Rochester Black Freedom Struggle -- Darryl Porter

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Interview Subject: Darryl Porter
Date(s) of interview(s): 6/11/2008
Interviewer: Laura Warren Hill

Mr. Darryl Porter was appointed Assistant to Rochester Mayor by Mayor Robert Duffy and continues to serve under Mayor Thomas Richards in 2012. In this position he is responsible for the Neighborhood Service Centers and the Department of Youth and Recreation Services. Mr. Porter also works with several faith-based, education-based and youth initiatives as well as serving as a liaison to the Rochester City School District. 

Mr. Porter was born and raised in Rochester. He began doing odd jobs as young as 7 to earn money, and at age 14 Mr. Porter started the street gang the Matadors of which he was still president at the time of the 1964 riots. He later earned his GED through Rochester Urban League’s program and worked for Eastman Kodak for 30 years, retiring from his position as Assistant to the Department Manager of the Silverflow Department in 2001.

Mr. Porter has a long history of political involvement and has assisted in many political campaigns. He began by helping to deliver literature for Connie Mitchell’s successful campaign to become Third Ward Supervisor. Mr. Porter has himself served on the Rochester City School Board from 1994-2006. During this time he was elected President of the School Board in 1996, 1997, and 2005. Mr. Porter is very active in the community. He is involved with youth initiatives, drug education and parent advocacy and is a past president of Group 14621. He serves on the Board of Elders for Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church. He has received numerous awards including the ABC James M. McCuller Award for excellence and the Urban League’s Golden Service Award. In February 2012, Mr. Porter was presented the first annual Living Legend Award by St. Paul Believers Holiness Church.

In this interview, Mr. Darryl Porter recalls gang culture in Rochester and his founding the Matadors in the 1960s. Mr. Porter also discusses FIGHT and subsequent disputes over the leadership of the organization. He also briefly discusses the decline of FIGHT and his reaction to the sale of FIGHTON stock. He discusses his interactions with and impressions of community leaders including Minister Franklin Florence, Mrs. Connie Mitchell and Mr. Raymond Scott. Mr. Porter shares his memories of Malcolm X’s visit to Rochester in 1965 and how he became involved in local politics through election campaigns. Mr. Porter reflects on how he transitioned from a gang leader to the Assistant to the Mayor, recalling his participation in a YMCA outreach program to end gang violence and becoming president of the Rochester City School Board.

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: 6/11/2008;

Laura Hill: Today is June 11, 2008. I’m Laura Hill, here with Mr. Darryl Porter and Michael West of Binghamton University, and we are at City Hall, thirty Church Street. Mr. Porter, if we could start with a little bit of information about you—where were you born? Are you a Rochester native?

Mr. Porter[1]: Born in Rochester.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Yeah, actually, at Strong Memorial Hospital. At the time I was born, I was living on Scio Street, which is now Freddie Thomas High School, it’s actually the front door of Freddie Thomas High School where my house used to be.

Laura Hill: Interesting.

Mr. Porter: They tore it down to build the school.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh. Are your parents also from Rochester?

Mr. Porter: Ah, no. My parents came to Rochester years ago, and I lost them when I was young.

Laura Hill: Where were they coming from?

Mr. Porter: Well, my father came from Buffalo, by way of Salem Alabama and my mother Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Laura Hill: Okay. What, um, what were your earliest experiences as an activist?

Mr. Porter: Well, probably the earliest that I can think of was when I was working in the neighborhoods with the Matadors to paint Bronson Avenue playground. We painted Bronson Avenue playground red, white and blue. A big flag of the United States, we did the whole fence around the playground that way. And it was on Orleans Street, and we were giving free paint jobs to senior citizens who couldn’t paint their houses, you know. So if they wanted their front room painted, we went in there and painted it for them. All they had to do was buy the paint, and we did the work.

Laura Hill: Tell me about the Matadors. I’m, I’m fascinated.

Mr. Porter: The Matadors started out as a club, back then, and actually started out by accident.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: I actually was trying to join a gang at the time, which was let’s see…what was the name of them? Oh, the Emperors.

Laura Hill: The Emperors?

Mr. Porter: The Emperors, yeah and it was the Emperors that I was fascinated with because I knew a lot of them.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: They were friends of mine, but at the time, in order to get in—you couldn’t just say, “I want to join the gang,” and they would just say, “Okay, you’re in.” You know, that kind of thing. So, they had two ways of getting in, and they called it “jumping in” at the time. So, it was either—you either went through the mill, which meant that everybody lined up, like a tunnel, you know one on one side, opposite each other, all the way down. And then, you had to get from one end of it to the other end.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: —while they beat you as you went through.


Mr. Porter: Then, you had to turn around and come back and come back and they would beat you on the way back. Or you can take the version where you can fight three members of the gang, and if you beat them, you got in.

Michael West: It’s a fist fight?

Mr. Porter: Fist fight.

Laura Hill: Did you get to pick the three members or did they pick the three members?

Mr. Porter: No, they picked the three members, of course.


Mr. Porter: So, I had decided I wanted to join, you know, at the time. So I decided I wanted to go through the mill. So, I went through the mill; I got through the mill; for whatever reason, the war lord, who is the person who decides whether you go to war or not, decided that wasn’t enough.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: You know, I had to fight three different people to get in. So instead of being just one process, I had to do both processes. So, they decided, well, we’ll fix him, you know. We’ll make sure he can’t get around this one.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: So they had me fight three people and they picked three of their toughest people—

Laura Hill: Of course.

Mr. Porter: —to fight at the time. So I fought them, and I beat them. After I beat the last one, I’m thinking well, “I’m in now.” Well, of course the war lord was one of them that I had to fight and because I beat the war lord, they were upset. I wasn’t supposed to do that and they decided I wasn’t getting in the club. Now, normally gangs don’t renege, you know, on their process and things like that.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: They would say, okay, you either do it or you don’t do it. But if you make it through, you Know, they keep their word, and you’re a member. But, at that time, they told me, “No, you didn’t make it through. You’re not an Emperor. You ain’t good enough to be an Emperor.” I didn’t know why I wasn’t good enough to be Emperor, so I was upset. Then I challenged the president because they have a rule: anybody can challenge the president for the leadership.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And if you win, you get the leadership and if you lose, you get beat pretty bad.


Mr. Porter: You know, there’s no two ways about it. But I was so mad, you know what I mean, I was Sore and hurt—but I was so mad, I was—I just wanted to fight, you know what I mean.

Michael West: So, um, all three fights took place at the same time? I mean, you fought, you beat one and then you—.

Mr. Porter: I beat one and then immediately fought the second one. They don’t even give you 2-Minutes, or a round to rest up or anything, I mean, you just had to get in. They assumed you would never get through it, because, even if you could beat all of them on any given day, you couldn’t beat them all on the same day.

Michael West: Right.

Mr. Porter: Nobody expected you to do that you know, so that’s why everybody usually picks the mill because at least that way, you either get through the mill or you don’t.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: So, when I did win and they wouldn’t honor it, then I wanted to challenge the president, which they should’ve honored.

Michael West: The president was different from the war lord?

Mr. Porter: Well yeah, the president is the head of the gang.

Michael West: I see.

Mr. Porter: He’s the head of the gang; he’s the one that picks who’s going to be the war lord.

Michael West: I see. Okay. I got you.

Mr. Porter: It’s like the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, you know, that kind of thing.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Michael West: So the war lord is like the Minister of Defense or something?

Mr. Porter: Yes, so it’s a powerful person. You know what I mean, the warlord, who ever that person is, is real close to the president. So, they have a lot of influence on the president and whether they go to war or not, that kind of thing.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: So I said, well all right, so I challenged him, and he laughed at me. You know what I mean? And he said, “Aw, get outta here.” He said, “There ain’t gonna be no fight because, you know, you’re all beat up and everything.” He said he wasn’t going to sit there and take advantage of me. He wouldn’t have been taking advantage of me, believe you me—the other three didn’t take advantage of me. So they left me there, you know, and I was steamin’. I was upset. And, so, when I left there, I had made up my mind, I said, “All right, since they won’t let me in theirs, I’ll start my own.”

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: You know, and that’s what I did. That’s how the Matadors got started.

Laura Hill: What was that process like, starting your own?

Mr. Porter: Well, actually, it was easy. It was easy because, first of all, I had a lot of relatives. I mean, we were the second largest family in the city of Rochester, next to, ah, what was it, ah, the Broomfields. You know. So, next to them, we were the largest.

Laura Hill: So you’ve got cousins, siblings—

Mr. Porter: All kinds of brothers and nephews, you know what I mean—and then friends. So basically they automatically became members of the club. And we decided what the name was going to be.

Laura Hill: How did you choose the name?

Mr. Porter: You know, it was really weird because I’ve always been fascinated with bull fighters. And, not the fact that they’re fighting bulls and all of that—but just their outfits. I just loved their outfits.


Mr. Porter: They had these bad capes, you know, it was sharp looking. And I said, “I like that,” So we had the matador—and we wore the capes. We had the matador cape and the jackets and stuff. And then, as we progressed, we wound up with the jackets with the bull and the matador and the whole nine yards. But that just stuck to me, and I said that I would do that. Now, I never knew until later, that when I almost got killed—that people are very territorial about the names of their gangs or their clubs. You know what I mean, and it just so happens that I was out on one Saturday and I got approached by some older men, and you know, I’m saying, “These guys are old,” who wanted to hurt me. I said, “What’s the matter?” They said, “Well, what you doing with that jacket on?” “What do you mean, what am I doing with that jacket on? It’s my jacket.”


