Rochester Black Freedom Struggle -- John Concannon

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Interview Subject: John Concannon
Date(s) of interview(s): 9/10/2008
Interviewer:Lauren Warren Hill

Mr. John Concannon was born in Rochester and lived in the tenth ward through high school. After graduation, he worked at Eastman Kodak for two years before deciding to pursue a higher degree. He received his Bachelor's degree in Early Secondary Education from SUNY Brockport and worked for a few years as a substitute high school teacher in the city. He then moved into a new career with Xerox Corporation, where he worked for thirty-one years in the Purchasing and Marketing Departments. After retiring, Mr. Concannon moved to Arizona and currently resides there with his wife, Eleanor. 


In his interview, Mr. Concannon discusses the Catholic schools he attended in Rochester, and his, and his fellow students', understanding of race and discrimination. He explains how little interaction he had with others outside of the mainly Caucasian ward in which he lived. After graduation from high school, he worked for Eastman Kodak for two years. After obtaining a B.A. from SUNY Brockport, Mr. Concannon began his 31-year career with Xerox Corporation. He describes the different work atmospheres and hiring practices of each company. His describes Kodak Park from the 1950s in detail and discusses the impact of the union at Xerox, recalling a strike in the early 1980s. He also talks about his short involvement with FIGHTON, and the attitudes of other manufacturing companies to the new company. He concludes by reflecting on how the Rochester riots affected the community and companies.


Transcription Policy
The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has made every effort to transcribe the oral interviews as recorded. It is standard in transcriptions of oral histories to retain dialect, grammatical idiosyncrasies, and the natural rhythm of the spoken word. The transcript is meant to reflect verbal conversation as recorded rather than a polished written document. Our transcription policy adheres to this protocol. While each interviewee was asked to read and edit his/her interview transcript to ensure the proper spelling of people and places, all transcriptions retain their original wording. Any post-interview content additions or corrections are placed in footnotes. Occasional interviewee requests to remove selected passages have been honored, and the point of such removal has been designated. We believe this policy preserves the integrity and spontaneity of the original interview.
This set of oral history interviews was conducted beginning in 2008 by historian Laura Warren Hill in conjunction with her research project, "'Strike the Hammer While the Iron Is Hot': The Black Freedom Struggle in Rochester, NY, 1945-1975." Statements in these interviews are those of the interviewees alone, and in no way speak for the University of Rochester as a whole, or for individual members of the University community. The University accepts no responsibility for the content of these interviews

Transcription of Interview: 9/10/2008


Laura Hill: Hey, I'm Laura Hill here with John Concannon in Rare Books and Special Collections. Today is September 10th, 2008. John, if you could start by telling me a little bit about your upbringing. You're a native Rochesterian.

Mr. Concannon[1]: Born and bred, sure. Born in 1937, in St. Mary's Hospital which is no longer there.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Mr. Concannon: But I grew up primarily in the tenth ward which is in the northwest quadrant of the city. Went to Sacred Heart Grammar School and Aquinas Institute, graduating in 1955.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: And spent my adult life in Rochester and surrounding towns (Irondequoit & Greece) until twelve years ago when I retired from Xerox and moved to Phoenix, Arizona with my wife Ellie.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure. Did you go directly from high school into your position with Xerox?

Mr. Concannon: Oh, no, no. I graduated from high school--and as in the case with many people those days, you were either going to go to college or you're going to work at Eastman Kodak.

Laura Hill: [Laughs].

Mr. Concannon: I mean, there were plenty of other companies, by the way, but I lived two blocks from it and I thought, well, that would be the best thing to do if I'm not going to school. And um, I didn't have any great aspirations of going to college and--but after two years at Eastman Kodak, I thought better of that and decided to go to college So I went to Brockport State.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Concannon: SUNY Brockport as it's called now.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: And graduated with a degree in Early Secondary Education and taught for a year, uh, shouldn't be on camera, but I decided after a year I didn't like kids and in that case, I better get a new profession for sure.


It was a little unfair because I was a permanent substitute in the city--

Laura Hill: I see.

Mr. Concannon: --in the city of Rochester, in the inner city and had some interesting experiences in the early '60s, but, ah, nonetheless I just decided that I wanted to do something else.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Concannon: I worked for four years for Champion Knitware, which was a soft-goods company in the city here and, um, became engaged in 1964 and my wife said she thought Ioughta get a better job--she was making more than I was. So I did join Xerox just about two months after we got married and spent thirty-one years at Xerox.

Laura Hill: Wow.

Mr. Concannon: Seemed like a long time, but now, the last twelve years have gone so fast it's unbelievable. It's maybe because you're having so much fun.

Laura Hill: [Laughs]. Sure, sure. So you said you went to Aquinas and earlier when we were talking, you mentioned the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization. Tell me a little bit about some of your experiences at Aquinas, in the Catholic Youth Organization.

Mr. Concannon: Well, um, if you're talking in terms of race, I assume--.

Laura Hill: Race, culture, things that stand out to you about the times changing--.

Mr. Concannon: Well, I belonged to the CYO--several kids in the neighborhood did. They had programs on weekends primarily, on Saturdays, and we'd take the bus up and spend two or three hours at the CYO doing one thing or another, and then taking the bus back home. It was really just a weekend thing .Several years later, Aquinas used to have dances at the CYO-- what they called victory dances--after our football games, so we spent time there also.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: But other than that, we didn't spend a lot of time going downtown. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, because he was saying, "How the heck do you get from Park Avenue here to someplace else? " I said, "I don't remember." He said, "It's been so long since I've been up here."

