Two upcoming events; RIP Bob Stevenson

I’ll be giving my presentation on the history of housing and education segregation in Rochester twice this week, if you’re interested in watching.

First at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at Nazareth College as part of National Public Health Week. All you’ve got to do for that one is log onto Zoom at the proper time. Details here.

Second, at 2 p.m. Saturday I’ll be speaking at the Resisting Gentrification conference put on by Calvin Eaton and 540WMain. That one does require registration. You can attend for free or give a donation.

One other thing: longtime Rochester City Council member Bob Stevenson died in late March at the age of 92. He was best remembered for his 20 years of public service — but when I spoke with him at his home in Oct. 2019, I was interested in his time teaching at Jefferson High School, particularly in the early 1970s, when desegregation was taking place.

He described a subtle but important shift in teacher assignments going into 1971-72, when RCSD secondary schools were divided into junior and senior high schools. Most teachers with some seniority went to senior high schools, he said, leaving the junior high schools in the hands of unexperienced educators just as things were getting tumultuous.

In Rochester and else where, much of the push-back to desegregation came from the Italian-American community. Stevenson had a unique perspective on that. He had been stationed in Italy in the Army and knew enough Italian to pick up on what students were saying. They called Black students mulignan, or “eggplant,” he said.

Stevenson married a Sicilian woman and became close to Louis Cerulli, former school board president and leader of the desegregation movement here. I asked Stevenson why Cerulli didn’t support integration. His answer: “Because he was Italian. … The Italians and the African-Americans, they didn’t get on.”

Stevenson attributed the fighting to parents passing negative attitudes down to their children; I heard the same thing from nearly everyone I spoke with.

He continued: “You drop that many people into the mix, you’re going to get lumps. And the lumps are: ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.'”

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