Mr. Porter: The next thing that I know I was up in the air, hanging up with my feet dangling up on the wall of the place. You know, and all these people, all these grown men around me and stuff, and the guy starts talking about, “No, man, you know the name you got on that jacket—that ain’t yours.” And I didn’t know what he was talking about; I said, “What are you talking about?” You know. They said, “The name on the jacket you have, what is it?” I said, “The Matadors.” He said, “Who told you could put Matadors on that?” I said, “Who told me? Listen, are you crazy?!” [Laughter.] And I’m thinking, all right, this guy’s lost his mind, you know. Because here’s this grown man, and I’m a young teenager, and he wants to kill me over a name on a jacket. And it just so happened my brother came in, and he walked in and he seen them and he hollered at them and told them to put me down. He said, “You’re going to put my brother down before I kill you in here.” He said, “That’s your brother?” He said, “Yeah.” Come to find out, that was my brother’s gang.

Laura Hill: I see.

Mr. Porter: Years ago, and they were the Matadors, and when they gave up, you know, grew up and everything else, they never—you never disband, you’re just always a Matador.

Laura Hill: You just grow up! Sure.

Mr. Porter: You just grow up, you know. You just don’t run together like you used to and do all this stuff, but that was that. And he says, “No,” he says, “You can’t do that,” he said. “You gotta ask people permission, can you use it.” And then that’s the first time I knew that they were that particular about their name, so I asked them that night, was it alright to use it, and the guy told me, he said, “Yeah, any brother of Julius’ is a brother of mine.” He said, “You can use it,” he said, “but don’t make us come back.”

Laura Hill: How old are you at that point?

Mr. Porter: Oh, let’s see, I started the Matadors at fourteen. Yeah, I was fourteen-years-old when I started them.

Laura Hill: So tell me a little bit about the— 

Michael West: But before you go on, so do you ever run into conflict with the Emperors?

Mr. Porter: Oh, the Emperors, no— we actually became real close, like brother-clubs, and stuff. The Emperors, if they needed us, we were there. If we needed them, they were there. Because …

Michael West: Needed them for what purpose?

Mr. Porter: For any purpose, I mean, if somebody was messing with the club and coming over in the Southwest—now you’ve got to remember, being born on Scio Street in thenortheast, I was actually, as a teenager, raised up in the southwest. I was on Adams Street, Tremont Street, Troup Street, I mean you name it. I just about covered every street. I was over there on Jefferson Avenue, you know, the whole nine yards and they were from Plymouth Avenue and that was basically their territory. We were from Thurston back to Plymouth Avenue.[2]

Michael West: So who are they guarding against? Who are they guarding against? Are they guarding against, like, white boys and gangs and so forth?

Mr. Porter: Nah, they would guard against anybody that was coming into the neighborhood and disrupting the neighborhood. Say, for instance somebody wanted to come in and jump on you, alright, and you were a part of us. Well, no, they couldn’t just come in there and jump on you. Our process was, if you had a problem with me, all right, you would go to the leader and say, “Look, your homeboy did this to me,” You know, and, “I’m here to make amends, so I’m calling him out. So now, you can bring your boys and I can bring my boys, but we’re going to have a fair fight. Just me and you.” And what they’ll do is say, “Okay, you guys meet me at the playground.” And the whole place is surrounded, and you just start fighting, and the only rule there, is that when somebody says they give up, you stop fighting.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. And what did that signify, giving up?

Mr. Porter: Well, what it signified giving up, is that you won at that time, you know, they are saying, “Okay, then, you’re the best. You’re the best person today.”

Laura Hill: The best person? Or the best gang? Was it individual status or—?

Mr. Porter: No, it had nothing to do with the gang. It had to do with individual. So if you fought George and George got beat, that was George, you know, that got beat; wasn’t the gang. When you’re getting ready to beat the gang, that’s different. That’s what you try to avoid. You try to avoid gang fights, you know what I mean, you may have fights among gang members, but you don’t want to have a gang fight.

Laura Hill: Why?

Mr. Porter: Because that’s a bigger and a more dangerous thing. Gang fights, there’s no rules. In the gang fight, whatever way I can take you down, you going down. Period. You know what I mean, and there aren’t any rules there. If we’re one on one, the rule is, you’re not going to let me kill him if he says, “You’re the best. I quit.”

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: All right, the fight’s over. In a gang, there ain’t no such thing.

Laura Hill: So it sounds like, it sounds like your people generally wanted to avoid a gang fight. This was not a good, a good process.

Mr. Porter: That’s what you want to do; you want to avoid the gang fight at all costs, because gang fights spread out. It does—it’s like a shotgun, you know, it’s like, the difference between having a forty-five and a shotgun. It’s easier to have the forty-five and hit one person, you know whereas, somebody with a shotgun trying to shoot one person in a crowd, and hit ten.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: You know so—.

Michael West:  Sure.

Laura Hill: So, tell me a little bit more about the activities of the Matadors. You referred earlier to painting parks and homes. What was the service aspects of the group like?

Mr. Porter: Well, the service aspects of the group—we looked out for each other. I mean, that included school. When you were in school and stuff, people that normally would beat you up side your head, or just jump on you or take your lunch money, or all that kind of crazy stuff if you were a matador, they didn’t do that. Because then they knew, you know, they were in trouble. You know what I mean so they didn’t bother with you; you had that kind of a prestige around there, where they knew that you were a Matador, and they knew that if they messed with you, then it wasn’t just going to go away.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: But, if you were having problems with math or English or science or anything like that, whichever one of us was good at that—and I did a lot of the math stuff with my members, and my cousin Eddie was good at English and he would handle that—but we would sit down with you and help you with your math, and help you with your science and try to get you through these things. We started up little quartets and groups singing and dancing, having little parties and stuff like that. You know, things to kind of keep people out of trouble. You just more or less have basketball tournaments or games, where you could get out there and play with each other. And we’re there—we’d say, well, let’s go swimming; it might be twenty of us go swimming, you know. But we kept each other busy, and tried to keep each other out of trouble.

Laura Hill: What, as a group, what was your relationship to adults?

Mr. Porter: Well, we had—or we were fortunate that we had a few adults that were out in the community. Like, we did a lot of playing down there at Bronson playground. And Miss Sidney was a young white lady, short but powerful little white lady, down there at Bronson Avenue playground. Whereas she’d come out among all those giants and hard heads and loud mouths and everything else, and then she would say, “Look, you’re making too much noise. Be quiet,” and they’d shut right up. If somebody got up and said, “Go back in there and sit your behind down,” or something like that, it wouldn’t take but two seconds [snaps] and she wouldn’t have to say anything. Whoever was in there’d say, “You don’t talk to Miss Sidney that way. Are you crazy? You know who she is? Anybody gonna leave, you gonna leave.” You know what I mean, they were very, very protective of her, you know, of people like Connie Mitchell[3], who was like my adoptive mom and got me out of a whole lot of stuff. And had the respect of the community, so when she came down, we listened to her and did whatever she told us to do while she was there, at least, anyway.


Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: But, you know, we had people like Jim Pratt, who was there with us, and worked with us. I mean, these guys, Paul Bradshaw, they would come out in the middle of the night. You know, eleven, twelve, one o’clock in the morning, and stuff. Somebody would call them and tell them, “Hey, there’s getting ready to be a fight, over at this party they got going. You guys need to get over there and do something about it.” And they would show up and say, “Hey, ain’t you supposed to be home? What are you doing out here?” “Here he comes again.” We’d be heading out. “We’re just leaving.” Heading out of there, but I mean, there were people like that who we could call. And I called a lot. I did a lot of things that I would never admit to any of my members back then, because, I mean at the time when we did have to go fight; we tried everything to keep from fighting but we had to wind up going anyway—there’s been times where I have called them to let them know. “Hey, we’re supposed to meet up at this place at two o’clock in the morning, and this is what’s going on.” And he said, “Okay, as long as we know.” So when you start coming down there, two o’clock in the morning, heading there, and all of a sudden, you see all these police all over the place, and you say, “Well, you know, we got an excuse to turn around and go back.”

Laura Hill: Right, I see.


Mr. Porter: Because the police are here. “Oh, let’s go. Aww man, every time you try, here come the cops.” But you’d be there thinking, “Oh, thank God they called the police.”


Laura Hill: So this is an interesting—the roots of transmission for information are fascinating. I mean, presumably, somebody like Connie Mitchell or Mr. Pratt would have alerted the police and some kind of channel.

Mr. Porter: They would have alerted the police to let them know but they wouldn’t tell them you called, but I mean, they would alert them and say, “this is what’s going to happen, you might want to have some visibility around that area and maybe be able to divert them.” So now if you know it’s going to be two o’clock in the morning, don’t show up at ten after. Get there early so that people can’t get set up, you know—.

Laura Hill: Right. That’s fascinating.

Mr. Porter: We’ve been saved a couple times. I mean, there have been times, we’ve beenway outnumbered. Like three or four to one, you know. My men would go down, they didn’t care how many you had or whatever it was—you would need them, believe you and me, you would need them. Because they had hearts, you know, as big as you can think of.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: But I’ve always felt that if I can avoid any one of them getting hurt, I’d do what I had to do to keep them from getting hurt. You know, because they were my family. You know, I loved them like I loved my own brothers and sisters. And all I had to do was call them, and they were there. I mean, it was like, I’d seen a picture of—what was it? Oh, I’m trying to remember, the movie I’d seen, because you don’t realize how much power you have until, you know, you have to use it. But I remember one time, we had, we had a real serious problem. Actually, the whole city was up in, in an uproar. They finally put a curfew on the whole city because all the gangs were fighting, and they were all partnering with each other, you know. And stuff and even called our brother clubs from Buffalo, and Syracuse, and New York City.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: They had them coming down here to try to help out with the fight.

Laura Hill: What year is this?

Mr. Porter: Oh God, that’s, when did we have that? I’d have to go back and check—

Laura Hill: Before ‘64? After ‘64?