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: Even when I was growing up, you didn't spend a lot of time away from the neighborhood. My city block, or within two blocks of our house, you had almost everything you needed. You had, from the standpoint of stores, you had delicatessens, you had food stores, you had ice cream parlors, there were three restaurants, two hardware stores, a--two barber shops, two pharmacies, a butcher shop, a fine bakery and the city library had a branch on our street Church and school were two blocks away--

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: --the baseball fields were a block away.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: You just didn't have to go very far. I don't think we had a telephone until I was a junior in high school--

Laura Hill: Wow.

Mr. Concannon: --and I still remember that phone number--anyway.


Laura Hill: Yeah.

Mr. Concannon: So, at--but, at Aquinas, I think at the time I mentioned to you earlier, we had two students in my senior class--and that was the senior class of about three-hundred-and-sixty students--that were African American.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: And I don't recall that we had many more than that in any other class.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: I knew both of them; one was Al Fields, I think he ended up working and retiring from Eastman Kodak. Tommy Hall was the other one and I lost track of him after graduation.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Sure.

Mr. Concannon: But it was just--I guess you could say it was a white culture, we had very few minorities--I don't think we had any Asians in our class, um, and you just didn't think in terms of race, you know, when we were going to school.

Laura Hill: Sure, sure. When did you start to think about race in Rochester?

Mr. Concannon: Oh, well certainly at the riots, but prior to that, I think the influx of African Americans primarily in the late '50s, even though we didn't go into those neighborhoods, you would see them in the bus stops if we went downtown, like to the CYO, or we went shopping, or to the movies--they even used to have movie houses up in downtown Rochester--

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: --don't have them anymore.

Laura Hill: Right. [Laughs].

Mr. Concannon: Uh, but we would notice at the bus stops primarily, or in the stores and that. You know, "Geez, there's a lot of them now, you know."

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: A lot more than you used to see. But again, we never went down into the neighborhoods; I didn't even have a car then so--I wouldn't take the bus down there anyways, but I think that's the first thoughts we had about that. But certainly after the riots--or at the riots--well, I guess maybe before that because as I mentioned, I was in a drum and bugle corps. We had one African-American in our corps--

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: --nice fellow, he was a teacher in the city. But there was another drum corps--one of our arch rivals from Hilton, New York--and they had I think six or seven African Americans, from the city, that played with them. Ah, so you--you know, you notice that.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: Didn't think anything of it, we had one they had six. I didn't even…

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: But, um--at the night of the riots were really--I think everybody thought, "Geez, you know, maybe things weren't so good, you know, for them at least."

Laura Hill: Yeah.

Mr. Concannon: We were in Dunkirk, New York at a drum corps show and they started hearing--you know, people started talking about things and they were getting reports over the state trooper car radios. And, gee, by the time we left, which was close to midnight, the rumors were rampant, and the large numbers of state troopers moving down towards Rochester, but they were going to close the thruway. You couldn't get into the city and here I was single, with my girlfriend. [Laughs]. I'm not going to be able to stay out all night, you know, and we tried to figure out ways to get home.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: I mean, back roads. And we really did take some back roads parallel to Route 31 and that, Route 104, just to get home, and I guess it must have taken us three hours to--we probably could have gone straight home.


Laura Hill: Right. [Still laughing].

Mr. Concannon: It wouldn't have made a difference; because they didn't close off the thruways.

Laura Hill: Right, but the rumors were such.

Mr. Concannon: But, they were there and it was, you know, you heard a lot of stuff on the radios, and you jumped to conclusions. I remember my mother and father were there with my sister, and my dad grew up in the West of Ireland and he left when he was eighteen to come here, but they had to deal with the Black and Tan, which was an element of the unofficial British army that were basically prisoners who were given the option of joining the Black and Tan and doing police work in the West of Ireland or staying in jail. The West of Ireland was so poor that the British didn't want to bother going there with regular army troops.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: But they were not very nice people generally speaking.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: But my dad, he just couldn't believe that it could happen here. He said, "Riots?" You know, and, "Police?" Everything just hit him. He couldn't believe it. And by the time we got home and the papers and everything, the TV, the next morning, ah, people in the neighborhood, they wanted to band together to protect our neighborhood, you know, and there was no reason 'cause they weren't coming down our way--but they could've I suppose. They did go into a couple of bordering neighborhoods, but I think most of the damage, as I recall, was within their own neighborhoods.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: You know, they did their own in to an extent. So, I think if you didn't have an awareness after the riots, you had your head in the sand--

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Concannon: --you couldn't not.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Concannon: And I think that Reverend Florence[2], with his activities with Eastman Kodak, got an awful lot of publicity,[3] I mean, they were in the paper at least once a week. And that was his intent obviously, to get notoriety, to get exposure and to open up Kodak to more minority hiring I'm sure.

Laura Hill: Well, let me ask you this: prior to FIGHT's struggle, with Kodak, were you aware of FIGHT?

Mr. Concannon: No.

Laura Hill: Did you know that that organization had formed?

