James Smallwood was an Educator. The architect of York’s Black educational History. He was one of only two Blacks to have a school named after him. He was borne in Philadelphia July 28, 1844. He began his educational journey attending the schools of that city and at 10 was sent to the Settlement Schools at Buxton, Canada West, which was one of four organized black settlements to be developed in Canada to educate free Blacks and promising escaped slaves.. The founder of Buxton, William King, believed that blacks could function successfully in a working society if given the same educational opportunities as white children. “Blacks are intellectually capable of absorbing classical and abstract matters” he said. Young James spent three years there and then returned to Philadelphia to complete his studies at the colored school there where he graduated as Valedictorian. He then began working for the U.S. Government as a clerk at Camp Chilton, near Philadelphia.
In 1867 he was elected teacher of the colored school in York, Pa. and held that position until his death from paralysis in 1885 at the young age of 46. Mr. Smallwood joined with the likes of Aquilla Howard, Merriman Cupit and John Noble to petition the local school board to provide a school building for the colored children of that time who were being educated in one room at the local A.M.E. Zion church. Mr. Smallwood was universally loved by his students and the colored people of this community. He was the very first person of color to sit on a Jury in York County. His first case involved a charge of fornication and bastardy bought upon a colored man named Milton Chambers by Lovenia Hess a white woman. No person has exercised so much influence for good among his race in York. He was very active worker in his church the A.M.E. Zion Church. Mr. Smallwood was an intelligent, courteous, Christian Gentleman and was highly respected by all who knew him. His remains are interred at York’s Lebanon Cemetery of which He was an original Charter member of the Lebanon Cemetery Board who helped purchase the cemetery.
Mr. Smallwood was ahead of his time. Even before W.E.B. Dubois used the term “talented tenth” to describe the likelihood of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change, men like Smallwood, Aquilla Howard, Merriman Cupit and William Goodridge were stepping forth taking responsibility for uplifting their race and community. Smallwood felt, as did Dubois that blacks needed a classical education to be able to reach their full potential. They said that “we shall make manhood the object of the work of our schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it” — this is the curriculum that Higher Education must pursue. On this foundation we may build bread winning men, with skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear that the child or man will mistake the means of living for the object of life. Who knows where our dysfunctional schools would be today if we had followed their lead…….Brothers and sisters it is Not too late……..We just have to ‘Seize the Time’ as Black Panther Bobby Seale titled one of his early books. Here’s to James Smallwood, another of York’s true Legends……
Old photo of the inside of a classroom at the Segregated Smallwod school on South Pershing Avenue……Smallwood was one of the two segregated schools in York before the 1954 desegregation of schools as a result of the Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas suit……The principal of the school Mr. Hopewell can be seen standing in the rear………Sitting in the very front with glasses is Louise Dancy, sister of Mrs. Kathleen Dancy Garvins.
An old desk saved from the Smallwood School before it closed in 1955. This desk was in the possession of Mrs Mary Beatty a York City School District teacher who taught at Smallwood during it’s last year of operation in 1954. She was subsequently transferred to McKinley Elementary School where she taught for almost 30 years. Mrs. Beatty donated the desk back to the School District in 2016. It now sits in the hallway of the School District administration on North Pershing Avenue, 3 blocks away from where it was originally utilized for the education of York’s Black students.
This building on the intersection of West College Avenue and Oak Lane in York was originally the home of the York Hospital. The leaders of the Hospital arranged for the transfer of ownership of the building to house the newly formed Crispus Attucks Community Center in 1931. It caught fire and most of it was burned down in 1943. Crispus Attucks moved to a new location at East Maple Street in 1944. The remains of the building now house the Shady Maple housing complex.
1907 York Gazette Newspaper Article Detailing York’s Black Elite community in the Early and Mid 1800’s
Some of York’s Black Elite portrayed in this 1907 newspaper article included;
Mrs. M.E. Joice – Mrs. Joice conducted one of the oldest hair dressing and manicure parlors of its kind in the city. Her trade had a reputation for the very best service. She was a property owner and a very careful businesswoman,
Samuel E. Johnson – Mr. Johnson was a stenographer and secretary to the General Superintendent of the York Manufacturing Company. He was a product of York schools and held the prestigious position for seven years. He was a property owner and had the respect and confidence of both races in the community.
Edward W. Faucett – Mr. Faucett was the proprietor of a barber shop, cigar store and pool room at 122 South George Street. He also conducted a boarding and lodging house at 118 West Prince Street. He had splendid qualities and his establishment were especially attractive to the traveling public.
Harry G. Woods – Mr. Woods ran a cigar, tobacco and pool room on the corner of George and King Street for more than 12 years. He owned several other nice properties and was a well-respected citizen.
Robert Diggs – After twenty years as a public waiter Mr. Diggs started his own restaurant and lodging business. He had splendid quarters at 201 South Beaver Street which had been tastefully fitted with a soda fountain, confectionary and ice cream bar.
Rev. John Joice – One of the first Black Ministers in York and an original trustee of the Mother Zion A.M.E.Church.
Mr. John Reeves – Father of Mrs. Helen Reeves Thackston. A prominent porter at the National Hotel for over 31 years. Proprietor of the Hot Oyster Sandwich shop. A stalwart supporter of the A.M.E. Zion church. Mr. Reeves was able to earn and save enough money selling oysters that he was able to buy and give each of his three daughters their own home.
Mr. William Butler – Mr. Butler Drove oxcarts to drag lumber to the sawmills. Was the first janitor of the Smallwood School from the time it was built. He also worke for Eli Lewis the President of the First National Bank for about 35 years. Close friend of Aquilla Howard.
Miss Susan Marrs – Mrs. Marrs was born in York in 1809. She worked for the prominent James Lewis Family. She was given a plot of land by the powerful lawyer Charles Barnitz on which she planted mulberry trees to breed silkworms.
Mr. William Wood – A master machinist. A member of A.M.E. Zion since its beginning. Lived on Newberry Street for over 50 years. Designed and built many innovative impliments for steam locomotives and steamships.
The Schales – They were carpet weavers who lived on Water Street.
The Clarks – Lived on Philadelphia Street near George Street. They wer scourers, dyers and tailors.
Mr. Aquilla Howard – Longtime superintendent of the A.M.E. Zion Sunday School. Came to York in 1860. Worked for the Phillip Small family for 43 years.
Mr. Drowery – Mr. Drowery was a shoemaker who made shoes for many of York’s prominent white citizens.
Historic Crispus Attucks Cub Scout Pack #11…….Front Row l – r; Butch Thomas, Benson Beattie, Dwight McKinney, Ray Williams, Tommy Owens, Butch Hawkins, unknown, Leonard Beattie, & Bill Holland. Second Row l – r; Cameron Colston, unknown, McKinley Orr, Ritchie Holmes, Bennett Sexton, Steve Ballard, Dale Saxon, Wayne Holland, unknown, & Buddy Hill. last row l – r; Mr. William Holland, Al Foster, Mrs. Beatrice Ballard, Mrs. Helen Thackston, Mrs. Mae Jenkins, Mrs. Daisy Owens, Leroy Hunter and Mr. Joe Jenkins……