Mr. Porter: It was in the ‘60s. No, after ’64, they actually put a curfew on the city. And it got so bad out there, you couldn’t go to the store, without worrying about getting shot at or getting caught outside.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Michael West: Getting shot at by?

Mr. Porter: By other members of gangs.

Michael West: I see. So, so, the situation has taken a decidedly new turn now, because in—previously, you never fought with weapons, right?

Mr. Porter: No, no, no, you always had weapons, you always had weapons. That’s what I said about the difference between the gang fight and members of gangs fighting. Members of gangs fighting, you’d control to a fist fight. Then you go out and you get searched. Nobody has a weapon—nobody can give anybody a weapon. Everybody around you has a weapon, alright, so that if you don’t follow the rules, and it breaks out then everybody’s prepared for a gang fight.

Michael West:   What, what are we talkin’ knives or guns?

Mr. Porter: You’re talking both. You’re talking knives. You’re talking guns. You’re talking about whatever—chains, you’re talking about ball peen hammers, hatchets, machetes. Those have always been part of the gang. I mean the stuff—and for some gangs, they had anywhere from zip guns to running around with forty-fives. So it depended on the gang that you were actually fighting with. Now, we were more into fist fighting, and knives and bats and that kind of stuff; whereas our brother club, the Emperors or the Upsetters were into guns because they were older and  could get the guns.

Laura Hill: What, um, what causes it to escalate?

Mr. Porter: Well this one got escalated, because there was a situation that happened where we had a member; one of our member’s sisters was at a party and one of the girls at the party, you know, got jealous of her, because, I guess her boyfriend or some guy she wanted to be her boyfriend had an interest in her.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: They wound up fighting.

Laura Hill: The two women.

Mr. Porter: The two women. Alright, and one of my members’ sister, beat up the girl. While she beat up the girl, the boy jumped on her.

Michael West: Okay, so that’s a no-no.

Laura Hill: You don’t jump on a woman.

Mr. Porter: You don’t do that. He jumped on her. When he jumped on her, and she ran home and told her brother, who was a member of my club at that time, he went down there—which he shouldn’t have, because he should have called us and we would’ve went down there and found out what was going on. But, instead of calling us the minute he seen how his sister was beat up. He took off and went down there to see the boy. When he got down to see the boy, of course, his gang members were there already.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: And they jumped on him and, I mean, they just stabbed him everywhere and on top of his head, to the bottom of his feet. By the time we found out about it, he was at the hospital, and they had all his intestines in a bag outside of the body.

Michael West: Oooh, oooh.

Mr. Porter: You know, and he was on, uh, life—

Michael West: Life support?

Mr. Porter: —a life support machine.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And that was…

Michael West: He died?

Mr. Porter: No, he didn’t, he didn’t die. I don’t know—God was just with him that day. Well, he had several surgeries, but they were able to save his life. I mean, he had to live with his intestines in a bag, and he had to urinate and everything else. All that was unnecessary, because of one guy, and then you’ve got a whole houseful of his gang members that jumped him. So when that happened, then, you know, I just declared war. You can’t talk to anybody like that, you know. Once, you do that, you’ve stepped over the line, there’s no, “Well, we can overlook it, or forget about it,” or talk your way out of it or something. No, you can’t do that. This was one time that I actually declared war. We went out and we ran into some of his members down there and from that point on, their members have other clubs who are…

Laura Hill: Brother clubs?

Mr. Porter: like brother clubs to them that heard about what happened to him, and they wanted to retaliate. And when you start putting more clubs together, now you got a thousand, then you got two thousand, and you know, you start calling yours, they come in. We had the Outlaw Henchmen from New York City, the furthest one away that came down. They came down to join us, but what happened, for some reason or another, we didn’t call them this time to tell them ahead of time, or warn them, but somebody decided that there were a lot of folks coming on the thruway into Rochester all of a sudden, and this thing was really getting way out of hand.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Michael West: The state police?

Mr. Porter: Yeah the state police, and the state troopers. They made sure that anybody that was a gang coming in to Rochester never got into the City of Rochester. They turned them around and made them go back.

Laura Hill: How did they indentify them? How did they indentify them as a gang member?

Mr. Porter: I have no idea how they identified them as a gang member and I didn’t know until later what happened. They actually had turned some of our people around and made them go back. They wouldn’t let them into Rochester.

Laura Hill: What were your channels of communication with people like Constance Mitchell at this point? Were the adults in the community—those that you’ve referred to—were they aware of what was happening, were there interventions, maybe?

Mr. Porter: Well, they were aware of what was happening, because they knew who to contact when stuff like this happened. Well, when they contacted me, I told them what happened. Of course, they were saying, “Well let us try to do a peace thing, we can talk.” I said, “You can’t talk. I’ve got a guy lying up here, his intestines hanging out of his body. He’s hanging on for his life. I’ve got his sister looking like a man that’d been in a fight, you know, in Vietnam somewhere.”

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: I said, “You know, what do you want me to do? If I go and tell them, oh don’t worry about it, we’ll just forget about it, this, that and the other, you know, I’d be presidentthat long.” [Snaps.] You know, they’d run me out of town because there’s only so much you can take.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: So, there comes a time when you just do what you gotta do and that was one of the times, and it got bad because, like I said, you go out and you try to go to the store or something. Every car that you hear, you don’t know if it’s one of yours or one of theirs.

Michael West: Did anybody die as a result of—?

Mr. Porter: Oh, yeah several people died because, you know what happened there. That’s what I was saying, this was some real serious stuff. I was staying with my sister at the time, and they burned her house down, trying to get at me. Shot off shotguns—it’s an old trick that they do. What they do is, they’ll surround the house. They’ll come knock on the door, and then somebody’ll throw a cocktail bomb into the house.

Michael West: A Molotov cocktail.

Mr. Porter: Yeah, that set the house off. Now the front of the house is burning, so where do you go?

Laura Hill: Out the back door.

Mr. Porter: There you go, and when you come out the back door, they shoot you because they know that’s the only place you’ve got to go. Well, my brother, Ricky and I were in the house at the time, my sister was working. We’re in the house at the time, and it was just a good thing, I spotted them outside and I told him, I said, “They’re outside, we have to get out of here.” No sooner than I said, “We have to get out of here,” here comes the cocktail. Boom! The place goes up in flames. Getting ready to run towards the back door, I say, “No, don’t go towards the back door.” You know, stay away from back door, “Jump out the side window.” So we dived out the side window to the next neighbor’s yard, rolled and kept getting up and that’s the only way we got away. If we had ran out the back door, we wouldn’t be here today because they would have gunned us down and it just got that bad, you know.

Laura Hill: At this, at this point in time, what is your understanding, or your awareness, of activism in Rochester? You, you mentioned Connie Mitchell as like a mother to you; you’re obviously engaged in some fashion with them. How did you understand the Civil Rights Movement? How did you understand the things that were happening? Did that touch your world?

Mr. Porter: Well, I got involved in the FIGHT era.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: I was involved with the FIGHT era, actually I don’t want to get into too much of the FIGHT era, because there’s some moments, some embarrassing moments there, over leadership, you know, that happened. Where it wasn’t even safe to just...

Laura Hill: I understand that.

Mr. Porter: walk around, or show up when you got ready, or whatever the case of it was. Well, we literally were body guard. I used my club to protect Franklin Florence, because he had a lot of threats that were coming his way, and everything else.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: We showed up at the church and we would stand there and be around the church, watching people just to make sure that he was okay.

Laura Hill: Is the protection from the white community? Is it from factions within the black community?

Mr. Porter: No, well in this particular incident, it would have been against anybody, you know what I mean because you had white folks who hated his guts…

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: and then you had some folks who were jealous of his prestige and his status, who thought that it should be them and not him, leading the charge, you know.

Laura Hill: Right, right. Sure. Let’s, actually, let’s back up a little. How does FIGHT come into being? How does that process happen?

Mr. Porter: Well that got started with Franklin Florence, Connie Mitchell, , Jim McCuller, and Al Salinsky [Alinsky], who actually lived in New York City.

Laura Hill: Saul Alinsky?

Mr. Porter: Saul Alinsky.

Laura Hill: Saul Alinsky, okay.

Mr. Porter: Yeah, yeah, Saul. We called him Al.

Laura Hill: They called him Al? I hadn’t heard that, okay.

Mr. Porter: Yeah, it’s Saul Alinsky. But one of the things that they worked out, and my oldest brother was involved with them at that time because he was part of the Black Caucus.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Emmet Porter started all of that. So I knew I had to get involved with a lot of this stuff.

Laura Hill: That’s Emmet Porter?

Mr. Porter: Emmet Porter, my oldest brother. You know, and so they had gotten started through that process, but once it started and they started having meetings, a lot of these conflicts started coming up, we decided to come along. We’d go to the meetings. We heard what was going on, we saw what was going on, and we decided we were going to watch out for them.

Laura Hill: How did you form a loyalty for Florence?

Mr. Porter: Basically because of my brother, Emmet, you know, is why and what he was trying to do. I believed in strongly…

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: what he was trying to do. And we’d been through that, we’d been through the march of Martin Luther King,  and I was with him when he marched on Washington, D.C. They helped organize the buses that took us to Washington, D.C.

Laura Hill: Right. Right.

Mr. Porter: We had a good connection. My brother was involved with Baden Street and ABC, and all of them. So I was there during the organization of that.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: A lot of that, even P.R.Y.D. and all them came out of Baden Street.

Laura Hill: P.R.Y.D. is the Puerto Rican Youth Development?

Mr. Porter: Mmm-hmm.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: So, there was a lot of connection. Jim McCuller had a real strong connection with all the organizations and in the group. There were leadership, back then, that sat down and discussed the political issues of the day. I was fortunate enough to be around, you know, some of them, to be able to be in those meetings, know of those meetings, and know what was going on.

