York’s black history: ‘It’s a heavy torch to carry’
Brandie Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org 6:13 a.m. EDT August 14, 2016
John Seville, of York Township, center, greets Jeff Kirkland after Kirkland’s presentation on York’s black history. At left, Kirkland’s cousin, Lyndon Kirkland of Danbury, Connecticut, greets their aunt, Brenda Rice of York, on Saturday at the York County History Center. Jeff Kirkland, a former York City school board president, is forming the York African-American Historical
(Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)
Even as a child, Jeff Kirkland had an inquisitive mind, especially when it came to history and, specifically, the history of African-Americans in York.
That curiosity is something he doesn’t see as much in today’s youth, he said. But he insists children must learn about their past and what their parents, grandparents and others gave to improve life for future generations.
There’s a lot to learn from the past, Kirkland said. With that interest in mind, he and two other Yorkers founded the York African-American Historical Preservation Society.
On Saturday, before a packed room of nearly 100 people inside the York County History Center in York, Kirkland gave a presentation that lasted about 2 hours, discussing decades of black history in York.
Kirkland’s presentation included projections of photographs, letters, news articles and other documents that detail the various black leaders, organizations and churches in York’s history.
He talked about the Underground Railroad and the history of slavery in York, including how prominent white families, sometimes related to manumitted or freed slaves, would assist those black men and women who were trying to get a footing in York. He discussed the popular businesses black people started, how many of them got their start in barbering and some became teachers.
For the first 20 to 30 minutes of Kirkland’s talk, volunteers at the York County History Center continued bringing more chairs into the room, as the crowd swelled to standing-room only.
The audience laughed at some of the funnier stories Kirkland told, like one about a conspiracy to burn down York in 1803. As retribution for a black woman jailed for allegedly trying to poison two females, some black community members conspired to burn down the town. A girl who was supposed to set one of the fires, being told to set the fire at 12 o’clock, mistook noon for midnight and was caught in the act.
When Kirkland talked about the history of the Crispus Attucks Community Center in York, and all the opportunity it gave to children and adults alike, Carman Bryant, 59, of York, said she felt emotional.
“I grew up going to [Crispus Attucks],” she said. “Jeff [Kirkland] was always one of my mentors. My heart was fluttering,” when he talked about the center. “The [Crispus Attucks center] was the bedrock,” Bryant added. “I knew a lot of the families, but I didn’t know the stories behind the families.”
Bryant said today’s young people “are so detached from the history.”
Sharon Ritter, another founder of the York African-American Historical Preservation Society, agreed.
Ritter said she never learned about black history when she grew up and attended school in York. “I learned most of my history from my family,” she said.
A mix of newspaper headlines and story briefs dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s chronicles a slice of York’s black history in a collage shown Saturday at the York County History Center. Jeff Kirkland, a former York City school board president, is forming the York African-American Historical Preservation Society and presented a lecture on York’s black history.
A mix of newspaper headlines and story briefs dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s chronicles a slice of York’s black history in a collage shown Saturday at the York County History Center. Jeff Kirkland, a former York City school board president, is forming the York African-American Historical Preservation Society and presented a lecture on York’s black history. (Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)
But with most of those from the older generations dying, Ritter said the torch has been passed on to her, Kirkland and another society founder, John Dalton, for them to teach the next generation.
“It’s a heavy torch to carry,” Ritter said. “They passed the history on to us, and that’s why we feel a responsibility to pass it on.”
To learn more about the York African-American Historical Preservation Society, visit www.yorkblackhistory.com.