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Rochester’s race riots began the night of July 24, 1964, at a dance held on Nassau Street near Joseph Avenue. City policemen with dogs arrested a young African American man, eliciting protest from onlookers. The situation escalated and by 3 o’clock the following morning the city had declared a state of emergency. While most of the violence, looting, and vandalism affected the city’s northeast neighborhood in the 7th Ward, sporadic rioting also broke out in the 3rd Ward southwest of downtown and spread to the 5th Ward around Central Park. State police and, later, the National Guard joined city and county efforts to quell the unrest. On July 26, law enforcement brought the rioting under control. By August 3, the Guard and state police had withdrawn and city police returned to normal operations.
In addition to the debris and property damage left in the wake of the riots, hundreds of people were arrested. Five people were killed; four of the deaths resulted from a helicopter crash near Clarissa Street. From this upheaval grew a broader awareness of the underlying racial tensions in our city and the desire to address persistent inequality. Community organizations such as the Urban League of Rochester and FIGHT (Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today) emerged, advocating for changes in hiring practices, improved relations between citizens and police, improvements in urban housing conditions, and other measures for equality.