Mr. Concannon: No.

Laura Hill: Did you know Saul Alinsky[4] had come to organize?

Mr. Concannon: Well, we had heard about Saul Alinsky-- he was a very popular person anyway. But, no, you know, I guess, from my perspective, I didn't read the newspaper articles to the extent that I probably should have. I mean, an awareness was a--or a lack of awareness--was maybe a lack of concern. You know, it didn't affect me; I had already left Kodak, but certainly with the exposure he got there, he made some great inroads because Kodak was the preeminent employer, and I don't think they were much different in their employment practices as many of the others. I mean, we had, not today, but back in the fifties, we had some very fine companies that have since left. Ritter Dental was a leader in dental equipment. Sergeant Greenleaf was the biggest locksmith company in the country. And there were others--Stromberg-Carlson was still a very strong presence there. There were a couple of others, but--Bausch and Lomb was very big. But I don't think that their hiring policies were much different than Eastman Kodak's, but Eastman Kodak attacking them, or addressing them, got the attention they wanted, I'm sure.

Laura Hill: Sure. I mean, you sort of alluded to this, but what in your recollection was Kodak's relationship to the city of Rochester?

Mr. Concannon: Well, it was interesting, 'cause Kodak Park, the manufacturing center at the time, was self-sufficient.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Concannon: They had their own fire department, their own police department, their own water system. They had their own paper mill where they made their paper, and they had their own water filtration plant.

Laura Hill: Really?

Mr. Concannon: Oh, yes. They were self-sufficient. They--.

Laura Hill: Literally, a company town.

Mr. Concannon: Oh, it was a city within the city, I always called it. They had a bus system. I used to walk to building twenty-eight to pick up the bus to go to West Kodak where I worked, rather than driving. It was just easier to get on the bus. So it was-- they had their own medical departments, they had cafeterias which were open to the public, and that was just at Kodak Park. So it was, it was truly a company town, but it wasn't a company town in the sense that it controlled the city, it didn't. But, I think it--what they wanted they got, I suspect. But they-- pretty much when I started working there before that, that was almost a high point of employment. I had friends who were on the fire department and it was an interesting time.

Laura Hill: Did they frequently have fires that they needed their own fire department?

Mr. Concannon: Oh, they had a couple of big fires. One in the paper mill, I remember--I think it had to be in the early '60s; it was a pretty big fire, but they actually had to call in some of the city fire departments to help out. But, uh, they had--I can't remember how many--but I know at one station they had right near building twenty-eight, I think they had four fire trucks. So, I mean--

Laura Hill: Wow! I had no idea.

Mr. Concannon: Yeah, yeah. And now, they're into hazmat and all the other stuff because of all the chemicals they dealt with, or still deal with for that matter. It was the company to work for, I thought, at the time.

Laura Hill: Yeah. Okay, so you get into Xerox.

Mr. Concannon: Mm-hmm.

Laura Hill: And tell me a little bit about your time there.

Mr. Concannon: Oh, well, I started in '65 and started out as an expediter in the purchasing department. I did that for about six months and then I became a junior buyer, an associate buyer as they called it. And then worked up, I think by '67, I was a buyer, and I stayed a buyer until '69 when I transferred to another department. But I was in a stamping department buying stampings for our machines, primarily making decisions on internal, external manufacturing because we did have a lot of manufacturing within Xerox, which is I think pretty much been outsourced by now. But at the time, we had injection molding, stampings, all kinds of electrical fabrications, but I was buying a particular class of stampings and it was--that's how I got involved with FIGHTON.

Laura Hill: Yeah!

Mr. Concannon: It was, I think--well, 'course, FIGHT started in, what, '65?

Laura Hill: '65, mm-hmm.

Mr. Concannon: And FIGHTON grew out of that, about '67. I think they were popular--they became known. And Joe Wilson, the CEO, President of Xerox, went right down to FIGHT headquarters and said, "What do you want? What do you, what's your real desires?" And basically, they said they ultimately wanted a black-owned--and run--company. And Joe Wilson at Xerox, along with FIGHTON and the Rochester Occupational--

Laura Hill: Business Opportunity Council.

Mr. Concannon: --Business Opportunity--.

Laura Hill: RBOC.

Mr. Concannon: Yeah. They all worked together and I think within the year, they pretty much had things rolling along. I know that Joe Wilson had assigned Horace Becker[5], who was the Vice President of Manufacturing, with Xerox, and he worked in our building in Webster. And, uh, it was his responsibility that, as Joe Wilson said, to make it happen. He was a tough taskmaster, but he did. Basically they assigned product engineers, designers, manufacturing technicians, machine operators to go over to FIGHTON and they basically would start the training program with people. It's a technical world and you don't learn overnight, but they got it going and basically what we had to do, as buyers, were to take jobs that existed, you know, certain stampings and whatever, that were being made already by other companies like Nationwide Tool and Die, or McAlpin-Durleth, German Tool & Die--we had an awful lot of small, supportive companies that did products for us.

Laura Hill: And they are in Rochester, or outside--?

