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February 10, 2023

Celebrate the Contributions of Black People

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the resilience and success stories of Black people. It is a month to acknowledge all the achievements, victories, discoveries, talents, and inventions accomplished by people of African and Caribbean descent. 

Right here in Rochester, most of us know about the contributions of Frederick Douglass from his founding of The North Star publication to helping the enslaved of African descent find their way to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Perhaps lesser known to some include the achievements of the following individuals, to highlight a few:

  • Hester C. Jeffrey was an African American woman who came to Rochester in 1891 and founded a number of Black women’s clubs, including the Susan B. Anthony Club for Black women, which fought for women's voting rights and formed a Mother’s Council to help support women with young children. Jeffrey also was the founder of the Hester C. Jeffrey Club, which helped financially support and enable young Black women to enroll in classes at what is now known as the Rochester Institute of Technology.  


  • Dr. Charles T. Lunsford was Rochester’s first licensed African American physician, who opened his private practice in the city of Rochester in 1921. Lunsford was known for persistently fighting for civil rights issues that when he passed away, he was called the Martin Luther King of Rochester. Lunsford paved the way for Black doctors in Rochester who followed him by successfully advocating to enroll Black students at the University of Rochester medical school. He fought to end segregated workforces of local Rochester companies and establishments including Eastman Kodak Co. and guest rooms of the YMCA. Lunsford also fought during WWII to overturn a policy of the American Red Cross restricting the use of blood of Black donors. 

Dr. Charles T. Lunsford, once called 'the Martin Luther King' of Rochester, stands in the waiting room of his office at 572 Clarissa St. He was Rochester's first African American doctor. He served underprivileged communities for more than 50 years.

  • Dr. Walter Cooper came on staff as a research scientist at Eastman Kodak Co. in 1956 and was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester in 1957. During his time at Kodak, Cooper achieved three patents. He not only had a phenomenal career trajectory, Cooper also was an advocate which entailed involvement in community development and civil rights issues. Cooper developed an anti-poverty agency in Rochester called Action for a Better Community, Inc. and co-founded the Rochester branch of the Urban League. In 2008, Cooper was honored with the Frederick Douglass Medal from the University of Rochester in acknowledgement of his lifelong work in the area of civil rights. 

Dr. Walter Cooper Fund — Rochester Education Foundation

Black History month is a time to recognize Black heroes such as these and highlight that without these individuals, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and we wouldn’t be moving towards more positive change.


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