New book on history of Black Rochester

Good news for those anxiously awaiting the publication of my book: another author at Cornell University Press, Laura Warren Hill, has just published a book on another aspect of Rochester’s Black history. The title is Strike the Hammer: The Black Freedom Struggle in Rochester, New York, 1940-1970.

I reviewed it for the Democrat and Chronicle, so I won’t repeat everything I wrote there except to emphasize two things. First, I was thrilled to see her spotlight Mildred Johnson, a figure from Rochester history who has been greatly overlooked. The reason, I think, is that she never attained any formal title or position of power. Her work was of the essential, hum-drum variety: solving the million quotidian problems that came up for the rapidly increasing number of Black Southern migrants arriving in Rochester at mid-century. She found them housing, connected them with services and advocated for them in court. In her book, Hill describes her (along with her mother and sister) as “a social agency unto themselves.” She continues:

They visited jails, took children to the hospital when the need arose, and in general provided for the weakest elements of the Black community, demonstrating an altogether different type of leadership. Their method allowed them to navigate the changing times and the various social movements with little interruption.

Strike the Hammer, 27
Mildred Johnson singing at a protest at Eastman Kodak shareholders meeting in Flemington, New Jersey, 1967. From University of Rochester Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, used with permission from Eastman Kodak Co.

The second thing I want to highlight is that Hill did local historians a great service by depositing the transcripts of several of her interviews with the University of Rochester. She also helped coordinate Walter Cooper donating his papers to UR. I relied on both of those sources a great deal for my own research and would encourage others to check them out as well.

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