Mr. Concannon: They were all in, oh, no, they were all in Rochester, because we did a lot of--it was in the days of the twenty-four hundred, thirty-six hundred machines and the growth was phenomenal. You always needed more parts, you need more suppliers, um, and these small companies, like Nationwide Tool and Die would do the preliminary parts to make sure that they made met the specifications and everything and then you would go into a production mode. You would have the--they would make the tooling and then they would--we would own the tooling, but then they would make the product. We then had to go to these people and say we need to take a certain number of jobs away from you, take our tooling out, take it over to FIGHTON, our engineers would set up the presses, you know, press the button the first time and say, "Okay, now you press the button," and start those jobs. It was a very difficult time for us, the buyers, for a couple of reasons. One, we had pretty good working relationships with these companies; they were small and they were very reactive to our needs. And we were--we probably had to do things that, had we done outside of that mental set in another situation, you might have got fired. I mean, we had certain standards you had to meet: you had to get at least three quotes for a product for example, and then you had to balance the quotes, the pricing with their capabilities, and make the decision on who you go with. It got to the point where we were--they were determining we would have to take certain jobs and say okay they're theirs. We would have people make the tooling, and then take the tooling over to FIGHTON. FIGHTON had a couple of problems. One, they--well, at first they weren't run very well, they were run almost by committee and--

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: It was a bit chaotic. Even though we were hand feeding--we were really leading them--I know there were many nights when parts that I was responsible for, I had to drive over to FIGHTON and get a couple of boxes of these parts, take them back to Xerox Receiving, so we could keep the line going. I mean, you didn't shut down the production line; that was the ultimate bad thing to happen. We would--I would do this and when I get to Receiving they would put me on report for a labor violation and then that would go up and they would take care of it and they said that's fine, that we sign. But that's what you had to do and--.

Laura Hill: So it was a labor violation that you brought the parts over?

Mr. Concannon: When I--when we got the parts and brought them over there, yeah.

Laura Hill: A labor violation because of the union contract?

Mr. Concannon: Yes.

Laura Hill: Tell me how that worked.

Mr. Concannon: Well, I didn't know how that worked; I didn't want to know how it worked. They just told me, "You go get those parts that you're responsible for and get them into Receiving 101." You would do that and, you know, you'd sign "I delivered these," but you know it was taken care of.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: They said, "Don't you worry about it, just go get the parts," because you didn't stop the production line; not in those days, probably not in any day, but certainly not then when our growth was so substantial. It was--the other problem I think they had was they would train some of these people as pressman, whatever, and they would leave for better paying jobs at other companies because other companies were now aware and they were looking for minorities to hire. So that was kind of self-defeating, but that's the way it was, you know, and I actually got out of--I transferred to a different group in late 1969. So, it continued on for quite a while; I think they got to the point where Xerox was starting to outsource things internationally and they were starting to draw things from FIGHTON as well as the other companies and FIGHTON decided they had to diversify and I think that's about--oh, I can't think of the guy's name now--that came in, they brought him in, they changed it to Eltrex--

Laura Hill: Matt Augustine.[6]

Mr. Concannon: That's right, right. Have you met him?

Laura Hill: I have.

Mr. Concannon: Oh good, good. He's still there and ah--but one of the first things they did in terms of diversifying, they started making vacuum cleaners to clean copiers. Guess whose copiers they were designed to clean? Xerox.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: And some of our design engineers worked with some of their people and came up with a design that fit our needs and that was the first production product they have. I don't know what else at this point they do make having gone to another group. It was a very interesting time, but it was difficult, and yet I understood and I think all the other buyers did too. There were a couple that didn't; they objected, and they were told you have one choice. So they decided to fall in line with everybody else. But, I think we realized that it was something that probably had to be done and it was for the good of a lot people, including Xerox. I think the--even the individual small companies at first were just--they didn't like what was happening. But I think then they realized that they might as well, might as well join in. I know Dr. Frank McAlpin, who owned McAlpin Durleth the time, he saw the writing on the wall and he was willing to help them. I mean, he would go over and have some of his pressmen go over and help too. On part, he would take a job over and his people, who were making the parts at his company, would set it up rather than having Xerox people set it up, to get all of the mishmash out of--one-one-one and get it a nice, clean transition. And I think that happened with most of the people that we were dealing with. They have all prospered, I mean, McAlpin-Durleth -there was a big article in the paper Sunday about it and his two sons are running it now and they're doing quite well. So, it was a…a time of change for sure.

Laura Hill: How does, how does the greater Rochester community, in your recollection, respond to FIGHT and FIGHTON, the RBOC's. You know, people--are they talking about it in the churches? What church--?

Mr. Concannon: I belonged to Sacred Heart Catholic Church. It was the cathedral. I'd have to say that when it first happened, there wasn't a ground swell of support by the clergy, um--

Laura Hill: The Catholic clergy?

Mr. Concannon: Yeah. I guess I'm speaking in generalities for sure, but--no, I don't recall that there was a ground swell of support or any antagonism toward them either. In, I think, until probably Bishop Clark[7] came, who is current Bishop of Rochester diocese, and I can't really remember when he came, but it was after--I think in the '70s.