Laura Hill: Right, right. There’s been some—I’ve heard a number of stories about Franklin Florence, about him, um, taking leadership of FIGHT. How would you characterize the relationship between Saul Alinsky and Franklin Florence? Or Ed Chambers[4] and Franklin Florence?

Mr. Porter: I don’t know, I only met, Salinsky [Alinsky], what twice? I think twice, when he came to Rochester. So, I didn’t know a whole lot about him.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: You know, I knew about Franklin Florence, but I didn’t know about Salinsky [Alinsky] that much, other than the fact that they were helping, or working, with him to organize FIGHT. Other than that, that’s about all I knew about him.

Laura Hill: What was the perception, in your, in your circle of friends, your circle of people, about who was in charge of FIGHT? Who was runnin’ that show?

Mr. Porter: Well, in my, in my circles, Florence was running the show, I mean, we were determined that it was going to be Florence, not Al Salinsky [Alinsky] or anybody else.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: It was Florence and that’s where the loyalty was, with Florence. It was locally, not out of New York City. Because we have to live here…

Laura Hill: That’s right.

Mr. Porter: so, we’re not going to have anybody sitting in New York telling us how to live in Rochester, kind of thing. You know.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: When we started talking leadership, we were talking about people who had been in the community, who been doing things out in the community and who didn’t show up today and decide they wanted to be a leader.

Laura Hill: Yeah. Who—?

Mr. Porter: But everybody knew who they were.

Laura Hill: Who, who are those people? Who were the, the leaders in the community?

Mr. Porter: Well, we had several, yes, we had a lot of leaders in the community—and depending on who you talk to…

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: It would depend on what connection they had with those leaders. But, we had black leaders, we had white leaders, we had Puerto Rican leaders that were out there; people who could actually come into the neighborhood—or lived in the neighborhood. Connie Mitchell lived right there on Clarissa Street. And the house that I was telling you about, that got burned down, was on Clarissa Street.

Laura Hill: Yeah, mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: So, those people, you could reach out and touch. Those people, you sat down with at church. You know what I mean, in the same pew. And those were the people that, when you went into the store, to get a soda or something to eat, they were there, getting it right with you. They were going to Stamp’s Cleaners. You know what I mean, and they were there, so you knew them, you respected them. They knew you, which was even more important.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: Because, when I was out there doing something, somebody might call me by my name and I’d look around, and I knew I was in trouble, you know what I mean.

Laura Hill: [Laughs.]

Mr. Porter: It’s one thing for someone to say, “Hey you! Stop doing that.” Because they don’t know who you are. [Laughs.]

Laura Hill: But when you name names—Right, I recall that from my childhood.

Mr. Porter: Okay. You gotta be a little careful with this one; they know who you are. [Laughs.]

Laura Hill: Right, right.

Mr. Porter: But that was always, it was a great thing to be able to know that you had an adult out there who actually cared about you. I mean, there was a guy named Paul Bradshaw, he reminded me of a big teddy bear, you know; he was the nicest guy you ever met. He’d give you the shirt off his back.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: He was always honest with you. He always told you, “I don’t care what you do, if you’re honest with me and you really are sincere, I’ll do anything I can to help you, you know. But you have got be honest with me.”

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: And that was the way he was.

Laura Hill: So, so as time moves on with FIGHT, and the leadership starts to change, how does that affect you? How does that affect what’s happening in the community?

Mr. Porter: Well, the leadership, it really didn’t change that much. I mean, you had a couple people in there, and then they’d move on. Most people, if you asked them, they don’t remember anybody but Florence.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: Although, Florence wasn’t the only president, you know, of the organization. But that’s who they would remember, because he was the one who was there the longest.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh. So you have in some, some succession, Franklin Florence, DeLeon McEwen, Bernie Gifford, and Raymond Scott[5].

Mr. Porter: Yes.

Laura Hill: Did you all develop the same kind of loyalty to those men that you did to Florence?

Mr. Porter: You know, our loyalty would have been the same to any one of those leaders, as long as they went through that process and became the leader.

Laura Hill: Did they?

Mr. Porter: And that’s where the problem came in. The problem was who actually legitimately went through the process and became the leader, as opposed to people who thought that they could just take the leadership. And make themselves leaders in the organization. When you ran into that type of situation, that’s why they didn’t last long.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Because if you’re not accepted as a true leader, you know, just like today, we got a President everybody don’t accept as the true leader because they said he stole the election. As long as they believe he stole the election, he’ll never be their president.

Laura Hill: Right. So that controversial election then, of course, is between Florence and Bernie Gifford.

Mr. Porter: Yes.

Laura Hill: It’s a very contentious process. Can you tell me a little bit about that convention night?

Mr. Porter: It was a nightmare on Elm Street…

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: is what it was. And, like I said, we spent a lot of the time, watching out for Florence, you know. Trying to make sure that he got there safely, and he got home safely. You know, that kind of thing. I mean, we had people even attack the headquarters and try to burn up the headquarters down there.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: It really was a nasty scene to have to go through. And it for me, it probably was necessary that it happened, but it could’ve actually destroyed that community and it was about that close to getting out of hand.

Laura Hill: From my understanding, there’s physical altercations, there’s gun shots fired.

Mr. Porter: Oh yes.

Laura Hill: How was all that playing out?

Mr. Porter: Well, now that I think about it, I don’t think the people who actually started the gunfire meant to hurt anybody or anything, I think they were more or less trying to show their muscle.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: and scare people, into voting their way and what have you. But then when they realized people were willing to die for what they believed in, they kind of backed off of that and decided it just wasn’t worth, just wasn’t worth it.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Because it wasn’t—well, we, we used to call it then, “selling wolf tickets.” And sell wolf tickets we’ll buy all the tickets you got. You know what I mean and they sold us some wolf tickets, and they got bought up, and they decided it wasn’t going to work here. So I think because of that, and them realizing how serious we were, and how committed we were, and fact that you may not be willing to die for him, but we’re willing to die for him.

Laura Hill: So the, the shots were fired at Florence.

Mr. Porter: Oh yes.

Michael West: Were the shots returned?

Mr. Porter: Yes, they were returned. You know, but they were returned returned.


Laura Hill: Postage was due.

Mr. Porter: Oh yes. So, I mean, it was a scary moment. And I don’t care how many members I had with me, or this, that, and the other. It makes no difference and all that. Any time we get into any kind of confrontation like that, where somebody can get hurt or killed, you know, I’m always worried.

Laura Hill: Of course.

Mr. Porter: And, my whole thing was, regardless of what happened at the end of the day, he’s going to get back home safe., whatever you have got to do. You know what I mean, so don’t come looking for me, to ask me, “What do you want me to do now?” You protect this man at all costs.

Laura Hill: So when the dust settles, it’s accepted, in some way, shape or form, that Gifford is gonna take over the presidency. How would you characterize his time there?

Mr. Porter: Well, I’d rather not.


Mr. Porter: I’d just, like I said, I’d rather not.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: It’s um—I just felt, like I said, it was a bad timing, a bad moment, bad experience and even today, I still can’t figure out why they had to go through that. You know what I mean, go through all of that. Even today, if we had to do that today, go through that same kind of thing—it’s just like, it’s like out of a movie. You don’t expect that. And, as I said earlier—you go, you vote, you win, you lose. You go home or you stay there to help.

Laura Hill: From my understanding, the voting process was very chaotic.

Mr. Porter: Well, it’s going to be chaotic if you have a set of rules well, let me put it this way, with this new election here for the presidency, there was a set of rules that were put in place that everybody agreed to.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: All right? Then, when it was time to vote, all of a sudden, they wanted to change the rules.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Mr. Porter: Florida and Michigan became a whole new ballgame. Now, how did you get those rules out of what we started with? And that’s what happened over there.

Laura Hill: Yeah. How? How does that happen?

Mr. Porter: They, the back room—It always comes out. When it doesn’t favor you, then you try to muscle your way in by getting the rules changed so they favor you.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. So has Florence lost some favor in FIGHT by that point?

Mr. Porter: I, I really don’t think so. I really don’t think he did. The problem of it is, if he hung in there long enough, the future would’ve remembered his name in connection with FIGHT.

Laura Hill: Okay. So, Gifford doesn’t hang around long. I think his tenure is less than a year[6].

Mr. Porter: It is.

Laura Hill: Why does he go?

Mr. Porter: Well I heard a whole lot of stories about that. But then, they’re stories; I don’t know for sure why he left.

Laura Hill: What are some of the stories? What do people think? What are people’s perceptions?

Mr. Porter: Well, the main one is that people’s perception was that he got offered a job he couldn’t turn down, making big bucks and he left.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: So there’s loyalty to stay here or to make a big buck. He chose to make a big buck. Now, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: Because I had never got a chance to talk to him about why he left.

Laura Hill: And so, then you have—it’s Raymond Scott, takes over?

Mr. Porter: Mmm-hmm.

Laura Hill: And he has quite a long tenure. Five years or so?

Mr. Porter: Yes.

Laura Hill: What’s, what’s that presidency like?

Mr. Porter: Well, it was a lot smoother getting in there.


Laura Hill: It sounds like it was. It sounds like it was.

Mr. Porter: It was a normal process, you know that worked out, which made him more acceptable to everybody, because he did go though the normal process without all the, the hoopla and stuff on top of it and people liked him. He had a close relationship with the ministers.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Which was anytime, in the community, when you have a close relationship with the ministers, you’re halfway home.

Laura Hill: Black ministers? White ministers?

Mr. Porter: Across the board. You know they respected him and liked him. I don’t even know where he went when he left here, or what he was doing. The reason why—‘cause I didn’t hear anything about that—I seen him years later, when he came back, but I mean, I never knew where he went. [Laughs.]

Laura Hill: Right.

