Months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a then 26-year-old George Thompson arrived to Rochester for a job opportunity at IBM.
Now, at age 78, Thompson is able to look back at his 52 years in the Med City through a historical lens that in many ways influences how he sees the world today.
“Every one of us is a living piece of history,” said Thompson.
“When I look at my life and realize that I arrived in Rochester in 1968, which is the same year Martin Luther King was killed, I understand that I was a part of the aftermath and feel obligated to help share some of that history.”
Thompson, who descended onto Rochester from his hometown of St. Louis, admitted that he had little to no knowledge about the city prior to his arrival. A fate encounter with a job recruiter on Washington University’s campus would change the trajectory of his personal and professional life.
“Years ago, I remember seeing a recruiter who was sitting at an IBM booth in our school cafeteria," Thompson recalled. “I saw that he was a Black man and asked him if the company had any job openings for industrial engineers. He said that the company was only looking for mechanical and electrical engineers, but he still took my résumé. Eventually, he called me in for an interview and I was offered a number of positions at IBM. I settled on one. But before then, I’d never heard of Rochester and went with an open mind after talking to my father, who encouraged me to take the leap.”
Relocating from St. Louis to a predominately white city was not without its challenges. To combat this, Thompson had to take initiative in order to execute change.
“Moving to Rochester, I didn’t know what to expect. I moved to the city with my nine-month-old son and wife at the time and went two weeks without seeing another Black person," Thompson explained.
While his circumstances were less than ideal, Thompson, along with other members of the community, were able to organize social activities for the city’s small Black population where they would frequent to the Twin Cities for hair care products and other goods that were not available in Rochester.
For years, Thompson was able to implement and institute change as a member of Rochester’s Diversity Council where he served as its executive director from 1995-2005.
He spoke about his decade tenure and how the organization was able to galvanize the Rochester community following an act of racial violence.
“One of the most significant things that I was involved in on the Diversity Council was a situation where members of the Somali community were beaten by golf clubs and baseball bats," Thompson said. "As part of the Diversity Council, I felt it was our job to mobilize as a community and with this we reached out to Chuck Canfield, who was the mayor at the time and rallied around an initiative called ‘Not in Our Town.’ This was done as a way to eliminate violence in our community and what it taught me is that the Rochester community can be very supportive and helpful.”
This incident aside, Thompson remains committed to the Rochester community and is invested in cultivating the next generation.
“As an older member of the community I feel it is my responsibility to share and pass along history," Thompson said. "Other elders in the community feel the same. But as long as I’m here, I want to share, help, and contribute in any way that I can.”
Marquis Taylor is an educator, content creator, writer, and podcast host. Raised in Detroit, Marquis has written for a variety of publications including the Michigan Chronicle, Michigan FrontPage, and Rolling Out Magazine. He is a contributing writer for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, which is Minnesota's first and oldest Black-owned newspaper. He is also the host and creator of the Detroit Worldwide Podcast, an interview-based platform that highlights the stories of native Detroiters from across the world. He currently resides in the Twin Cities with his wife.