Laura Hill: So, it's after Bishop Sheen.[8]

Mr. Concannon: Oh yes. Bishop Sheen was just a passing thing. Nobody understood why he was there; nobody could believe it. I was just amazed that--why would they bring him to Rochester? The previous bishop was very old, very quiet, a very holy man, but not--I don't think he was ever socially conscious and they brought in Bishop Sheen who was very socially conscious He closed some small churches, combined other parishes and just created a stir you couldn't believe. I mean, if you wanted to see a reaction of the churches, it was to him, for all the good he was doing. My wife was upset because one of the churches closed was the one she was baptized in. It was a matter of economics; it was practical, and it made sense. Attendance was way down. We went to church last Sunday at St. Boniface, which is right down the street from where Cathy lives, and Ellie looked at the bulletin, and there were 342 people in attendance for four masses and their collection was so small they couldn't possibly support the church with that. They closed a number of schools due to declining attendance and skyrocketing costs. But Fulton Sheen was a man way before his time-- I think, anyway.

Laura Hill: No. I've heard some crazy, crazy stories about him.

Mr. Concannon: For a guy everybody thought was six-eight, if you ever--you probably never saw his program[9] unless you've seen it on tape now--no, he always looked so big, so ominous and he was about five-five.


Laura Hill: Right!

Mr. Concannnon: But it's the way they photographed him. You see clips of some of his programs and you would always watch him. And Milton Berle was saying, "Well, good night everybody. Just gonna turn it over to Bishop Sheen at eight thirty." You know, because people would just turn Milton Berle off and turn him on; he was just an amazing speaker, he certainly was very charismatic. He started things going in terms of a social conscience I think for the Diocese of Rochester at least.

Laura Hill: Why does he leave?

Mr. Concannon: I think there was a lot of pressure. I can't speak, you know, knowledgeably about it, but I think there was a lot of pressure for him to go. They gave him another position back in New York, I think. But they, I think, my personal opinion was that he created enough animosity with not only the clergy, but members of the Catholic community. And he lost most support that he had I think--and he went away. We had thought, boy, what a great thing, we got Archbishop Sheen here. You know--.

Laura Hill: It's a big deal.

Mr. Concannon: Yeah, it really was. National prominence coming to Rochester and I think that maybe some of the church leaders said that's what they needed in Rochester. I don't think that Rochester was much different than Buffalo or Syracuse. I think our cities were very similar in that respect. I think that Bishop Clark in fact did start things moving and created an awareness in people from a social issue. But, I think that talking in terms of the city and its reaction toward--let's say the church, the attitude towards FIGHT I think was quite, you might have expected it when it first started as saying, "What the heck's this all about?" And, "They're just playing the race issue." Yeah, that's what they were doing. That's what they had to do, for sure. But I think it took a few years, like probably the better part of five to ten years, for people generally to accept FIGHTON, groups like that. And today, you don't hear about FIGHTON. You don't--there's no notoriety whatsoever.

Laura Hill: None.

Mr. Concannon: And I don't know if that's because they were totally successful or you got a balance there. I think they had certain goals and I think they obtained them for sure. I think that--looking back, I was really proud of Joe Wilson. I thought he was one of the last CEOs in this area to really be concerned about one, the company and growing the company, not cutting back. You know, if you look at Kodak today, they're a shadow of their former self. We were down there today protesting about the benefits reductions because I will be one of the ones losing ten percent a year for ten years. About the time that I really need it, I won't have any. People were promised things and now they're saying, "Well, things change, sorry." But Joe Wilson, I think, I had the pleasure of meeting him I think the second year I worked at Xerox and he just walked in and went around and introduced himself to the buyers who were there and asked us what we were doing, how we liked working there. I think that he had a real social conscience, I really do, and the fact that you know, it took three or four years of beating on Kodak to get them to submit.

Laura Hill: Yeah…

Mr. Concannon: He took it proactive--I mean, they weren't going after Xerox at all. Now, it may have been that we had better hiring practices, but I don't think so.

Laura Hill: No.

Mr. Concannon: I looked down and the minute--I used to have to go down when I was working in the Webster Complex--we would go down to the manufacturing areas and, you know, it was basically Caucasian; it really was. But I think that he had a real social conscience, and I think he saw what needed to be done and for him to walk in unannounced to FIGHTON headquarters, I think--he floored them. He really did, but--to do what they did, to start from nothing and to get a company functioning in roughly a year's time, maybe a little bit less when they actually started it, was a credit to him, to Horace Becker for sure; he was one heck of a taskmaster.

Laura Hill: Tell me about him.

Mr. Concannon: Oh, he was a mad man! [Laughs]. I remember one time we had--our purchasing group was in one part of the building and then there was this kind of glass partition, and all the production planners were down on the other side of that and that was his world and he came up and stood up on a desk, took his shoe off, and started banging on this file cabinet. "I want your attention!" and he got it, by golly. But, something had happened in the production process and they were having some trouble with the production line and he said, "This is going to be fixed and you're not going home tonight until we fix it." It was unbelievable. We just stood there in awe of this guy. He was interesting. I met him once, he wasn't terribly friendly, but you met him, said thanks, and got out of his way really. But he had been--.

Laura Hill: Is that why he's chosen?

Mr. Concannon: I think he was chosen because he knew what to do. He was a taskmaster. But I think he was fair; I think most of the people, although they thought he was a little nuts, respected him because he would talk the talk, but walk the walk, so to speak. He stood behind his people. If they made a mistake, they made a mistake. If they made two mistakes, that might be a problem. Fortunately I never worked for him.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Concannon: I knew a lot of guys who did, and they pretty much respected him. I moved up to Xerox Square with the Supplies Marketing Group and kind of lost track of the manufacturing element; we weren't involved with them at all to speak of. We dealt with the distribution group in Webster, but we had nothing to do with the manufacturing; they didn't do anything for us.

