Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

100 Jewish Stores Smashed, Looted, As Negroes Riot in Rochester, N. Y.

July 27, 1964
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

About 100 stores and other business enterprises, the vast majority of them owned by Jews, were wrecked and looted here this weekend during two nights of rioting by Negroes.

The Rochester community, comprising a population of about 25,000 Jews and 35,000 Negroes in this city of about 330,000 persons, was still nervous today as Jewish businessmen tried to count their losses, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. City police, an augmented county sheriff’s force, and state troopers sent here on orders of Gov. Rockefeller patrolled every section of the city, trying to prevent further rioting, while city authorities imposed a night-time curfew on the entire city. One man, a white non-Jew, was killed.

The rioting started Friday night in a section of the city where the main street is Joseph Avenue, an area inhabited now almost entirely by Negroes but where more than 90 per cent of the shopkeepers are Jewish. Until the World War II period, the area was almost entirely Jewish, and the majority of the Jewish businessmen, some of whom had had their businesses there for more than half a century, continued to do business at their old sites.

“The Jewish businessmen just happened to be there, and were therefore the worst sufferers when things suddenly got out of hand Friday night,” said Elmer Lewis, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Rochester. The same sentiment was expressed by Police Inspector Dan Sharpe, acting as spokesman for the city police department.

Observers noted that, during the rioting in the Joseph Avenue section, the headquarters of CORE and a mosque owned by the Black Muslims, had been left intact, while Jewish-owned stores flanking these two buildings were totally destroyed, and the contents looted.

“The Jewish businessmen were not the prime target because they were Jews, and this outbreak must not be interpreted as anti-Semitism,” Mr. Lewis declared. “Primarily, the city faced a breakdown of law and order, but the Jews were the principal sufferers.”

Mr. Lewis said there will be a meeting of all major civic organizations in Rochester tomorrow night, including representatives of the Jewish Community Council as well as leaders of the general and Negro communities, to take stock of the situation and to see “where we go from here.”

Last night, the rioting spread to another section of the city where some of the businesses are also owned by Jews. Altogether, Inspector Sharpe said, between 75 and 100 stores had been totally wrecked and looted. “The amount of monetary damage caused,” he said, “cannot be computed at this time. But we are sure it involved large sums;”

Recommended from JTA