Michael West: What was the relationship between Franklin and Scott?

Mr. Porter: Franklin and who?

Michael West: And Scott.

Mr. Porter: And Scott? Ah—

Michael West: While Scott was President.

Mr. Porter: I don’t know. To tell you the truth, I really don’t know. Because I knew Scott and he and my brother were good friends.

Laura Hill: This is Emmet, still?

Mr. Porter: Yes. They were good friends. My brother was good friends with Florence, so as far as I know, they got along okay. But I couldn’t tell you if they did or didn’t, for sure.

Laura Hill: So what, I mean, in your recollections, what were some of the, the undertakings of Scott? What did he do?

Mr. Porter: Oh, by the time Scott got there—and I’m trying to remember—he was there with Wallace[7], was he still there? I can’t remember if Wallace was still there, under Scott, or not.

Laura Hill: Wallace is a first name or a last name?

Mr. Porter: Wallace is his first name.

Laura Hill: What’s his last name?

Mr. Porter: I can’t think of his last name right now, but he was, he was part of the leadership structure for FIGHT. I’m trying to think—I think Scott was there when they were trying to put the, “FIGHTON”[8] together. And once they got that formed—that was the organization actually that—oh, what’s his name?[9] I’m trying to think of—I can see his face and I always forget his name. He’s going to kill me too.

Laura Hill: From?

Mr. Porter: He’s actually running the—oh, he has his own company now—the largest African-American company in the city—that’s part of FIGHT. He came out of FIGHT.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: He came out of FIGHTON. Oh, what is, oh I just had it—took off on me again. ‘Cause his wife passed away some years ago. Why—oh, his name’s going to come to me.

Michael West: What kind of operation does he run?

Mr. Porter: Uh, oh, my Secretary will know, she’ll remember, I’ll get it. Because I can see him, but my brain, when it gets locked like that….

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. [Laughs.]

Mr. Porter: It was hard—but he, he ran the operation for FIGHTON. And then, he wound up selling the Vineyard and all of that stuff, but then he took over the other part of the company. And then he started hiring folks, and now he has the largest African-American Company in the City.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. Now, DeLeon McEwen did it for a little while.

Mr. Porter: Yes, for a little while. He did it and then went to the City School District.

Laura Hill: And he backs off when—he sort of backs off when Bernie Gifford takes over the presidency. Is that accurate?

Mr. Porter: Yeah, and then, that’s when he left and took the City School District job working for parents in Title I. Yeah, actually, he was working for Sam McCree.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: My Pastor and founder of Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. How does FIGHT come to its end?

Mr. Porter: That’s a good question.

Laura Hill: Why don’t you think about it, and we’ll flip tapes.


Mr. Porter: At that time, it was hard for me to understand them selling FIGHTON. I mean, they just…

Laura Hill: Yeah, let’s, let’s talk about that a little.

Mr. Porter: I don’t know what to say about it.


Mr. Porter: I never did, I never did understand it. Because I knew what it was all set up for. And I knew it was supposed to help us. It’s not because—at that time, you know, FIGHT was fighting Kodak, and trying to get us jobs there and get Xerox to open up their doors, and also Bausch and Lomb and all of them. I mean, everybody was hiring everybody else, but us.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: So, when we heard that we were going to have our own company and they would be able to hire us, and we didn’t have to worry about being discriminated against when we got to the door, I mean, we were just overwhelmed with joy. You know, and then, when we found out they were selling the company—it was just, wham, it was like a slap in the face, you know. So I don’t know the politics around that. I wasn’t part of the discussions. The why, or what they were going do with the money or anything else.

Laura Hill: Was that a closed-door process? Or were you just not engaged with FIGHT at the time?

Mr. Porter: Well, no, I’ve always been engaged with FIGHT. I wasn’t engaged at that point, I guess. But I knew they were selling it. I just didn’t know what the process was for coming to that conclusion.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: That part I was left out of.

Laura Hill: Did they offer an explanation? Did they—?

Mr. Porter: They probably did. But you’ve got to remember now, I was young. You know what I mean. I was in meetings I probably never should have been in. So when they were making these kind of choices, they were sitting down with the Jesse Jacksons, Connie Mitchells, and Jim McCullers of the world and they were a lot older than I was. And they were in there saying, “Okay this is why we should do this, that and the other.” Then, when they came out to tell the public what they were going to do, then I can be a part of that, but I wasn’t part of it.

Laura Hill: Right, sure. Did they announce the details of the sale?

Mr. Porter: They announced the details of the sale. Me, personally—I didn’t care. You know what I mean, the mere fact that they were selling was taboo for me, as far as I was concerned. So, I didn’t really care what the details were because as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t benefitting me.

Laura Hill: Is that the general consensus of your people?

Mr. Porter: I don’t know. You know, I had a tendency at that time to not let something like that get on my mind. I’d just go on about my business. It’s just, if you’re happy, stay happy—just don’t bother me.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: And I’d just go ahead and move on, because I had—you know, I believed in the community, and I believed in opportunities, and I said, well we have the opportunities, we take advantage of them. And I believed in having more opportunities than less, you know.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And at that time, to me, you know, you were letting me down if you let the company go, because the company was supposed to be for people like me.

Laura Hill: So after it sold, is it no longer for people like you?

Mr. Porter: Well, FIGHTON is not FIGHTON. FIGHTON is not for me, and it might not even be for you.


Mr. Porter: I mean, it actually, for me, it was like it had a funeral; it got buried. And you remember the dead. That’s about as clear as I could put it.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. That’s interesting.

Mr. Porter: The thing that replaced it, that gave me hope back again, like I said, was Matt Augustine[10] and Eltrex. Because Eltrex is under the same set-up, for the same purpose, you know, so although—they hire everybody—but mainly, it’s their view; they’re not going to discriminate you, if you come there with the skills that you need to get the job.

Laura Hill: Right. Now I understand that, um, that Eltrex is still—predominately employs blacks and Puerto Ricans in Rochester.

Mr. Porter: Right, you know. And they kept the mission. And, like I said, if you lose one and the other picks it up, you can feel better. But, if you lose it altogether, you know….

Laura Hill: Right. So does the sale of FIGHTON—does that lead to FIGHT’s demise? Is that the end of FIGHT in this community?

Mr. Porter: Well, I can’t say in the community. I can say, in me, it was the death of FIGHT. I mean, it meant—FIGHT no longer meant the same thing.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: I mean, what we had left—and the only two things we had left was FIGHTON and we had FIGHT Village. There were homes that were subsidized in our communities so we could have decent housing and they got transferred from one part of the City to another, which was kind of strange because the homes became a different kind of development once moved.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And once that development took place, you know, prices went up, it displaced folks who were there earlier but couldn’t afford to stay into the new upgrade and then they said, “Oh, okay, we’re building FIGHT Village over there, across town.” We’ll put you in another section and start off again. It was a little disconnected somehow—it got disconnected.

Laura Hill: Yeah. Does it disconnect from the people at that moment?

Mr. Porter: To me, it did. To me, it, it got disconnected, and then I think what happened is, it got to a point where, I guess, Minister Florence—I said “Reverend Florence,” and I have to apologize because he’s Minister Florence, I have to remember that.

Michael West: He doesn’t like the title “Reverend?”

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And he’s—when he decided that he was tired, you know, and they were going in other areas, things just kind of tapered down. I think a lot of it had to do with timing—a lot of things were done in a short period of time. For instance, if you look at all of the different issues that that FIGHT took on in such a short timeframe and each one was resolved. They almost put themselves out of business.

Laura Hill: Hmm.

Mr. Porter: So, it got to a point where, you know, unless something comes up, for us to do something, there’s no need for us to have a meeting.

Laura Hill: Unless there’s a fight, there’s no FIGHT.

Mr. Porter: Yeah, something had to happen for them to say, “Okay, let’s get back to the table—how are we going to solve this problem?” But you say, “Oh well, your problem is, you don’t have a house today—okay, then tomorrow you got a house.” “Yours is you don’t have a job—then day after tomorrow you’ve got a job.” You know, and now you’re gone, you’re gone—there’s nobody left.

Laura Hill: It’s been said about FIGHT that one of their weaknesses was that they did not focus on education. What’s your, your perception of that?

Mr. Porter: I think they focused on education to a point. But I think their idea of focusing on education, the community never really grasped and picked up.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Was not the educational system, quote-unquote like “the school district”. It was churches taking on the educational task. So, you had more people doing home schooling, more churches having their own certified schools in their churches, and that’s what they were trying to build up, because they weren’t getting the quality of education from the City School District that they felt they should have.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: And you’re starting to see churches, today, starting to get into that now. They’re still going back to what he was trying to do back then.

Laura Hill: He—? Minister Florence?

Mr. Porter: Meaning Minister Florence, and FIGHT at that time is what some churches now are starting to pick up and deal with, like the charter school situations.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: And saying, well you know, kids have to be educated, and I’m not going to keep sending them here where I don’t feel they’re going to get the education that they need. So, I’m going to set up a charter school, you know, and teach them myself, you know, or get a charter school that will teach them. And basically, that’s where they’re starting to move towards. Now you’re finding school districts competing to try to get those students back. This means that they’ve got to get their grades up, their graduation rates up, and their drop-out rates down.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: You’re probably going to see more of that in the next five, six years, you know, coming from—driven from churches. And we’re not just talking Black churches, we’re talking Catholic churches—they’re lead on this thing now, you know. But you’re starting to see it happen all over.

Laura Hill: Okay. So—I mean, I don’t think anybody would disagree that, um. Those large, tangible products of FIGHT: FIGHTON, FIGHT Village, FIGHT Square, the struggle with Kodak, are really sort of those big, headline grabbing projects. When you start to move into the early ‘70s—FIGHT exists until somewhere around ‘77 or ‘78—what kind of structure do they have? What are they doing day-to-day? Are they still employing people? Do they still have an office staff? Are people still coming in to talk to them? What are they doing?