Laura Hill: We talked a little bit about the union. I'm very curious about their role in Xerox because of course Kodak keeps the union out.

Mr. Concannon: Sure.

Laura Hill: Has always done that, has been successful at that. Does having the union at Xerox substantially change the working conditions? What ways do you see the difference having worked for both Kodak and Xerox?

Mr. Concannon: Yeah. Well, of course, Kodak was a very paternalistic, benevolent company. There's no question about it. Management always went out of its way to maintain friendly relationships with the work force. They provided medical services ; they had wonderful cafeterias , a credit union, (Eastman Savings & Loan) with full banking services, Building 28 was built to house basketball courts, bowling alleys, a large auditorium, a company store, and supported many clubs of interest to the employees. During the summer, there were baseball leagues that involved inter divisional competition. Kodak also sponsored the KPAA, a summer baseball program for the youth of Rochester. I didn't know anyone I grew up with who didn't participate in that activity.

. At Xerox, I didn't belong to the union. Purchasing wasn't part of the union. Manufacturing was. Our whole building wasn't part of the union per se. Just manufacturing, receiving, I think possibly the toner plants were unionized also; I didn't deal with them at all. I think you joined the union, you worked for them, and I don't know that it was an awful lot different. I think that Kodak offered a lot of niceties, amenities; they had baseball leagues, basketball leagues, I mean, they had all kinds of--building twenty-eight was a recreation building, was five or six stories high and they had gymnasiums, and a swimming pool that they could never put water in--that's another story. But bowling alleys, they had all kinds of amenities for the employees and I'm sure it was--the threat was always you unionize, you're going to lose some of these. They interviewed some woman who had worked for forty years for Kodak and she said it was always a threat that if we unionized, they'd take our benefits away; to the extent they could, I don't know. But there was always that Sword of Damocles over them. In terms of working conditions, I didn't find any different ah--at Kodak from Xerox, other than I think at the time, I was a little bit older, I had a little bit more responsibilities in the family way, I was a little more dedicated at Xerox I think. I know after I got into marketing, I spent an awful lot more hours than I had to, but that was okay if I got the job done. I don't know that people who actually worked for the union felt strongly about it or not; I think it was a requirement. If you're going to work in productions, join the union that was it. Whether they--they went on strike once when I was there and it was quite a surprise when they did because us being not in the union, they started holding us up from going home. They would block the parking lots, things like that. It lasted, maybe, I think a week or two.

Laura Hill: What year? Do you remember?

Mr. Concannon: Oh, God, no. Well, let me see--I was in Henrietta--maybe the late '70s or early '80s. I'm trying to think back now. I think it may have been the very early 80s. But you know, they would harass you to the extent they wouldn't let you out of the parking lot to go home. And it got very messy one day when the sheriffs had to come because people were saying, "Stop us from coming into work, but don't stop us from coming out or we'll drive right through you. " And it became a very aggravating situation. So they backed off, but then they'd start holding us coming in the morning. But they--I don't even know what they were fighting about to tell you the truth. I had my own problems with my job, but I think it lasted maybe a week or two at the most. It just faded away and never happened again.

Laura Hill: I'm thinking some about your descriptions of Kodak; it sounds like Utopia. I mean, if you have to have a job, that that would be a place where you would want to work.

Mr. Concannon: Yes, absolutely. When I got out of high school I had no thought of going to Stromberg-Carlson, Bausch and Lomb or any place else. Kodak had their own credit union and they always did. You didn't really need for anything--when they had--when I took my physical I had a physical right at Kodak. If you got hurt, and people always got hurt in the chemical department, they had a full medical staff there: doctors, nurses. They had ambulances available. I'm just trying to think--it was interesting because I was--well, I was very young, but it was a nice place to work. Even in my environment, it wasn't all that nice working with chemicals and the attitude we had with chemicals versus today. We think of some of the things we dumped into the ground then that--there was a trough outside and we had these fifty gallon barrels of chemicals, whatever they were, and you could only get so much out of it. There was always some left in it, so you take the bottom out of it, you just put it on this grate and it would empty out and it would go away. We didn't know where it went and what it did, you know, but thirty years later, forty years later, Rand Street which was the first street on the other side of the parking lot, they were getting ground contamination from the chemicals. I talked to my brother at the time, I said, "My God! I might have poured some of those chemicals there." You just didn't--like race--you didn't have an awareness, you didn't think about it, you just--Well, the guy who showed me how to do this said do it, so I did it.

Laura Hill: Yeah, it's my job.

Mr. Concannon: And guys after me did it I'm sure.

Laura Hill: Well, I mean it's funny to put this sort of--this utopian experience of working at Kodak next to, you know, what's happening to the black communities because they are just polar opposites. But it's very easy to see now how people go into work Kodak, coming home, raising their families, baseball games, don't even have a clue what's happening around them.

Mr. Concannon: No. I'm sure we didn't. I had no awareness, speaking for myself. I think that maybe if I had lived up in the Third Ward and saw the houses, the streets--changing as I lived there, sure I would have an awareness. But as I said, I was maybe seven miles away from that, but it was a lifetime away from it also. I mean, you just didn't get exposure, I guess was it. Those riots really, I think, awakened everybody and as I said before, if it didn't, you were either dead or your head was in the sand.

