The euphemism, “urban renewal,” was used by city planners as a catch-all for grand plans, like tearing down whole neighborhoods to put a highway in to whisk white suburban workers in and out of downtown. Interstate 490 tore right through Rochester’s 3rd Ward, a thriving Black community.
The “Clarissa Uprooted” exhibit at City Art Space in the former Sibley building downtown is too much to take in in one visit. It is too much to take in period. Black people were only allowed to live in two of Rochester’s 24 Wards, the 3rd and the 7th, so where else would they put a highway? And while they were at it they tore down far more homes than they had to. The empty lots are still there.
The exhibition organizers have recreated the stage from the Pythodd Room (named after the two social clubs, the Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows that shared the space.) Located at the corner of Clarissa and Troup Street, it was a regular stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit in the late fifties and early sixties. Alice McCloud (Coltrane), Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey all played there along with Rochester musicians, Gap and Chuck Mangione, Pee Wee Ellis and Ron Carter. and surrounded it with photos (Susan Plunkett is pictured down front) and videos the club in the day. There was band playing on the stage on opening night.
The oral histories, video interviews Teen Empowerment made with current and former residents, (Shep from Shep’s Paradise), Rochesterer’s first black policeman, lawyers and community elders are the heart and soul of this exhibit. They clearly had a good hing going here in the day but there is plenty of personal stories of police abuse, one about guy who worked two jobs, the second being as a gas station attendant at night. He was closing up the station on South Plymouth Street when the cops pulled in and accused him of breaking in. He told them he worked there but they beat the shit out of him
Listen to Shep’s Paradise by Margaret Explosion