Mr. Porter: Well they still had their office, people were stopping by, but I think, I think their main focus, was no longer clear and they did not stay connected to the community.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Mr. Porter: Towards the end, their main focus was Voter Registration.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: It was getting people signed up to vote. The problem was they got a lot of people to sign up to vote that had never voted before, but when voting time came, they didn’t have the organization to get those people to the polls so they could vote for the first time. That was the problem. [Cell phone rings.] Yes, so—that was the problem that they had, and it never really got focused on. Because the focus was not there, I think that’s part of the disconnection between the community and what FIGHT was doing, or trying to do.

Laura Hill: So, you have said that Raymond Scott was not exactly the kind of—he was not a figure that garnished the same kind of, um, remembrance that Franklin Florence does. At that point, what is FIGHT’s relationship to, to the city of Rochester like? The city government?

Mr. Porter: Well, he had connection with the city government, and he was recognized as one of the leaders of the Black community. So people took him seriously. You know when he came to sit down at the table. He could get into the room. [Laughter.] So, he had that kind of prestige around him, where he could do that. The Connie Mitchells of the world went anywhere they wanted to go and met with the Mayor, Chief of Police, and were respected for who they were and how important they were in the community. So, he had that, and he’s basically a legend in this city. He gets a legend status.

Laura Hill: It sounds like it’s for very different reasons, though, than Minister Florence. Minister Florence demands that respect, he demands a place at the table. It sounds like what you’re describing with some of these other people—Constance Mitchell, Raymond Scott—it’s a different kind of process. How would you describe their process?

Mr. Porter: Well, Connie Mitchell, you would welcome to the table. You know, people were scared of Florence, you know, for one thing and for a good reason.


Laura Hill: Well, the Matadors were protecting him, for starters.

Mr. Porter: [Laughs.] But your Connie Mitchells—like I said, you have your Martin Luther Kings and your Malcolm Xs. And you need them both. And they all come in handy at one time or another. They get out there. And she was more the Malcolm X person. That would be accepted by a community as a leader that they would feel comfortable sitting in a room with, and not be intimidated, and be able to get things done. Minister Florence would be one that they would know they have to sit in a room with. And they’d start off being intimidated, you know.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: But they know that they would have to come to some conclusion…

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: —To get it done. They both had their own styles, you know, meeting their goals and they both would meet their goals. It was just that, he had his style, she had her style, you know.

Michael West: Speaking of Malcolm—you mentioned Malcolm just now. Do you remember Malcolm coming to Rochester?

Mr. Porter: To Rochester, yeah.

Michael West: [To Laura] Have you gone over this?

Laura Hill: We haven’t yet. If we could hang on for one second. Did, did Mr. Scott’s strategy cost FIGHT something? Was something given up in that negotiation for FIGHT?

Mr. Porter: I don’t know. I personally, I think that because now I’m older, and, hopefully wiser than I was—believe nothing happens without a reason. This stuff is all preordained and laid out.  Certain things have to happen for certain things to come out of it. And I think it was just meant for FIGHT to get to that point where they were going to be weaned off the community. And it’s like passing the baton; some people just don’t know how to let it go. They lose the race, because they drag you across the line with them.


Mr. Porter: Everyone else would realize unless they let it go, you’re not going to win the race. I just think it was time for FIGHT. And there’s a strategy that FIGHT used that was right for that time. You know, but as the years go by, you have to find different strategies, you know what I mean, to be able to deliver and have the same impact and get the same results that you were looking for back in the ‘60s. So, it came to a point where those strategies outgrew, you know, the century they were in and, it was because of that, we’re moving into a different era.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: You have to go at it a different way.

Laura Hill: Right, okay. So, this is sort of moving back chronologically, but thematically—what was going on here with the Black Muslims, with the police brutality cases, Rufus Fairwell, A.C. White? And how does all of that, one, bring Malcolm X? And then, what’s happening in the community?

Mr. Porter: Well there were a whole lot of things going on back then. I don’t ever remember a time when there was a good relationship between the community and the police. No, I’m serious.

Laura Hill: Yeah. I know.

Mr. Porter: You Know I know there’s been some good police and relationships with the community. There were certain police officers that could go in there and they could walk through there with no gun and badge and stuff. People knew who they were, and they respected them, and they treated them whatever they want. And they were the type of people, you almost have to beg them to take you to jail. They would talk to you. Say you don’t need to do this, give you a break—go on home, forget about all of that. But somebody else would come lock you up, throw you in jail and then ask you tomorrow morning what was going on. You know, kind of thing.


Laura Hill: Right, right.

Mr. Porter: You know, so, those people had high respect in the community, but as quote-unquote an organization, they’ve always been distrustful, you know, of the police; not trusting them, or thinking they’re there for their best health.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: I’d say there were a few more bad apples back then than there are now, but they were bad apples, you know, and they gave the rest of the police a bad name, or a black eye.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. And so there’s an incident, um, with the Black Muslims in January of ‘63. What happens surrounding that?

Mr. Porter: Well, I wasn’t too involved in what happened, because, you know, well first of all, I wasn’t a Muslim. Second of all, I didn’t know a whole lot of Muslims back then, but I had heard, you know, what had happened. And like I said, in the first place, it was —they were community folks you know having a confrontation with the police. There wasn’t much needed though, when it came to that, because the atmosphere was set up that they were right and the police was wrong.

Laura Hill: So it’s not perceived as Black Muslims have a conflict with the police—it is community members are having a conflict with the police.

Mr. Porter: Are having a conflict with the police. And there’s a difference.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: So when it came to that, then that’s when you get involved. And the other way around, it’s a private beef that’s happening and that wasn’t the way it was perceived.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. So, Malcolm X comes to Rochester, he comes a couple of times—what was that like? How were you aware of it, or engaged with that?

Mr. Porter: Well, everybody was aware of it, you know, I mean, because they made sure that everybody knew he was coming and got there. Most people just wanted to be there so they could see him. You’d heard a lot about him, but you’d never met him personally, so you get a chance to meet him, but I got a chance to see him. At the time, when you bring somebody like that to Rochester, or to anywhere, the security that they have around—you can’t get close to people anyway.  [Laughs.] So what the heck?

Michael West: Malcolm had a lot of security?

Mr. Porter: Oh man, they had security here for him; I don’t think he brought security with him.

Laura Hill: Security for him? Or against him?

Mr. Porter: No, for him. Here, in Rochester, looking out for him, you know.  I’m sitting there, saying to myself, you can’t get next to the guy. You know what I mean, because I would have liked to have gotten an autograph.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: Or something, but they wouldn’t even let you get close to him.

Laura Hill: Who, who’s they? Is it city police?

Mr. Porter: No, these—they weren’t city police. I think they were kind of protecting him from city police.  [Laughs.]

Michael West: Okay, so he comes—when does Malcolm come?

Laura Hill: He comes twice. Once in ’62, and then ’65 is probably the time you’re referring to?

Mr. Porter: Yes.

Michael West: ’65. At which point he has broken with the Nation of Islam?

Mr. Porter: Yes.

Michael West: So it’s his own security.

Mr. Porter: He has his own security, but you’ve got to remember, that we had security here too.

Laura Hill: What kind of security?

Mr. Porter: FIGHT had their security people there.

Laura Hill: Oh, I see.

Michael West: Were you part of the FIGHT security at that time?

Mr. Porter: I was part of it then, but I couldn’t get close to him, because his security wouldn’t let you nowhere near him.

Laura Hill: I see, I see.

Mr. Porter: If you weren’t part of their immediate group, you didn’t get anywhere near him.

Michael West: Are we talking approximately—lots of people? Dozens?

Mr. Porter: Oh, they probably had a lot more than you saw, or thought you saw there. I mean they were very, very overly protective of him. I mean, it was almost as bad as when the Muslim leader came here…

Laura/Michael:  Louis Farrakhan?

Mr. Porter: Farrakhan, oh my God. I mean, they were using our school. And I was the RCSD Board President, and they almost didn’t let me in the building. We were over there at Freddie Thomas High School. I’m sitting there, saying, “Are you crazy? If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even be here.” You know, so then one of his members just happened to come along, and he said, “Oh, that’s Mr. Porter, man. What are you doing? Leave him alone. He can come on in here; he’s the one letting us use the place.” “Well for crying out loud.” But it was one of those non-memorable things.


Laura Hill: So, you remember his speech; you heard his speech. How did it strike you?

Mr. Porter: Well, to tell you the truth, I was so upset about the security and the way they were treating me, I didn’t pay much attention to what he was saying. It was just so annoying and probably quite a few of us that were there, were more upset about the way we were treated—I mean, to us, we felt we’re no harm to him or anything else. You know, we’re here and we ought to be able to see him, say hello, get an autograph or something, or whatever. Even if you can’t, there’s a certain way to tell people that.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: All this, you know, pushing—and I am not, I don’t want anybody pushing me. You’re out there pushing you’re liable to lose your arm. I mean, these people don’t know me, they don’t know you, but they treat you like you are nothing “Get out of the way!” You know. “What in the world is going on here?” and I got to the point, I almost left. That’s how upset I was, when I was there.

Laura Hill: Hmm. How, um, how did you understand the purpose for his visit?

Mr. Porter: Well, to tell you the truth, we knew that he was coming, and that’s all you heard—that he was coming. But nobody actually said why he was coming.

Laura Hill: Did you know who brought him? Who invited him?        

Mr. Porter: No. I assumed it was FIGHT. That’s what I thought. Either they brought him over here, or the Muslims brought him, somebody brought him.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: But who knows? They may not have brought him at all. They might’ve read about it in the paper and just came, you know.

