For the first time in our history, the United States is raising a generation of children who may live sicker and shorter lives than their parents. Reversing this trend will of course depend on healthy decisions by each of us. But not everyone in America has the same opportunities to make healthy choices.As I was driving through the city today, doing what I do, I happen to turn down East Princess Street. As I drove I noticed a cloud of dust rising as other cars were going past. As I look further I noticed that one side of the street appeared to be a different color than the other side. As I investigated even closer, I realized the dirt and dust that covered the street was a pollutant coming from the Junkyard that is located in the 500 block of East Princess Street. The dust not only covered the street but the sidewalks, the cars and any plants that are able to survive. Now this junkyard has been located here for as long as I can remember, well over 50 years, but it has always been a sore spot for me. As I became more politically aware I always thought that there has to be some major polluting going on there with the chemicals coming from the collected junk seeping into the ground in that area.Upon reading many articles and scientific journals about health and life expectancy as it relates to where you live, I became even more sensitized to these major violations of our community health. Many of these articles conclude that an essential key to your health may be related to your zip code, actually saying that your zip code or where you live might be as important to your health as your Genetic Code…..A recent population-based analysis of life expectancy across United States, funded by the Robert Johnson Foundation (RWJF), found that geographic disparities in life expectancy in our nation are large and growing, and can be explained in large part by differences in race/ethnicity and socioeconomic factors such as income, education, and employment status.If DNA represents our biological blueprint, ZNA (zip code at birth) is the blueprint for our behavioral & psycho-social makeup and is just as powerful a determinant of our life expectancy as our DNA.Our ZIP codes can determine everything from our access to healthy food, to the safety of our neighborhoods, to the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink—factors which have a huge influence on whether we get sick in the first place.
To further illustrate how where we live can affect our health, RWJF has supported the development of maps which show how babies born just a few miles apart often have dramatic differences in life expectancy.
A little while back I posted some photos of major smoke pollution pouring from the smoke stack at the Crematorium over on Kings Mill Road. Another Health Hazard placed right in the middle of our community without regards to the environmental and human damage it is causing. In addition to that, just in the recent past a huge cell phone tower was placed right in the vicinity of where our children have to travel back and forth to McKinley school, again without regard for the overall safety and Health of our community, or our kids.
Politicians and others in authority will argue that these pollutants are no threat to us, our community or our children, but again I will bet you a dollar to a dime that these entities would not ever be allowed to be placed in a more affluent locale.Now I submit to you that these violations of the sanctity of our community would not and could not happen in any of our more affluent communities. This is exactly the conclusions reached by many of the studies on Zip Codes and Health. Besides the detrimental effects these toxic entities have on our health, they serve a s major drivers in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare for those who are lest able to afford it. Not in my Backyard is a powerful refrain if you have the clout to back it up.
The Black Panther movie was enlightening on so many levels. One aspect I appreciated was it’s emphasis on maintaining a Spiritual awareness or connection to our ancestral culture and traditions.
The old Bandstand on Penn Park represented one of those places to me which provided a source of Spiritual energy for our community. Many times over the years as we faced difficult times in this community, that Bandstand would serve as a rallying point for us to come together and gather strength from each other. At other times it was a place of fun, relaxation and sharing good times.
I was traumatized when it was torn down. It was like destroying a piece of our community. I, in my conspiratorial mindset always believed it was torn down deliberately by the enemies of man, who also realized its potential as a rallying point for future grievances or community uplifting events. I was particularly disturbed when the powers that be in this community spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore a similar edifice on Farqhuar Park.
Over the years I remember a few significant events that happened around that Bandstand including Unity Day festivities, the 1980 Pan African Unity Festival which featured Queen Mother Moore and Civil Rights activist Frankie Getter as speakers, the 1968 student protest over the use of police dogs and police brutality and of course the largest Civil Rights rally ever held in this city in 1963 with over 1500 people in attendance………….
