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 landscape: On a mural on the outer wall of East High School alongside Malcolm X and Connie Mitchell; and as the namesake of the Minister Franklin D. Florence Civil Rights Heritage Site at Baden Park.
Since his arrival in Rochester in the 1950s, Minister Florence graced our community and the national stage with a dynamic voice that championed the concerns of Black Americans and the universal causes of social justice. In the words of the late Congressman John Lewis, Minister Florence was never afraid to get into “good and necessary trouble” to expose racial and systemic injustice across a wide range of issues. These included: quality housing; criminal justice and corrections; fair labor practices; equitable education, child welfare and generational poverty.
A man of God, Minister Florence has gone home to the Lord having his faith as the earthly embodiment of Proverbs 31:8-9: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
My prayers and deepest condolences are with his family, congregation and many, many friends. The city of Rochester is truly blessed to have been the home and canvas of grace of Minister Franklin D. Florence, a giant among giants.
Monroe County Legislature President Sabrina LaMar:
“My deepest sympathies are with the family of the late great Minister Franklin Florence. I join them and the Rochester community in mourning his passing.
Minister Florence was a true freedom fighter and trailblazer. He founded the F.I.G.H.T. organization in 1964 in the wake of the July 1964 riot, turning anger and frustration into a powerful movement for change in the City of Rochester. His successful efforts in securing employment for Black people, at both Kodak and Xerox, stands as a shining example of the power of organized action in securing rights for oppressed and marginalized people. Through F.I.G.H.T. Square and F.I.G.H.T. Village, he provided housing to thousands. Through the creation of Eltrex Industries, he helped to create thousands of jobs in the Rochester community.
Minister Florence could always be counted on to stand with people who were fighting for rights, whether it was supporting Black students at SUNY Brockport, the University of Rochester, and Colgate Divinity School, or getting arrested along with Rev. Raymond Scott and the lateAssemblyman David Gantt while protesting the Public Defender selection process in 2009.
Finally, Minister Florence was a role model and mentor to many young Black leaders. It is because of leaders like Minister Florence, Assemblyman Gantt and Constance Mitchell that in 2022, I was able to become the first Black Woman to Lead the Monroe County Legislature. I had the honor of being in attendance in 2021 when Baden Park was renamed the Minister Franklin Florence Civil Rights Heritage Site, and in 2022 at the unveiling of the historic mural of Malcom X, Mrs. Mitchell and him at East High School.
He was a true advocate for our community and a giant in our fight for civil rights in Rochester.
His advocacy and love for this community will never be forgotten.
Rochester City Council Councilmember LaShay D. Harris:
Rochester mourns the loss of Minister Franklin Florence, a nationally renowned civil rights activist and icon.
During his many years of social activism, Minister Franklin Florence was the lead pastor of the Central Church of Christ. In addition to his activism with F.I.G.H.T. (Freedom, Independence, God, Honor, Today), an organization he founded that was geared to advocate for equality in employment, education, and housing for black and brown residents of Rochester, he led the way by laying out a path for change and leaves behind a legacy rich with advocacy and activism. He is nationally known for implementing a successful strategy against major corporate companies, including Eastman Kodak, Xerox, and General Motors, to do away with discriminatory hiring practices.
My prayers and thoughts are with his family, friends, and church family while we mourn the loss of this civil rights giant.