Interview, Rev. Frederick Douglass Jefferson
The Reverend Frederick Douglass Jefferson was born and raised in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and was named after the reformer Frederick Douglass. After graduating from high school in 1946, Jefferson attended Wilberforce University in Ohio, graduating in 1950 with a degree in French. He planned to become a teacher, but was drafted into the military during the Korean War. Jefferson served with the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion and then with the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion. He was discharged from the service in 1952 and enrolled in divinity school, earning his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale in 1956 and his Master of Theology degree from Harvard in 1958. He went on to teach at Wilberforce, the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and Monroe Community College. In 1974, Jefferson became the pastor of Trinity Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, in Rochester. He also served as president of the Rochester Black Caucus, and he was the first person of color to serve on the Monroe County Civil Service Commission.
In this interview, Jefferson discusses housing discrimination, education and employment inequality, and his efforts to improve conditions for blacks in Rochester. He recalls the poor quality of housing for African Americans when he first came to Rochester in 1969. Prompted to join the Housing Council, he eventually teamed up with Willie Lightfoot to establish the Southwest Area Neighborhood Association. Jefferson recalls fairly decent employment conditions for blacks in the 1960s, but states that social conditions and education were not as good. He notes the ongoing failure of the city to properly educate its young people and advocates for greater political involvement of black citizens as well as cultural events to bring people of different backgrounds together. Jefferson worries that without change, Rochester will become “Rottenchester.”