Laura Hill: Right, right. And so, I mean, this is switching gears a little, but I'm also thinking about your experiences with FIGHTON. I mean you sort of talked about your jobs and what that was like on that end. Did you ever interact with the employees--the FIGHTON employees?

Mr. Concannon: Ah, no. No I didn't. Basically, my experience of going over there was to go over and pick up parts and deliver the parts back at Xerox--basically in an emergency situation I would drive. And I didn't do it every night or every week; maybe if I did it a dozen times while I was involved because I was only involved for a year, through '69. I think I left the group the end of October, beginning of November of '69 and FIGHTON opened up in '69. So, it was ten or eleven months. I might have half a dozen, dozen times, when I had to go over there and, basically there were Xerox people there that handed me the parts to put them in my trunk and off I went to Webster.

Laura Hill: Did Xerox advertise this program?

Mr. Concannon: No, I don't--no, we didn't. I think that--I'm sure it hit the papers, but it wasn't something that, "Hey! Look at what we're doing!" And waving our flag. I think that--and that's again, I think a credit to Joe Wilson and the other people in charge that they knew what they had to do and they're just, they're going to make it happen. And fortunately getting Horace Becker, it did happen. They could have picked other people and it might have been a very different situation. But they selected good people--and it wasn't a situation where everybody wanted to go over there. I knew a couple of facility engineers who just--they were very bitter about going, but I think as time went on and they were there probably long after I left that situation, got to understand what they had to do. And I think initially--I was very concerned; I know other buyers in my group were, because we were taking things away from companies who had earned them. FIGHTON had not earned it. But uh, you basically didn't have a choice; we were told this is the program and get on or get outta here, very honestly.

Laura Hill: And that came from Joe Wilson?

Mr. Concannon: Oh no, no. It came from our level, our procurement people. I don't think Joe Wilson would ever say that.

Laura Hill: Well, I'm--

Mr. Concannon: But I think that he--I'm sure he knew what it would take. I'm sure he understood the reaction of people. The people who had to make it work; I mean the grunts down on the floor, there were a lot of people who didn't like it, but as I say, you had your choice so you just went with it. But I think, with maybe a couple of exceptions which there are always exceptions, most of the people understood. Once companies like McAlpin-Derlithand Nationwide Tool and Die, they became aware and, and came on with the program and became helpful. It was a much better situation very quickly.

Laura Hill: Yeah. Your jobs must have gotten easier.

Mr. Concannon: Yeah, because I mean I knew--these are small companies--I knew them personally. I mean, Frank McAlpin went to the same church we did when we lived in Irondequoit, so you knew him personally, and "I'm sorry. This is what I got to do." People were just buggered off, but they came around.

Laura Hill: Yeah. Are there other things that you think are important about this time, other things that stand out in your mind that happened, other events I haven't asked you about, or questions maybe you thought I would?

Mr. Concannon: Well, I don't think back that far very often. No, I think that was a major event of our time in the city in the '50s and '60s and '70s. I can't think of anything else that would have happened that had quite the impact that that did. Um. I think that as a result of FIGHT and FIGHTON, the city became aware of housing needs, which they had no housing for these people; it was basically, I think for the most part, white-owned homes, landlord--absentee landlords who didn't care, all they wanted to get was the rent money. And that certainly contributed to the demise of neighborhoods because there was no support. I mean, the people who were renting weren't getting any support from the people who owned the houses, so they're saying, "Why should I do anything?" But as a result, I know that--I guess--what the heck was the first one-- Chatham Gardens[10] or something like that--

Laura Hill: Right. That's right.

Mr. Concannon: You probably know more about it than I do really with all of your research. Ah, but that was the first one, and I think the reactions of people in general were, you know, here they're making automatic slums. And at first it did, but even back in the late '70s, early '80s, they were developing low house cost--uh, low cost housing--in suburbs. We had moved to Greece and I think about a mile away they had a large apartment complex and everybody was concerned that, "Oh, there goes the neighborhood." But I think good management was able to maintain standards. We drove by it the other day and I says, "Geez, it looks awful different," because they painted it a different color, but you didn't see junk all over the place. It was--I think they maintained some healthy standards. They had them throughout the county. But, I think it would have never happened if the riot didn't take place; it just wouldn't have. I shouldn't say it wouldn't have, it might have eventually. I don't know what would have precipitated it as quickly as the riots did. I think there was no political awareness of it until they became populace enough to affect some of the voting areas. Obviously the people running for office were African-American; you weren't going to find any white people down there left. So, I think that, the political awareness was probably after FIGHTON even then, because I don't think that people generally cared. It was--I can't think of anything else that, as I said, would've impacted the city any more than that did, in my lifetime.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Concannon: What will come about I don't know. Other than that--of course we live in Phoenix now, in the Phoenix area, and we have our own problems with minorities there, which are getting to be non-minority. And you know, some of the same issues exist with the exception of maybe the citizenship thing, but the same work issues, housing issues, and it comes around and comes around I guess. It's certainly happening in Phoenix, in Texas, in parts of Texas, so it's--.