This was spectacular. That Sunday afternoon saw every Black Church in York march from their churches to Penn Park at 12:30 pm singing We Shall Overcome in a show of unity unsurpassed in our History here. NAACP official and Master of Ceremonies for the event William Barber told the crowd that “Negroes in York will no longer patiently accept racial injustice. We will no longer be denied the freedom to develop to our full potential.” Dr. Russell Hackley, President of the local chapter of the NAACP, told the rally that every Black organization in York would be active in this effort.
Rev. Richard Manning, pastor of Shiloh Baptist church and head of the Ministers Monthly Fellowship told the crowd that the Negro Ministry has a very important role to play in this uplifting effort. Manning said “to play our part we will move our programs out of our churches on to the streets as Jesus did when he talked to the multitudes.” Rev. Thomas Montouth of Faith Presbyterian church delivered the invocation. Wade Bowers and Hildegard Beard were vocalist in the program.
Almost every other power organization in the city was represented on the dias including; Mayor John Snyder, City Council president Fred Schiding,The Republican and Democratic county Chairmen, Superintendent of schools, Dr. Woodrow Brown, Jack Barnhart, president of the York Labor Council, John Padden, Executive Director of the Manufacturers Association of York, Richard Coesens, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Marty Goldman, from the Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith,, and John Zimmerman from the State Human Relations Commission.
Other organizations represented in addition to all of the Black churches were; Charles E Williams Post 794 of the American Legion, the Brotherly Love Lodge Elks of World, Queen Esther Temple, IBPOE OF W, Household of Ruth, Social Friendship Lodge #42 Masons. Deborah Chapter 26 Eastern Star and Crispus Attucks Association. An absolutely powerful, Historic event.
A 1966 photo of Eva Dianne Whidbee receiving a scholarship check from members of a newly formed group Youth Bound for College. In the photo with Ms, Whidbee is her Mother along with three members of the Newly formed group; Maurice Peters, Jim Colston and Ocania Chalk. These three men were Giants in the development of York’s Black History.
Mr. Maurice Peters took the lead in addressing much of the discrimination and racism which existed in York at the time. He was the Father of Maurice Peters Jr. who went on to become a National spokesman for the Nation of Islam as Dr. Alim Abdul Muhammad, Mr. Peters also was the lead protagonist in the effort to end discrimination at the Boys Club Pool in those days. For you who do not remember, the pool was closed for many years by the city because they did not want to admit Blacks and were ordered to do so by the Federal Government.
Mr. Jim Colston was a leader and inspiration to many of us young Black Males growing up in York at the time.Mr. Colston showed us we could be anything we put or minds to and worked hard for. He was at one time or another an insurance salesman, a milk man, a business owner, a government worker and held several other industrious positions.
Mr. Ocania Chalk became one of our most outspoken leaders of the time. He won a landmark decision against the York County Board of Assistance for discrimination. The Board of Assistance had fired Mr.Chalk from his position as caseworker because he was an out spoken proponent of Black Power and would often speak out on that topic around the community. After he was fired he took the agency to court and won a decision, won his job back and really rocked the boat at that time. I will be writing a lot more about these Black men in upcoming post.
Chalk described the purpose of the organization as one of “excavating untapped resources from York’s ghetto areas”. “We not only provide financial aid and information but we also give moral support and encouragement to the youth of thiss community”. Other charter members of Youth Bound for College were; local undertaker Russell Chapman, Raymond Crenshaw, Theodore “Teddy” Holmes, Bruce Martin Jr., Timothy Warfield, District Attorney John Rauhauser Jr., and Alex Woodard.
Another of those Roses who grew up in York…….Dr. Thomas Ritter…..
A former Yorker, Dr. Thomas Ritter is the son of Mrs. Ruby Jenkins who lived at 220 West College Avenue. He attended the segregated Smallwood Elementary School and graduated from William Penn High School in 1941.
