners.”  And they said, “Well you can’t go down there ‘cause they’re down there in courtyard D and well somethin’ could happen to you.”  We said, “Well, there’s no way we can do this because—if, unless we get their consent, there is absolutely no reason why they would trust us.”  And therefore we wouldn’t have any—we have no validity as far as those guys are concerned.  So, they made us sign a paper that said, that absolved the state of any responsibility.  So Scotty and I went down there and these guys said, “Well man, do whatever you can ‘cause you know, we want to get this thing straightened out.” And they gave Scotty some idea about the list of demands they were putting together. 

Laura Hill: Did you know many of them.

Rev. Chandler:  I didn’t know any of them.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  I didn’t know a single soul there.  Scotty knew one or two.  But I don’t think he knew many of the guys.  But it’s very interesting ‘cause—and we didn’t see their faces, they had all, they had scarves and turbans and stuff.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Rev. Chandler:  But they said, “Do what you can.” And we said, “Okay man.” And for some reason, I knew that, you know, these guys were not Sunday school teachers.  Most of the people in prison at places like Attica are probably there because they did something.  So you know you’re dealing—and I had been on the streets long enough to know that I’m dealing with the real thing.  These are guys that are criminals.

Laura Hill: It’s a maximum facility.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right.

Laura Hill: These aren’t petty crimes.

Rev. Chandler:  No.  And so, but at the same time I could—you’ve helped me to remember something here that was a feeling that I’ve kept all these years and that is, these are human—these are my brothers, you know?  These are men, you know, they did awful things and some things that I haven’t done but there are things I that I feel are awful maybe they’re not awful, but at least they were awful to me.  So we’re here and we’re in this situation.  Well, anyway, we go back up there and tell the guy that, you know, and that these prisoners wanted us to do this, so we said okay.  And we started in—I sat in on these negotiation sessions.  At that time Herman Badillo[17] was there from Manhattan.  I think he was a, he was a Senator, Badillo. 

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  Garcia, Robert Garcia[18] from New York.  Oh, what’s the guy from Buffalo? Arthur Eve from Buffalo.  There was, Bill Kunstler[19] wasn’t there at that time yet, but he was on the team.  And Bobby Seale[20] and guy who was head of the National Panther Party um, no uh, Young Lords, Puerto Ricans—

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Rev. Chandler:  —was coming.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And then there was a guy, Jim Ingram, from the Detroit Free Press, I think was there.  And so, you know, they started talkin’ and I may have mentioned to you about food, for example.  And I was struck by the fact that outside of Rochester there are a series of horse farms and some of the places that those horses stay in are beautiful barns.  I mean, they were prettier than the places where these prisoners were.  And I thought isn’t it awful that we could treat—I mean not that I have anything against the horses, bless their hearts—but that we could treat animals like that better than we can treat human beings.  But anyway, this goes on and on and that afternoon we went into the courtyard and Russell Oswald was the commissioner for prisons, short, heavyset man.  And uh, he was guarded, which naturally he would be, and um, Scotty and the negotiators were, you know, they had—each had their sides and he had his lieutenants with him; but we all went in there and, it was—you could cut the tension with a knife.  I mean here are these 1500 or so prisoners and this little negotiating team and this state guy.  At one point, um, someone said that they well, told Oswald that he might not get outta there or something, “We may keep you,” or something.  And they said, “No we’re not gonna do that, ‘cause he came in good faith and we’re gonna see that he stays.”  So, this went on all afternoon and I mean, you talk about draining, I just felt like, “Oh my god.” At one point, they let us go by to see the hostages.  And I remember speaking to an old man, a prison guard, he was a sergeant.  And he said “Well, do whatever want—do whatever you can, ‘cause nobody wants to get killed.”  And there was a young, another—he was caucasian—there was another caucasian young man there, young and I didn’t know him but he said, “Yeah, do whatever you can, please.”  And we didn’t—we only talked with them for like fifteen seconds and then we were back out there.

Laura Hill: Describe to me how they’re being held. Um—.

Rev. Chandler:  They were on the ground at this point, sitting, just sitting, there with their hands bound behind ‘em.  No, and uh, they didn’t have the masks on at that point, that I can remember. 

Laura Hill: And their hands are bound with clothing—?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, I don’t know. They were behind them, I didn’t look and see.

Laura Hill: Okay.  And so they’re being held with knives, with shanks, with guns?

Rev. Chandler:  I didn’t see anything.  No there was no guns—I never did see a gun.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Rev. Chandler:  I didn’t even see a knife.  At the time I was there.