Laura Hill: Phyllis? Please--

Recorder: Could you describe the staff that went over to FIGHTON? Just in a bit more detail? I mean what levels? They were engineers--

Mr. Concannon: Oh yeah, yeah. Manufacturers--

Recorder: About how many were there?

Mr. Concannon: Oh golly--I'm trying to think back--if there was twenty-five support people, thirty, it might be a lot. I shouldn't give numbers because I'm not really sure. I knew a number of fellows that went over there, but you had people at all levels. I mean, you had production planning people, you had the actual manufacturing people, you had engineering,you had inspection people, so I would suspect that there was a goodly number however you want to interpret that. I don't--I couldn't give you a number. I don't--I don't think I ever heard a number of--told the number of people there.

Recorder: And these were people that Mr. Becker would have picked. Is that correct?

Mr. Concannon: Well, either that or he would say this is what I need. I think he had basically the responsibility to set up the whole organization and to the extent that he may have had other people under him, you know, determining what they needed in certain subareas; I'm sure that existed. I don't think he sat there and picked everybody that went there, but it was at all levels right down to shipping and receiving.

Recorder: And that would become their full time job?

Mr. Concannon: Yes. Now, I don't know if they had a sequence where other people took their place or they only had six months to go because I was involved with them for about, I would say at the most eleven months, maybe ten months. The people I knew who went over there were still there when I left. So, to get a company working, you can't have a lot of transition; you've got to have continuity and you've got to have the people there at this point and they better be up when it comes to this point. I don't think there was a lot of rotation of any sort. I think they picked people who were willing to go over there and knew their job. You couldn't get any goof- offs I'll tell you that, they had to have it done right. Because it was--as I say, I think it was a very difficult decision for any of them to go, but I think they went, said, "Okay, we'll do it." But I couldn't give you numbers, I wouldn't--

Laura Hill: Well, thank you so much for coming down here, I really appreciate it.

Mr. Concannon: I'm glad I could. I hope I didn't talk too much, sometimes I talk too much.

Laura Hill: No, no, no. Very, very helpful. I think sometimes I, I--me personally, I get so engaged with the documents that I don't have a good sense of the culture really, and so these types of conversations are really good for sort of fleshing some of that out.

Mr. Concannon: Yeah, you don't get personality out of a piece of paper.

Laura Hill: That's right! You really don't. So it's--I'm very grateful that you were able to do this.

Mr. Concannon: Well, I'm glad I could. I hope it was helpful to you--

Laura Hill: Absolutely.

Mr. Concannon: --and help you get that doctor's degree real quick.

Laura Hill: Me too.


-End of Interview-


[1] Mr. Concannon reviewed his interview transcript in June 2014. In accord with Mr.Concannon's wishes, his changes and additions are in the transcript itself as well as in the footnotes.

[2] Minister Franklin Florence (1934 - ) emerged as a vigorous civil rights leader and advocate of black power in 1960s Rochester. After the 1964 Rochester Race Riots, Chicago-based community activist Saul Alinsky and his Industrial Areas Foundation were brought in by Rochester church leaders to begin recovery efforts. Florence was chosen to head the steering committee of a newly formed Rochester community black activist organization named FIGHT (Freedom, Integration/Independence, God, Honor, Today). Florence became FIGHT's first president in 1965, and since that time Florence has offered his leadership and his passion to addressing -- in a variety of ways --social ills, especially in the areas of employment, housing, and education. Minister Florence continues to serve as senior minister at the Central Church of Christ, Rochester.

[3] Florence, as President of FIGHT, challenged Eastman Kodak to hire more minorities. High profile acts included a Kodak executive disparaging FIGHT and their proposal on television and FIGHT and supporters going to the Kodak Shareholders meeting in Flemington, NJ.

[4] Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) Chicago-based and nationally known community organizer brought to Rochester by church leaders following the 1964 Rochester Race Riots. Alinsky, working with several of his Industrial Areas Foundation staff including Ed Chambers, led efforts to begin recovery by working with the black community to develop its own leadership and change agent which came to be known as FIGHT (Fight, Integration/Independence, God, Honor, Today). Alinsky worked with Minister Franklin Florence and others to mastermind the proxy tactic that helped bring about Kodak's participation in a job training and hiring program for Rochester blacks.

[5] Horace Becker, interviewed August 20th, 2008 as part of the Rochester Black Freedom Struggle project

[6]Mr. Matthew Augustine took over FIGHTON in 1976 and changed the name to Eltrexshortly thereafter.

[7] His Reverend Matthew Clark, Bishop of Rochester from 1979 to 2012.

[8] His Reverend Fulton John Sheen, Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969; nationally known through radio and television programs, which discussed the Catholic Church's role in relation to contemporary issues (i.e. civil rights).

[9] Bishop Sheen had three nationally broadcast programs: The Catholic Hour (radio, 1930-1950), Life Is Worth Living (television, 1951-1957), and The Fulton Sheen Program(television, 1961-1968). Sheen won an Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality during the run of Life Is Worth Living. The television programs have been re-run many times since.

[10] Chatham Gardens opened in 1962 on Kelly Street in the 7th Ward, adjacent to an early public housing project, Hanover Houses, on Vienna Street. Chatham Gardens had one, two, and three bedroom apartments which were federally subsidized and marketed toward the middle class. While Hanover Houses was demolished in 1980, Chatham Gardens continues to rent apartments today.

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