July '64 on WXXI-TV

July '64 on WXXI-TV

Sun, 05/22/2011 - 7:00pm - 8:00pm

A film about the Rochester riots, a three-day conflict that altered the course of history.

On a hot July night, violence erupted at a street dance when a routine arrest took a turn for the worse and ended when the National Guard was called to a northern city for the first time during the civil rights era. “In the collective memory it was always referred to as a riot, but many suggest that it was a social, civil rebellion,” explains July ’64 director Carvin Eison. “July ’64 looks at some of the casual factors that created the episode itself and in the end, shows how these issues resonate in the community today.” The film airs Sunday, May 22 at 7 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD.

It was New York State Assemblyman David Gantt who approached Eison and Chris Christoper, co-owners of ImageWordSound – an independent production company, about producing the documentary. Gantt, who had seen two of Rochester’s oldest community activists, Mildred Johnson and Howard Cole, pass away –knew he had to preserve their memories and the important roles they played in their community. He wasn’t about to let history be forgotten, so he approached Christopher and Eison to produce the film.

WXXI partnered with Eison and Christopher to secure $75,000 from the “Local Independents Collaborating with Stations” initiative of the Independent Television Service.  As the presenting station, WXXI oversaw the technical specifications, gave editorial feedback and orchestrated national distribution of the film in 2004.

Eison and Christopher interviewed twenty-three individuals for the film, including Mayor William Johnson, National political commentator and longtime panelist on PBS McLaughlin Group Jack Germond, 1964 Olympic athlete Trent Jackson, David Gantt, Constance Mitchell, Walter Cooper  Musicians Gap and Chuck Mangione and many others. “There were so many important interviews,” reflects Eison. “One of my favorites was with Minister Franklin Florence. He carries the DNA of that particular time in history.” Minister Florence was instrumental in working to make things better after the riots and was the founder of the activist group called F.I.G.H.T. (Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today), which was formed one year after the riots. “I’d have to say that one of my favorite interviews was with Jack Germond,” admits Christopher. Germond is a national political commentator today, but worked as a reporter for the Times-Union in the late 50s and early 60s. He left the paper but was asked by its publisher, Gannett to write the Wings of Change. “He had been on the cutting edge of the issue and yet no one was listening,” she adds. Constance Mitchell was also a favorite of Christopher’s. “She has such knowledge of the time and presented thoughtful analysis.” Mitchell was the first African-American woman to be elected to the Monroe County Legislature and at one time the highest black female elected official in the country. 

Music also plays a big role in the documentary. July ’64 features the never-before-released recording of Duke Ellington performing Night Creature with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra on August 6, 1964. “The Ellington music sort of found us,” explains Christopher.  While working on another project in Washington, D.C., she and Eison went to the Smithsonian, where an exhibit featuring Duke Ellington had just opened up. “The exhibit featured a touring schedule from 1964 and we found that Ellington had been in Rochester just two weeks after the riots. We contacted the Eastman School of Music and they were generous enough to let us use the recording for the documentary.”

Much of the archival footage came from WROC, WHEC and the national archives of CBS. Additional footage came from Baden Street Settlement, RG&E and RNews. Archival photos were provided by the University of Rochester Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the Democrat and Chronicle and the City of Rochester, plus personal work from local photographer Paul Hoeffler.

When asked what they hope the viewers of the documentary will walk away with after seeing it, Eison says, “I’d like people to use the documentary as a lens to examine where we are now and what could happen if we aren’t cognizant of the issues that still plague our community – housing, education, employment.”