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  The whole time, I never saw a gun. And I don’t think there were any, I don’t think that they had any guns. 

Laura Hill: Well, they don’t allow them behind the wall.

Rev. Chandler:  Right.

Laura Hill: Right, but I’m not clear when that took effect because Attica changed so many things in the state prison system. Um—.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, you know, there were claims that the prisoners shot the hostages.  But, there weren’t any guns.

Laura Hill: Right.

Rev. Chandler:  I never did see.

Laura Hill: So are they, are they holding them hostage then just by sheer numbers? Do they outnumber them?

Rev. Chandler:  I think—oh yeah, I mean you, they were in this big courtyard and there are thousands of these prisoners and things and these guys are, at least at that point when I saw them.  And we went back to this table, negotiating table, and later that night, they had these barrels, thirty gallon drums, and they had fires in ‘em.  It was a weird looking sight with these fire things going. And at one point, it was real late, it was maybe eleven o’clock at night or somethin’, I can’t even—the time kind of merges.  Somebody—there were several times when they said they were comin’ in, there were rumors that they were coming.  And all of a sudden there was this big commotion and they said well they’re comin’ in.  And those guys, these prisoners, put themselves between us and what they thought was coming in.  And I thought, “Oh my Lord.”  I just it was un—I mean and they had been—L.D. Barkley[21] who had given this impassioned speech in the afternoon and, “If we cannot live like men, at least we will not die like dogs,” and  he went on.  Some of the words, had they been spoken anywhere else, would have been, you know, applauded.  Um—.

Laura Hill: They would have been immortalized.

Rev. Chandler:  That’s right.  Really.

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Rev. Chandler:  But the thought that they would do that—. And finally about four o’clock in the morning, or thereabouts, somebody arranged for us to leave.  So we went out, we went outta that D courtyard, in order to get out you had to go through a little archway and I’ll never forget this as long as I live.  And this guy I don’t know how he lived through the thing but he did. He died later, his name was Smith and they called him “Big Black.” And as we started to go out he said, “Reverend.” And I said, “Yes sir.”  I didn’t know his name, I just said yes sir.  I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “Reverend, they gonna whip ass, but thank you so much for comin’.”  And he hugged me.  And I ‘bout, I just—I broke down in tears.  I didn’t let him know, but I just started crying, I couldn’t stand it.  So, I got, we got back to Rochester and that was Saturday morning. And when we got back it must have been seven or eight o’clock in the morning and I was totally wiped out.  And at that point they had negotiated almost everything except for one point and this was amnesty for the prisoners.

Laura Hill: For the leaders, mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And, this D.A., and according to New York state law my understanding is, the D.A. was the only person who could grant amnesty, the District Attorney of Wyoming County.  So, the prisoners said and this—I know the stories are that the prisoners refused to accept the, uh, responsibility for the thing.  But the truth was the prisoners said, “Well look, choose one of us, we’ll pick somebody.  You choose one of us and you can indict that one but how are you gonna indict 1500 people?” Which made good sense, but he wouldn’t do that, he indicted all 1500 people for that guard’s death.  And that was the sticker—up—everything had been negotiated out except that one point: amnesty.  And so when we went home on Saturday morning, this was hanging over my head and I thought about it and uh, I went to church.  And when I got up, I was directing choir, and the minister asked me to give a report on Attica.  And I stood up to give the report I was tellin’ them about it and all of a sudden, I just started to cry—couldn’t help it.  And I just said—and I realized what was goin’ on, I was gonna go back.  I didn’t want to go back and it’s just this, oh my God.  So I said, “I’m goin’ back to Attica.”

Laura Hill: [laughs] That’s the problem with giving your life to God. 

Rev. Chandler:  That’s where it starts and I keep saying, “God why? Come on there are lots of people!” So when I got home, I walked in the door and Portia said, “You’re goin’ back aren’t you?”  And I said, “Yeah.” And we got a phone call from a friend of ours, Clarence McKee.  Clarence was an aide  to Jake Javits[22], and so he called us from Washington saying that Javits was willing to call Attorney General Lefkowitz who was gonna lean on that D.A. down there in Wyoming County to see if he couldn’t make him think about it.  So I said, “Oh well that’s good news.”  So I called Scotty.  I said Scotty and he says well just hold on. So we, I sat around there and about four o’clock we got a phone call from Scotty, from uh Clarence, Butch, and he was callin’ and he said, “It’s no go.”  And I said, “What do you mean ‘no go’?”  He said, “The decision has been made to go in.” I said, “Well, who made the decision?”  And he said, “High up.”  And I said, “How high is high?”  And he said, “As high as you can get.”  And, of course, I said, “You mean 1600 Pennsylvania?” ‘Cause I had been thinkin’ about this and he said, “Well...” And that was it, and I thought yeah.  ‘Cause it—Clarence to this day I asked him about that because I wanted to corroborate it and he said, “Well, that’s the way I recall it.”  And I, I put two and two together.  There had been a disturbance in Tombs[23], down in Manhattan the year before. Angela Davis’[24] lover, Jonathan Jackson[25], had tried to escape out of San Quentin, the year before.