Laura Hill: Who, who were the kinds of people that had access to Malcolm while he was in town?

Mr. Porter: Oh, that would have been Minister Florence, Connie Mitchell and Jim McCuller. I know my brother met with him, you know, because he was part of the inner circle. The Muslims, of course—but they would have had…

Laura Hill: Is your brother still here in Rochester?

Mr. Porter: Yes. But other than that, I don’t know. I’m not even sure—I don’t think he had any kind of contact with the police at all. I think they did all the security for him, more or less. Because I know FIGHT didn’t want the police anywhere around there because they were worried about what the police might do.

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: As opposed to anybody else. That was it.

[1:28:45-1:28:57]    [Break]

Laura Hill: So, if we can leave the movement stuff behind a little – how did you come to be involved with city government? How does a Matador come to be involved in city government?

Mr. Porter: Well, I guess it all started with Constance Mitchell. You know, Connie, at the time, when she started to run for office and then she needed help—people dropping off literature, flyers and all that kind of stuff like that. I’d just have my people just go and drop stuff off for her. And we got involved in her campaign, and through her campaign, we started getting involved in other campaigns.

Laura Hill: Which, which campaign for her, Mr. Porter?

Mr. Porter: She was the…what’s the proper…? Because they don’t have that title anymore, she was the supervisor…

Laura Hill: The Ward Supervisor?

Mr. Porter: The Ward Supervisor.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm. So that would have been early ‘60s.

Mr. Porter: Yes, the Third Ward supervisor. Yes, back in the early ‘60s. I’ve actually got a little video clip of her, when she was running. And she—being involved in that race—I didn’t know that she was the first black female, you know, that held office. So, all I knew was that she wanted the job, and we did anything we could do to help her get it. You know that kind of thing. But, starting off with that, and getting involved in the community. The YMCA had a program—I’m going back to how they stopped all the gang fighting back then, that I was telling you about. They came out with this YMCA outreach program.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: And, they were smart enough to hire gang leaders to work with gangs to stop fighting. Which, that’s how I got my first real job with the city; it was as a member of the YMCA outreach program. And so, what we did is, we worked and sat down, and built a truce with all the gangs to get them to sign off on it. They stopped the fighting and after that worked, and everything went back to normal, then they laid all of us off.


Mr. Porter: And then I said, start a fight every now and then, you know what I mean, so I can keep my job. But it was the best program that they had. You know, and if they’d have kept it going, you probably wouldn’t have all these fights you’ve got now. But they…as soon as something works, and they eliminate the problem right then and there, they think they can just drop it and it’s not going to come back.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: But it was a great program and I learned a lot out of that. I learned a lot of responsibilities, you know. There’s a lot of responsibility with a gang, believe it or not, but I...

Laura Hill: No, I—It seems like there’s a very organized superstructure there.

Mr. Porter: Oh yeah. But to have a job like that—then having to go sit down with gang leaders, and then try to explain to them why they shouldn’t shoot and kill each other. And you were one of them. It took a little bit of finessing to get around. But it worked out okay. And then we got some of them jobs. You know, which was great.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: Because the city backed it up. You know, we’ve got these X amount of positions— if you’ve really got someone out that you think will fit these jobs, you let us know, and we’ll put them to work. So we recommended some guys, and they hired them and it worked out okay. If I knew my job was only going to last a short period of time, I’d have took one of those jobs myself.


Laura Hill: Sure. So what do you do after the Y project?

Mr. Porter: Well, after the Y project, I had—my main job was a shoeshine boy. I shined shoes for a living. Actually, when I got married in ‘65, I bought my rings, paid for the wedding, and my down payment on the house I rented, on Jefferson Avenue—all that from shining shoes.

Michael West: And where did you do this?

Mr. Porter: Oh, I covered the whole city—I shined shoes from West Main Street all the way to Ridge Road. I stopped at Ridge Road and Dewey.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: Then I turned around and came all the way back, and came down Lake Avenue—all the way down Lake Avenue, covered Main Street, all the way back to West Main Street. And, uh, then from West Main Street, I finished up and went home.

Laura Hill: So, the city hired you to do this, or the Y hired you to do this project—how old are you when you were doing that work?

Mr. Porter: Oh, what was 16 or 17 year-old? At the Y, I think I was 17  years-old.

Laura Hill: So you start the Matadors at fourteen; three years later you’re working to end the gang issue in Rochester.

Mr. Porter: Yes...

Laura Hill: So then you go on to shining shoes—and you do that for how long?

Mr. Porter: Oh, I was shining shoes at fourteen, I had been shining shoes..

Laura Hill: All along.

Mr. Porter: Since, well I started shining shoes at seven, with my brother Ricky.  You know, and I used to be on his route – I used to go with him.

Michael West: So while you were in the gang, you were still shining shoes?

Mr. Porter: Oh yeah.

Michael West: So is that your main source of income?

Mr. Porter: That was itOutside of the fifty cents I used to get to go to the movies on Sunday. And the money I got from church.

Michael West: But does the gang have a source of income?

Mr. Porter: Hmm?

Michael West: Do the Matadors have a source of income?

Mr. Porter: Not the Matadors—the gang, or the club itself, no, doesn’t have their own source of income. It was individual people either had money or they didn’t have money, or somebody gave them money or they wouldn’t give them money and they worked, You know, but it wasn’t organized where we went out and robbed people so we could have X amount of money in an account, or stole cars, or stuff like that. It wasn’t—there were some gangs out there did that, but, I mean, it wasn’t us.

Laura Hill: There’s no dues—there’s none of that kind of—.

Mr. Porter: No, you paid your dues when you got in there. Now, the ones that got in there free, you know, in the beginning, all right. But our group was the same as the Emperors were, only we honored it.


Laura Hill: You modeled their structure?

Mr. Porter: We modeled their structure. But we honored the structure, as well.

Laura Hill: Right.

Michael West: So, then you became a principal – at what point? And how does that work?

Mr. Porter: Become a what?

Michael West: A principal. You said you became, um, a principal.

Laura Hill: At Freddie Thomas?

Mr. Porter: At Freddie Thomas High School?

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: Oh no, no, I didn’t say I became a principal. I said, when you become the president of the organization, you know, I mean, it’s just like with the gangs. If you, if you’re the president, you know, you control everything—to a certain extent.

Michael West: No. A while ago, you said Farrakhan came to talk and they locked you out of the school.

Mr. Porter: Oh, oh yeah, at Freddie Thomas—well, they tried to lock me out of the school.

Michael West: Okay, but at this point—you are the principal of that school, yes?

Mr. Porter: No, no, I was the President of the School Board.

M. West/L. Hill: Of the School Board. Oh, okay.

Mr. Porter: Yes, I was the President of the School Board. The principal of the school wasn’t even there.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Michael West: Yes, but how do you become the President of the School Board, then? I mean, it’s a pretty high position.

Mr. Porter: Well, you get elected, by the City of Rochester.

Michael West: Oh it’s an elected position.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: Yeah, oh yeah.

Michael West: Ah. Okay.

Mr. Porter: I had to run to be elected to the Board and in order to become the President, I had to get the majority of the board members’ vote.

Michael West: By the board members, I see. Okay.

Mr. Porter: So if there’s seven board members, you will need four out of those seven who would want you to be their President.

Laura Hill: So, we’re missing some time though. You’re shining shoes till when?

Mr. Porter: Oh, I probably—

Laura Hill: Are you still shining shoes?

Mr. Porter: I’m shining my own shoes.


Mr. Porter: But, when did I stop shining shoes? Uh, I was probably 23 years-old, 24 years-old, when I stopped shining shoes.

Laura Hill: And then what did you do?

Mr. Porter: You know, I, I worked for illegally but I worked for John D’Aprile’s Bar.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Mr. Porter: Um, which was right here on West Main Street, next to the old Josh Lofton building; it’s right across the street from it.  I went there and that building there used to be the old Manpower Training.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: And I was doing Manpower Training there, getting my mechanic and diesel mechanic certification.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: But then I’d go over there, fill up their chests with the beer, in the coolers. And when their stuff comes in, I’d just fill up the coolers and everything, I’d shine some shoes, and I’d start on my shoe shining route. So, that was my first job outside of the one I had with the city and the shoe shining.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And then, I…

Michael West: So what’s illegal about what you’re doing though? You said you worked for them illegally. You mean off the books, or—?

Mr. Porter: Well, yes, because I wasn’t old enough to be in there. I wasn’t supposed to be in there.

Michael West: I got you, I got you. So they paid you under the table.

Mr. Porter: So they paid me under the table, and I took care of the stuff for them, and then I got out of there. [Laughs.] So we did that, but my first real legit job, that paid the big money, was with Dorschel Buick.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: You know, and they, not Dorschel, but Lou Holtz Buick. They used to be right here on Main Street, not Main Street, Genesee Street. I got that job,—actually I got the job but I shouldn’t have got the job—because I knew I was doing mechanic work and stuff like that, so that wasn’t the problem—I could work on trucks and cars, whatever they wanted me to work on. What the problem was, was that they—you have to go out and test drive, you know, like if you do a set of brakes or something like that, you have to go test drive them.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: Well, they have a truck too, that you had to take and go pick up equipment and stuff, and bring it back. And the last question they asked me before they hired me was, “Can you drive a stick?” “Yes.” And I’ve never driven a stick.


Mr. Porter: But here I am, you know, I can get a job, at least for a day, [laughs] you know. If I give the right answer, if I give the wrong answer, I am not going to get a job. So I said, “Well yeah, I can drive a stick.” You know, so, he says, “Okay, fine. If you drive a stick, you’re hired.” So he told me to come back the next day, and what I was going to be doing, so I’m in there working, minding my own business. Just put on a set of brakes service on this Buick. I get up, he tells me, he says, “I want you to go and pick up some brakes.” I said, “Pick up some—okay.” It didn’t dawn on me, that I thought, needless to say, thought I’d go get the truck and go take off. I get out there in the truck and I look down, and it’s a stick.


