Interview, Julia Brandon
Julia Brandon (1919-1982) was born in Rochester, New York, to a family of six children. Her parents were married in Union, South Carolina, but moved to Rochester to find better job opportunities. Brandon’s father worked as a chef before being hired as a janitor at the Symington-Gould Company. Her mother was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her parents were religious and community-minded, participating in the Masons, Eastern Star, and YWCA organizations. As a girl, Brandon attended the old School #4 and School #44, where she and her siblings were the only black students. She went to Madison Junior High and graduated from West High School (now Wilson). Upon earning her bachelor’s degree in home economics from Howard University, Brandon returned home to Rochester and went to work as the head of the YWCA cafeteria. Later she moved to Chicago to become a dietician at an all-black hospital. She then returned to Rochester and worked as a social worker at the Montgomery Neighborhood Center until 1976. At the time of this interview, Brandon taught a course on urban problems for the Psychology Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She was a member of a variety of community organizations, including the Foster Grandparent Program, the Board of United Church Ministries, and the Downtown Development Corporation. She also served as a delegate of the Rochester branch of the NAACP at a national conference in Cincinnati. Brandon passed away on July 26, 1982.
In this interview, Brandon discusses segregation, limited black employment, and her experiences growing up in Rochester. Brandon remembers being the only black family to attend #44 School and that Rochester neighborhoods were segregated. She recalls celebrating Frederick Douglass’ birthday each year and commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Memorial AME Zion church. Brandon says that most jobs available to blacks in Rochester were menial labor and domestic positions. Her older sister got a job student teaching in Elmira, New York, but was sent home because the school did not want a black teacher. Brandon herself graduated at the top of her class, but had a hard time finding employment. She says that she has experienced racial barriers to her career, as there was a general resistance to hiring blacks. During her time in Chicago, Brandon saw more professional opportunities for blacks than there were in Rochester. She notes that employment opportunities for black Rochesterians began to improve in the 1960s because of the awareness raised by race riots and protests. She encourages young women to attend R.I.T. and advises all young people to finish high school, find a career, join a church, and connect to their heritage.