Race Riots

Abbott's active involvement in Rochester's Civil Defense continued into the 1960s. He was on duty when the city's race riots broke out on July 24, 1964. Rochester became one of the first American cities to experience the 1960s tumult of racial unrest when mob violence erupted after police arrested a young African-American man participating in a street party near Joseph Avenue. Decades of tensions about economic and social inequality spilled over as onlookers at the arrest gathered into a crowd of angry protestors. For days, the city existed in a state of emergency while throngs of peopled looted and vandalized parts of the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Wards. The violence ceased by August 3, at which point police and National Guard withdrew leaving a disquieted Rochester to resume normal daily operations.

In addition to major property damage, the toll inflicted by the racial unrest included human costs: five people were killed. Abbott was among the casualties. Indeed, when the city approached its breaking point in the midst of the riots, an alarmed Abbott took to the skies in a helicopter to survey the scenes. On July 26, he asked several police officers to join him in taking an aerial view of what was the most challenging moment in Rochester's racial history, but was told all were needed on the ground. He and a pilot flew alone. While hovering over the Third Ward at approximately 2:30 PM, a pilot error caused the helicopter to crash into a house on Clarissa Street. The pilot and two men inside the house died almost instantly. However, Abbott survived impact and a month-long hospitalization at Strong before succumbing to severe burns on August 25, 1964. A city mourned, grieving over what County Manager Gordon Howe called "a loss to the community that cannot be measured."


Images from the 1964 Race Riots. The final image shows the flame and wreckage from Abbott's Clarissa Street crash.