Michael West: It’s a stick!

Mr. Porter: And I said, “What in the world?” I said “Oh, shoot” So I’m looking around—I want to make sure the guy isn’t anywhere around me. And I’m looking around, and I start the thing up, and he was standing there by the door, and he turned around and went back inside. ‘Cause after he showed me where it was, he waited while I got in there, and I watched him, and he went inside. So, okay, I started it up, and I’m moving this stick, and the stupid thing keeps going forward. And I’ve got to back it up, because he drove into this slot, right? And I’m about this far from the wall, and I’m jerking on it, beating on it. [Makes car noises.] Oh man, I got about that far from the wall, and I finally got it in reverse.

Laura Hill: Uh-huh.

Mr. Porter: And it backs up, it backs up [makes car noises], you know, I said, “Oh, shoot.” And then I just chug-a-lug and finally got it go forward. And then I got it in first gear; I never took it out of first gear.


Mr. Porter: I said, that’s it, this is first gear, and I’m in the driveway, you know, so you can’t speed anyway, so for me to be going slow in the driveway, makes sense. So I just took my time, easing, creeping along, got out of there to the street, turned the corner. I’m trying to get away from that stupid big ole glass window, where you can sit there and look.


Mr. Porter: [Makes car noises.] And I said, “Oh God, please let me get past this building.” Before somebody out here and seen me—but I got there, by the time I came back…

Laura Hill: You knew how to drive stick.

Mr. Porter: I was doing it.


Mr. Porter: I was feeling so good, because I knew that I could drive it. Never dawned on me how long I’d been gone. The guy said, “What happened to you?! You know how long you’ve been gone” I said, “Oh, oh, I’m sorry.” I wasn’t going tell him I was out there trying to learn, you know, but I got it.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: And I would have still been there, until they decided to move out in Henrietta. And they said, “Anybody who wants to move to Henrietta, you, know, still got a job. And if you don’t, there’s nothing we can do about it, you know, but, we’re going to be moving.” But I had no way to get out there, so I had to let them go. So that was my short span…

Michael West:   And so from there, you went to the politics?

Mr. Porter: Well, no, I didn’t go into politics right away. I helped out with different campaigns, being part of politics, and all of that. But, I didn’t start politics until 1994. In 1994, I ran for the school board. Well, actually, I didn’t run at that particular time.  There was an opening on the school board because we had…one of the school board members who decided to run for city council and won the city council seat, so he left the school board spot open. When you’ve got a spot like that open up, what they’ll do is, fill the spot, and they have like thirty days to fill the spot.

Laura Hill: Who was responsible for filling it? The Board?

Mr. Porter: Well, the Board has 30-days to fill the slot. And if they don’t fill it in 30-days, then the President of the Board can pick who he/she want to put in there.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: So that puts pressure on the rest of them to at least try, you know.

Laura Hill: Right.

Mr. Porter: So, what happened was, they were down to six members, and I went in the meeting, I had five members of the board who had promised to submit my name and vote for me. There was five out of six. By the time they get ready to vote, it turns out three-three, because somebody went and told a lie, that some of the members believed. They said they could not vote for me.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: And then they talked to their colleagues, and they said, “Well, oh, okay, if you aren’t voting, we aren’t voting.” So, it wound up being a three-to-three split. And it was funny because it came down on three women and three men, and the guy that left the position.  I’m saying, “Well, wait a minute, what the heck, what happened, I thought you—” “Well, no, no. Well, we changed our minds.”

Laura Hill: Who changed their minds?

Mr. Porter: “You know what you said, what you did.” Nobody would tell me what I said or what I did, or supposedly said or did. I didn’t find out until later what it was. They came back and apologized, but, it was too late then because they had already filled the vacant seat.


Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: So they said, “Well, it’s a three-to-three tie, so we have to look for an alternate candidate, because otherwise, we don’t have a President, so you have nobody to break the tie.”

Laura Hill: I see.

Mr. Porter: All right? So, you’re voting—whoever this seventh person is going to be will help you vote for a president. So they sat down there saying, “Well okay then, if nothing happens, then we have to wait until election time, and then just have an election.” They came up with a name. I give them a lot of credit. It was a smart maneuver on their part. They brought this person in as an alternate candidate. And they said “Okay, well I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you the fourth vote,” because whoever gets the fourth vote actually controls the agenda of the board. So, “I’ll give you the fourth vote, if you give me my candidate for Presidency.” And he said, “Okay, all right—so actually, you can have the Presidency and you’re going to  give me my fourth vote.”

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: Well, what good is it having the Presidency if you don’t control anything? You know, so the point of it is, is that you get to be the President—you’re the one who’s supposed to have the power and authority to do things—but if I control the board, I don’t care who the President is. So they wound up getting the person that they wanted.

Laura Hill: Okay.

Mr. Porter: They gave the person who wanted to be the President, the Presidency and they got the fourth vote. And the funny thing about it is, the person who was president, the person they gave the fourth vote to, who thought that he was actually going to wind up with the fourth vote, because it was a woman and nobody knew that that was his cousin.

Laura Hill: Ahhh.

Mr. Porter: So he figured well we’ll outsmart them. They’ll think they’ve got the fourth vote, I’ll get the Presidency, and then, my cousin will be voting with us. And what happened was, the cousin voted with them.


Laura Hill: Oh, that backfired.

Mr. Porter: Oh, it was a double whammy! Oh, that was beautiful. I had it. I loved it. It was—I was upset, and then after that, I thought “This worked out great.”

Laura Hill: So then do you actually run yourself?

Mr. Porter: I ran in 2004. I ran and led the ticket. I got on the board and every time I ran, I led the ticket and got re-elected to the board again.

Michael West: So are you currently a board member?

Mr. Porter: Am I what?

Michael West: Are you currently a member of the—?

Mr. Porter: Well, you can’t be. No, I ran and won the last time in 2006, but then the Mayor came and offered me this position and then I had to leave, the same thing happened, I left a vacancy on the Board.

Laura Hill: Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: I happened to be the President. Same situation I walked into, was the same one I was coming out of. The only difference is, I stayed there to make sure that they got a president in place and the seventh vote.

Laura Hill: Do you run for the school board as part of a political party?

Mr. Porter: Democrats, yes I run for the Democrats.

Laura Hill: So that is actually how that—it’s a partisan kind of process.

Mr. Porter: Well, no it’s a partisan process because anybody can run for the school board, but the last time the school board was non-partisan, I think, was ‘78 or something.

Laura Hill: So you ran for the school board as a Democrat.

Mr. Porter: Right.

Laura Hill: And you had, it sounds like, nurtured relationships with other Democrats by working on their campaigns throughout the years? Mmm-hmm.

Mr. Porter: Everybody, you know. That’s one of the reasons why I got the five out of the six votes—I should’ve got six out of six. But, you can’t be perfect all the time.


Laura Hill: Any follow ups? Last questions?

Michael West: No, no.

Laura Hill: Thank you so much, Mr. Porter. This has been a very pleasant afternoon.

Michael West: It’s a fascinating story.

Laura Hill: It is.

Mr. Porter: Yes, it is, the more I think about it, I realize that it is my history with the Rochester City School District. It’s really a blessing because the same School District that rejected me and suspended me from all the schools in the City of Rochester is the one I wound up being in control of.

Laura Hill: Isn’t that interesting.

Mr. Porter: This is an ironic situation, whereas, I had to go to the Urban League to get my High School Equivalency in order for me to have a diploma.

Laura Hill: It’s funny, Mr. Porter, when we were looking through some of the documents in the city archives, I came across your name, and I thought—“How does this happen? He’s a Matador, he’s engaged in this uprising, he’s not even quiet about his engagement.” I mean, you had done some interviews, there was, you know, plenty of stuff that you had to say about it—“How does he get to be part of the Mayor’s office?” And Michael joked, “Riots work.”

Mr. Porter: Yeah, well, believe me, [laughter] I tell you, we’ve come a long way, that’s for sure. And it’s a…I think all of it is a blessing, because I’ve got a lot of young people today who come to me and say, you know, “If you can get there, we can get there.”

Laura Hill: Sure.

Mr. Porter: And I tell, them, I say, “You can do whatever you want to do. But, you’ve got to remember, what you do at 10-, 12-, 14-years-old, will haunt you, when you get to be my age.” And I said, “So, you have to be careful with the choices that you make.”

Laura Hill: That’s true.

Mr. Porter: I was just fortunate enough that I didn’t make the choices that would have kept me from being here. You know, and blocked me from getting in the door.

Laura Hill: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Mr. Porter: My pleasure.

-End of Interview-



[1] Mr. Porter reviewed his interview transcript in June 2011. In accord with Mr. Porter’s wishes, his corrections and additions are in the transcript itself rather than the footnotes.

[2] Streets in the Third Ward.

[3] Constance and John Mitchell, interviewed July 12, 2008.

[4] Edward Chambers, interviewed August 9, 2008.

[5] Raymond Scott, interviewed July 11, 2008.

[6] Bernard Gifford was president of FIGHT from June 1969- April 1971. His ended his tenure early to work at Harvard University. Raymond Scott, then Vice-President, replaced him.

[7] Presumably Wallace Smith, president of FIGHT after Raymond Scott.

[8] FIGHTON was started from an agreement with Xerox made under Minister Franklin Florence’s leadership. Deleon McEwen served as the first head of FIGHTON while Bernard Gifford was president of FIGHT.

[9] Matthew Augustine, president of Eltrex, which is what FIGHTON became in 1976—Mr. Porter later confirmed.

[10] Matthew Augustine, interviewed August 7, 2008.

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