Some local residents who were in Rochester during the 1964 riots talked about race and ethnicity at East High School Thursday night. The panel discussion was moderated by PBS and PRI host Tavis Smiley. Moses Gilbert, an adjunct professor at RIT, SUNY Brockport and Roberts Wesleyan, sat on the “pioneers” panel. Gilbert says the event was a good opportunity to share personal stories about race and prejudices.
"Rochester was like a plantation, and you knew your place and you dared not to challenge it. If you did challenge it you could make a little progress, but it was still a matter of a little closed cast system."
Gilbert talked about a time when most blacks held low-pay and low-skill jobs and lived in substandard housing.
The event was part of RIT’s Expressions of King’s Legacy week. Earlier on Thursday, Smiley delivered the keynote at the RIT program.
He said that Dr. King’s legacy goes beyond the Montgomery bus boycott or "I Have A Dream” speech. Smiley says there’s a King not many people know of. He said that’s the man who gave the "Beyond Vietnam" speech.
"He just didn't come out against the war in Vietnam but he calls the United States, in 1967, this Negro this black male, had the temerity to call the United States the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today. That’s Martin King, "Smiley told the gathering.
Smiley said that the fate of democracy in the U.S. rests on how seriously its citizens take King's legacy.