Laura Hill: They accused him of trying to escape.

Rev. Chandler:  Well, yeah.  Well they—I saw that picture with that Judge.  You know, they blew that Judge’s head off and killed him, and I mean he—he and this other guy killed the Judge.  But they died, the Judge died and they did too in that break.  And anyway, I put those two together kinda, I—to this day I believe that Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller made a political decision to make an example outta Rochester to Attica prison to make sure that that didn’t happen again, around this country.  ‘Cause all that foment that was taking place in the prisons around the country—.

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Rev. Chandler:  So, when I went back I said well, Scotty—I called Scotty and he said, “We gotta go back.” I said, “Yeah, I know.” So we went back. And the attitude of the guards at the prison, it was markedly changed.  They had been very—they had never been friendly, but they were at least polite.  They were really angry and obnoxious when we went back.  And I saw the courtyard was full, the yard where you go into the prison, was full of shotgun boxes.  Just on the ground and I thought, “Oh my gosh.”  So, we got in there and, Arthur Eve[26]—Franklin was there by that time—Arthur Eve and all these guys were there and some of ‘em were crying.  And there was a state Senator named John Dunne[27] who was there and he and I were desperately trying to see what we could do.  And uh, the guy, Jim Ingram, and one of the other negotiators was on the phone to Rockefeller asking him to come down.  Said if he’d come down this will defuse the situation.  And he said he wasn’t going to come down there and dignify these people.  And so then some of the guys got mad at Russell Oswald, the negotiating committee.  I’ll never forget this as long as I—his eyes were as red as that chair and he said, “I’m a man in hell, don’t you know I’m a man in hell tonight?”  And he knew that they were gonna do this I’m sure, but he was powerless to do anything about it.  I felt, and to this day I feel, that Russell Oswald was a good man and he was an enlightened, um an enlightened functionary in the prison system, wanted it to be better, was fightin’ against all kinds of things, realized that the conditions in the prisons were not the way they should be.  But, he was doin’ the best he could, where he was, to do something about it, I think, and I still think that.  And I think in those negotiations he recognized what was goin’ on and I, I felt—I never did talk to him, I never did ever sit down and have a conversation with him about it.  John Dunne and I still sat there that night, actually laid there on the floor, trying to think of some way we could break this thing.  So, and it started raining and it was a miserable—kinda, it was like the whole sky was crying.  And then in the morning when we got up, a couple of the guys had gone out to a motel and they got back in and we don’t know how they did but they did.  And they came in and said, “Man, those guards told us they were gonna kill us, for encouraging those prisoners to hang—to hold out.”  They said, “Oh my gosh, it’s two-thirty.” And so um, we said well you know.  I don’t know what—I said, “Well, I’m not gonna just sit up here and let somebody shoot me.” So we started to put a file cabinet or somethin’ over the door and all that kinda stuff.  And but, we were there and Russell Os—I mean yeah, he told us to leave the prison.  And we said, “We’re not going out there with these guys angry as they are.”  So they put us under house arrest and we stayed there till three o’clock.  At 9:06, well it was, yeah just about that time, the clock stopped and then we heard these helicopters come over and I peeped out.  Tom Wicker[28] from the New York Times Washington Bureau was there, and we peeped out there and I could see guards firing into something, I couldn’t tell.  Later they said that couldn’t of been, ‘cause there was a courtyard between where we were in the administration office and the D courtyard, but I said no.  Come to find out the back of the chapel was exposed to that tower and that nine guys had gotten killed by guards in that tower. 

Laura Hill: You were put under house arrest to protect you from the correctional officers or from the guys in the prison?

Rev. Chandler:  I have no idea, I just know that they put us under house arrest and we didn’t get outta there till three o’clock in the afternoon. 

Laura Hill: Mm-hmm.

