Minister Franklin D. Florence, An Activist for the People, Dies
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Florence, Sr. passed away Saturday, February 1 at the age of 88.
Born in Miami, Florida on August 9, 1934, Florence was well-known locally for his activism and spent more than 50 years working for civil rights here in Rochester, New York.
He was known locally as Minister Florence and was the founder of Rochester’s Central Church of Christ where he served as Senior Pastor until his passing..
His Life and Accomplishments
Hozel and Berth Florence welcomed Florence into the world in 1934. From 1948 through 1952, he attended Nashville Christian Institute.
Florence went to Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, but left after two years to go back home. His appointment as pastor of the 18th Street Church of Christ in West Palm Beach followed his return.
In 1959, he relocated to Rochester. At the age of 25, Florence accepted an offer to lead the Reynolds Street Church of Christ in Rochester, New York, where he also relocated his family. He right away got involved in projects meant to help black residents of Rochester live in better conditions.
After the race riot in Rochester in 1964, Florence helped form the F.I.G.H.T. organization (Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today) and served as its first president. Established in 1964, 1500 persons attended the first convention, which was held in Rochester.
The organization concentrated a substantial portion of its efforts on discriminatory employment practices of Kodak, Rochester’s largest employer at the time.
As part of a jobs training program, Eastman Kodak agreed to hire 600 African-Americans in 1967 after F.I.G.H.T. successfully negotiated a deal with them. Florence utilized aggressive tactics when dealing with Kodak, disrupting a shareholder meeting and going to the company’s headquarters with a group of supporters to demand a meeting with the management.
F.I.G.H.T. also founded a black-owned company, initially called Fighton and then named Eltrex Industries, to compete with the white-dominated firms through an initiative coordinated by Xerox executive Joseph Wilson. At its peak, Eltrex had 350 employees and enjoyed initial success, but it struggled to raise money for expansions and shut down in 2011.
Another top objective for F.I.G.H.T. was housing. To raise awareness of the city’s absentee landlords, protests were planned. The F.I.G.H.T. Village and F.I.G.H.T. Square, two housing developments, were also constructed.
Florence’s F.I.G.H.T presidency ended in 1967. After, Florence was dismissed from Reynolds Street Church by the Rochester Area Ministers Conference, a group of black ministers in the area. They objected to his tactics in dealing with civil rights issues. In response, he established a brand-new congregation at the Central Church of Christ, where he and his son Clifford carried on preaching until his passing.
Later in his career, Florence observed the rebellion in the Attica Prison in 1971. On September 12, he preached to the detainees who were demonstrating, criticizing the exploitative societal norms.
He belonged to both the Rochester Northeast Development Corporation and the anti-poverty organization Action for a Better Community.
Florence ran on the Liberal Party ticket of the New York State Assembly in 1972, however he did not win. He contributed to the 1984 presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson.
Florence participated in protests against police violence in Rochester in his senior years. He said that since the civil rights movement’s inception, not much progress had been accomplished in the struggle against racism.
Recently, October 25, 2021, Florence was honored with the establishment of the Minister Franklin D. Florence Civil Rights Heritage Site in Baden St. Park, located at 525 Upper Falls Blvd. The landmark commemorates the struggles and achievements of the local African American community, beginning with Frederick Douglass up to the ongoing civil rights movements.
In May of 2022, a moment in Rochester’s civil rights history was captured in a mural celebrating the legacies of local civil rights leaders Constance Mitchell and Minister Franklin D. Florence and the great Malcolm X.
The mural by the artist Ephraim Gebre was unveiled on the front facade of East High School located at 1801 E. Main Street on May 19.
“In this great enterprise of working in human rights it is a long struggle, one that cannot be fought and won by one individual. Don’t stop working to make this country a more perfect union… we have to gain our place and to make people remember the cost that our forebears paid… Living in these troubled times I don’t see how anyone living in our community could stop fighting for human rights. I want to encourage the young people who stayed in the streets during these recent times to keep fighting nonviolently. We need to tell our own story, in our own way,”
~ Minister Franklin D. Florence
His son, Minister Clifford Florence Sr:
“He didn’t believe in the wrong type of compromise,” “He was not a compromising person. It’s either this, or it’s that.” “In this community, if there was an issue that he wanted to champion, he’d have 1,200 people at your door,” “One thing he said to me the last time I saw him was, ‘Willie, fight for F.I.G.H.T.”
Mayor Malik D. Evans:
When we use the expression “standing on the shoulders of giants,” we are talking about men like Minister Franklin D. Florence, bar none.
Minister Florence was a giant among giants in Rochester’s proud legacy of social justice and civil rights. Fittingly, his name and image are now embedded into the city lan