Celebrating Black History Month
African American Historical Figures
Written By: Seyvion Scott, First-Year Experience Librarian
Photos By: Yolanda D. Johnson, Manager for Campus Events
Frederick Douglass – Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 in Talbot, Maryland and died in 1895. Douglass was an abolitionist, author, and founder & editor of The North Star newspaper in Rochester, NY. Douglass lived in Rochester from 1847 to 1872. In 1852, Douglass gave his famous “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July” speech in Corinthian Hall in Rochester, NY, which raised awareness regarding the horrors of slavery and ardently advocated for the abolition of slavery.
Harriet Tubman – Harriet Tubman was born around the year 1820 in Dorchester County, Maryland and died in 1913. Tubman was an abolitionist, suffragist, and conductor of the Underground Railroad. Tubman came to Rochester in 1849 and rescued over 70 enslaved family and friends from Maryland to freedom in about 13 trips, giving her the nickname “Moses of her people.” She also was a cook, nurse, spy, and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Carolyne S. Blount – Carolyne S. Blount was born on March 21st, 1943 in Richmond, Virginia, and is still alive today. Blount was an associate librarian at the Glendale Laboratory Engineering Library and the executive editor of About… Time Magazine, Inc. in Rochester, NY. In 1984, About… Time Magazine published a six-part series called “Rochester Roots/Routes” to highlight and educate people on the experiences of the local black community. The magazine’s mission was to celebrate African American achievements and to serve as a voice for Rochester’s black community.
Thomas W. Boyde Jr. – Thomas W. Boyde Jr. was born on December 25th, 1905, in Washington, D.C. and died in 1981. Boyde was Rochester, NY’s first African American architect and the first African American to own an architecture firm. Boyde designed hundreds of homes, businesses, and buildings in Rochester. Boyde designed buildings such as the Rundel Memorial Library Building, Harro East, The Strathallan, the Kennedy Towers apartment complex, Benjamin Franklin High School, and the cottage-style residential buildings at the Villa of Hope and Nazareth College campuses.
Cabell (Cab) Calloway – Cabell Calloway was born on December 25th, 1907, in Rochester, NY and died in 1994. Calloway was a famous scat and jazz singer, dancer, songwriter, actor, and author. Calloway’s biggest hit was “Minnie the Moocher.” This song was the first ever jazz record to sell over a million copies. Importantly, Calloway broke the color barrier in network broadcasting and is recognized by the Jazz Hall of Fame. Calloway received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.
Howard W. Coles – Howard W. Coles was born in 1903 in Mumford, NY and died in 1996. Coles was the founder and editor of the Frederick Douglass Voice newspaper in 1933. Coles newspaper served as a medium for community news regarding Rochester’s African American community. He was also Rochester’s first black radio announcer and a former president of the local NAACP chapter.
Dr. Walter Cooper – Dr. Walter Cooper was born on July 18th, 1928, in Clairton, Pennsylvania, and is still alive today. Dr. Cooper was the first African American to get a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Rochester in 1957. Notably, Dr. Cooper was a research chemist at the Eastman Kodak Company and the holder of three patents. He was the chairperson of the education committee of the NAACP (1959 – 1965), co-founder of the Urban League of Rochester in 1965, and published over 30 scientific articles.
Garth Fagan – Garth Fagan was born on May 3rd, 1940, in Kingston, Jamaica, and is still alive today. Fagan is the founder and artistic director of Garth Fagan Dance. In 1998, Garth Fagan won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for The Lion King on Broadway. Fagan also developed the Fagan Technique, which is a fusion of modern dance, Afro-Caribbean movement, and ballet.
Cynthia Fitzpatrick – Cynthia Fitzpatrick was born in 1865 in Pontotoc, Mississippi and died on February 22nd, 1983. Fitzpatrick was Monroe County’s oldest resident, who lived for 118 years and was a child of enslaved parents. Fitzpatrick was an honorary member of Action for Better Community and was an active member in the Rochester Senior Citizens Group. Most notably, Fitzpatrick was featured on the television show Good Morning America.
Constance Mitchell – Constance Mitchell was born in 1928 in New Rochelle, New York, and died on December 18th, 2018, at the age of 90. Mitchell was the first African American woman elected to the Monroe County Board of Supervisors in 1961. She created the Black Freedom Struggle oral history project and advocated for freedom and social justice. On February 4th, 2017, Mitchell won the Frederick Douglass Medal on February 4th, 2017, at the Susan B. Anthony Center’s Legacy Award Ceremony.
Trenton J. Jackson – Trenton James Jackson was born on February 28th, 1942, in Cordele, Georgia, and died on March 25th, 2007. Jackson was an American athlete who played track & field, football, basketball, and baseball. Jackson was the first black Olympian from Rochester, NY. In 1964, Jackson ranked 4th in the world for the 100-yard dash, and 2nd in the United States for the 100-meter dash. Jackson also taught in the Rochester City School District for over thirty years.
