Smallwood School One of York, Pa’s. Two Segregated Schools

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.


Author: jkirk

Founder and Chief Researcher for the York African American Historical Preservation Society