Rev. Chandler:  And I saw them bringing out bodies, bringing out folks and just kinda, puttin’ ‘em on the ground and uh, you could see that out from the other part of the office.  It’s pretty horrible and when we—when it was over and we went out there, there were these three thousand, well, you know, there might not have been that many at that point, but they were certainly lined up all the way down the wall from the prison and from there to the gate.  And I just came out of there and I thought, “Oh my gosh. Lord, please don’t let me stumble.”  I don’t know why, but that was my biggest concern. Don’t let me stumble, ‘cause I didn’t wanna look defeated or weak, ‘cause I felt terrible. And when we got out they said there was a state trooper who was gonna escort us back to Rochester ‘cause of the feelings were high in the town, of course.  So Scotty got in the car and we took off and this police officer escorted us to town and we got outside of town and he waved us on and then he turned around.  Scotty floored it and we went back to Rochester.

Laura Hill: And what was it like in Rochester, when you got back there?

Rev. Chandler:  Well, you know I don’t even—I just know that somebody called Scotty and said, “Kinda rough out there today wasn’t it?”  And poor Scotty was so upset, he threw his keys clear across the room. I’ve never seen him so upset, he just broke down and cried.  And uh, but I, I was so wiped out I just, I barely knew my name at that.  But then I went down to the T.V. station and gave an interview for the nightly news, I remember that.  Then I went on back home and got in bed and couldn’t sleep, of course.  Um, that was horrendous.  You know what, I gotta get you back to the airport.

Laura Hill: No, no, no, I know you do. Thank you so much.

[End of interview]


[1]  Mr. Chandler made additions/corrections to his transcript in November 2010.  Spelling corrections are reflected in the transcript text.  Content additions and corrections that change the transcript text have been included in footnotes. 

[2] The Colgate Rochester president’s name, Mr. Chandler later stated.

[3] Joseph Epps -- Mr. Chandler later clarified.

[4] Howard Thurman, “Mysticism and Social Action”, Lawrence Lectures on Religion and Society 1977-1978  (Kensington, CA: First Unitarian Church of Berkeley,  1978,  14-35.)

[5] Portia Chandler is the wife of the Rev. Marvin Chandler.

[6] Minister Franklin Florence, community activist and first president of FIGHT.  He came to Rochester in 1959 to serve as pastor of Reynolds Street Church of Christ.  In 1970 he worked with others to establish the Central Church of Christ where he continues to serve in 2010.

[7] Mildred Johnson (1911-1992) was a Rochester community activist widely recognized for her work with FIGHT, Action for a Better Community and many other causes, Mr. Chandler later stated.

[8]The Reverend Herbert C. Shankle,  of the Clarissa Street Church of God, Mr. Chandler later stated.

[9] Jim Bevel was a Baptist minister and an important aide to Martin Luther King during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement.  He served as the Director of Direct Action and the Director of Nonviolent Education in the organization SCLC.

[10] Harper Sibley,  Rochester Public Safety Commissioner --  Mr. Chandler later stated.

[11] Back of the Yards is an industrial and residential neighborhood in Chicago named because of its location near the former Union Stock Yards. The Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council was founded in this area in part by Saul Alinsky and set the pattern for Alinsky’s future work in community organizing. 

[12] Mr. Chandler later clarified that he referred to The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), a Chicago neighborhood association that developed as early as the 1950s.  In response to fears that low-income and black residents would be displaced from Woodlawn community due to the University of Chicago’s South Campus Plan, the organization looked to Saul Alinsky to aid in organizing their community.

[13] John Mulder – Mr. Chandler later added.

[14] Dr. Leon Pacala – Mr. Chandler later stated.

[15] Mr. Chandler later stated:  “I misspoke, and I fear that this gives the wrong impression. Actually, Dr.Pacala agreed with me.”

[16] Mr. Chandler later stated:  “I knew Raymond Scott in Buffalo.  In seminary my first church assignment was at Buffalo’s Salem United Church of Christ. There we met Raymond and Clarence, his brother, who were young people in that church.”

[17] Herman Badillo served as a United States Representative of New York from 1971-1977.

[18] Robert Garcia served as the delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1976 and was a United States Representative from New York.

[19] William Kunstler (1919-1995) was a civil rights activist and lawyer known for his controversial cases. He served as lawyer to a prisoner charged with killing a guard in the Attica Prison riot of 1971.

[20] Bobby Seale, an American civil rights activist, co-founded with Huey P. Newton the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in 1966.

[21] L.D. Barkley was a prisoner in the group of “Attica Brothers” that was killed in the retaking of the Attica Prison after the 1971 riot.  

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