William A. Johnson Jr. – William A. Johnson Jr. was born on August 22nd, 1942, in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is still alive today. Johnson was the first African American male to be elected mayor of Rochester, NY in 1993. Johnson served as the city’s mayor from 1994 until 2005 and was also the chief executive officer of the Urban League of Rochester for twenty-one years.
Dr. Anthony L. Jordan – Dr. Anthony Leopold Jordan was born on September 18th, 1896, in Georgetown, Guyana and died on December 19th, 1971. Dr. Jordan was Rochester’s second African American physician and established his medical practice in 1932 on 136 Adams Street. Dr. Jordan gave free health care services to patients and once said: “The doors of doctors’ offices are open to all, whether they have money or not” in 1967. In the 1960s, Dr. Jordan received the New York State Medical Society’s presidential citation.
Charles T. Lunsford – Dr. Charles Terrell Lunsford was born in Macon, Georgia in 1891 and died in 1985. Dr. Lunsford was Rochester’s first African American physician and opened his own practice on 574 Clarissa Street in 1921. Dr. Lunsford actively fought against discriminatory practices at the University of Rochester’s medical school and at the Eastman Kodak Company. In 1986, Plymouth Circle Park was renamed Dr. Charles Lunsford Park by former mayor Thomas Ryan.
Michel F. Molaire – Michel F. Molaire was born in 1950 and is still alive today. Molaire is the founder and CEO of Molecular Glasses Inc. He retired from the Eastman Kodak Company as a Senior Associate Researcher and has 58 U.S. patents. He is also the author of African American: Who’s Who of the Greater Rochester Area in 1994.
Charles Price – Charles Price was born in 1923 and died in 2021. Officer Price was the first African American police officer to serve on the Rochester Police Department (RDP) in 1947. He graduated from Madison High School and then joined the nation’s first African American military pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII. Most notably, he provided security services for Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when they came to Rochester. Price retired from the RDP in 1985.
Alice Holloway Young – Dr. Alice Holloway Young was born on September 29th, 1923, in Warrenton, North Carolina and is still alive today. Dr. Young was an educator in the RSCD for over four decades and served as a reading specialist, vice principal, and principal of elementary schools. Dr. Young had a leading role in establishing Monroe Community College and became a trustee member in 1961. She was the chair of trustees from 1978 to 1998. Dr. Young also created and supervised the Urban-Suburban Program of Rochester.
Patricia E. Bath – Dr. Patricia E. Bath was born in 1942 and died on May 30th, 2019. Dr. Bath was an ophthalmologist and laser scientist. In 1974, Dr. Bath was the first female ophthalmologist to become a faculty member at the University of California. In 1986, Dr. Bath invented the “laserphaco probe,” which was a device and method used for cataract surgery. She coined a new discipline called community ophthalmology, which offered community medicine and ophthalmology to marginalized communities of color.
James H. Norman – James H. Norman served as an adjunct professor of Sociology at Monroe Community College for over two decades. Norman was the former president and CEO of Action for a Better Community for 26 years, retiring in early 2018. From 2012-2017, Norman co-chaired Facing Race, Embracing Equity (FREE), which catalyzed many of Rochester’s current diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Norman is currently a fellow at the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at St. John Fisher University, and a member of RIT’s Minett Professors Alumni Group, and several other local nonprofit boards. He has also received many awards, including the Key to the City of Rochester.
Dr. Melany J. Silas – Dr. Melany J. Silas is a full professor at Monroe Community College and has served in the Health Studies Program for over twenty-one years. Dr. Silas teaches her very own course called: “Black Women’s Mental Health & Wellness” at MCC (Monroe Community College). Dr. Silas is also the founder and president of Breathe Deep, Inc., a nonprofit organization specializing in mental health and wellness education. Her work has been recognized with awards such as the 2012 Outstanding Alumni Award by the University of Rochester, the 2012 Woman of the Year Award by the Black Heritage Commission of the City of Rochester, the 2015 Artist Award recipient by the LINKS, and the 2020 Women of Excellence Award by the Rochester Business Journal.
Dr. Tokeya C. Graham – Dr. Tokeya C. Graham is a multi-award-winning tenured associate English professor at Monroe Community College. Dr. Graham is also a well-known anti-racism educator and community activist who advocates for racial equity, literacy, and community care. Dr. Graham is the owner of Soulstainable Living LLC, which is an equity and educational consulting firm. Dr. Graham has also volunteered at organizations such as the Legislative District Committee #25, Hub 585, the Avenue Blackbox Theatre, Writers & Books, Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley, Action for a Better Community, the Boy Scout Cub, and Pack Troop 293.
Michael J. Johnson – Michael Johnson has been a nationally certified counselor at Monroe Community College for the past twenty-five years. Johnson has also taught as an adjunct professor in Human Services and ESOL and Transitional Studies Departments. Notably, he was the first African American to serve as treasurer for the Association on Higher Education and Disability for eight years. In 2009, Johnson was named as an up-and-coming African American leader by the Democrat and Chronicle. Johnson is serving as an executive board member for Action for a Better Community (ABC) and has received the ABC Crystal Stair Award.