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50 years of the Civil Rights Act

Updated: Wednesday, July 2 2014, 07:22 PM EDT

Talk of tomorrow dominated conversations at the Greig Street home of John and Connie Mitchell in 1950s Rochester.

David Anderson would walk in on a Tuesday evening to find a number African-American leaders mixing that talk of tomorrow with dark words of present indignities.

Anderson likely told the group about the speech at his Rochester Institute of Technology graduation.

“(The speaker) starts the commencement address in front of several thousand people with a darky joke,” Anderson recalls.

Tomorrow took the form of riots in Rochester in 1964.

The unrest burst forth weeks after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of legislation signed into law 50 years ago Wednesday.

“(The legislation) was a step connected to the Civil War,” Anderson said. “I smiled when it passed.”

After the riots subsided, various activist groups rose up in Rochester’s African-American community and Anderson had a hand in several of them.

Today, Anderson worries the foundation of the change built around the Civil Rights Act is being undercut by a culture absent a sense of history.

“We’ve lost the ability to build community,” Anderson said. “Unity is the goal, but ‘Com’ is needed. You need both of them together all the time. That’s what you inherited from the people who got the crap beat out of them or couldn’t vote or this that and the other.”

All this leave Anderson reflecting on past progress while still waiting for tomorrow’s promise.

50 years of the Civil Rights Act


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