Dr. Ritter returned to York as the keynote Speaker at Small Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church’s Spring Fellowship. Dr. Ritter who was then executive director of the Opportunities Industrialization center (OIC) in Philadelphia and was also pastor of the Second Macedonia Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
The program entitled “A Salute to Youth”, was sponsored by the church school. Harold Colston was the master of ceremony, Bruce Murdaugh gave the welcome address, Rev. F.Z. Flack offered the invocation and my Uncle Rev. George Spells, presiding elder from Harrisburg and a former classmate of Dr. Ritter introduced Dr. Ritter. Voni Grimes, church school superintendent and also a former classmate of Dr. Ritter gave the response. Rev. Irvin J. Kittrell gave the benediction. The Manning Choir with Linda Murdaugh at the Violin, Darlene Cockfield as a vocalist and Cheryl Laws at the piano, performed several selections.
Dr. Ritter’s varied background also included being a partner in Ritter Brothers Medical Equipment Company and Executive Director of the Philadelphia Youth Community Employment Services. He also served on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Urban League, the Citizens Committee on Public Education and the Philadelphia Employment Development Corporation.
Here is a “real” photo of Miss Esther Oliver known by some as “Black Esther”. There are those who would try to sell you an alternative view of OUR History, a watered down, lukewarm version of Our History. Don’t believe the Hype. There is a Rhyme & Reason for those who have controlled and distorted our History for years to try to maintain that control and even use someone who looks like us to help them. Esther Oliver is one of our earliest ancestors who persevered against the harshest of conditions to carve out a niche in our History and a significance that deserves the Truth…….Remember those who used and distorted the imagery of another of our esteemed ancestors, Mrs Helen Thackston, to sell our community a scheme that continues to reverberate through our community and impact our children even today……..Like the young people who march in the streets today say, Its time for a Change ….Its time for Truth……..
Part 2: Employment Discrimination
The York Riots of 1968 and 1969 were seminal events in the history of this community. The actions of that tumultuous time had an impact that changed the dynamics of this city and in fact are still reverberating with an undercurrent of emotion that continues to be felt even today. The events of those tumultuous summers did not begin with a spontaneous event like the Chester Roach Assau
lt in 1968 or the Taki Nii Sweeney shooting in 1969, though we can say the Roach incident was the spark that really set things into high gear in 1968 as was the Sweeney shooting in 1969. These game changing events were the culmination of years of neglect, mistreatment and oppression. This community was such a tinderbox of pent up anger and emotion that anyone who lived here knew it was only a matter of time until it exploded. Years of discrimination, neglect and outright racist behaviors in every sphere of human existence; housing discrimination, police brutality, especially with the police dog unit along with unemployment, job discrimination and subpar education had made the situation here in York escalate to an untenable point.
This will be the second part in a preview of a presentation I am preparing on the 50th Anniversary of the 1968 – 69 Civil Disorders here in York. There were four major areas that combined to build up to those riots. They were; inadequate housing, Job discrimination, Police Brutality including the police dogs and social discrimination. This first part focused on the housing situation. This part will focus on Job Discrimination & Bias……..
Although there were periods in York’s history where employment was available to Blacks, such as when hundreds of Blacks were bought from Bamberg and other southern areas to fill labor intensive jobs or during wartime when workers in production factories were at a premium, overall job discrimination and bias were major tactics used to suborn the growth and development of York’s Black community. In the decade leading up to the civil disorders of the late 1960’s it became increasingly difficult for Blacks to get gainful employment and this became one of the underlying causes of the disorders. As stated earlier this problem did not just arise at the spur of the moment. The lack of access to gainful, living wage employment was at the root of many of the other issues which plagued York’s Black community.
A 1960 survey done by the Greater York Community Audit which was that days equivalent to the Modern day YorkCounts, found that three out of every four of the 99 firms surveyed had No Negro employees. The findings of the survey which was actually done to gauge employment prospects for Negroes and Jews had several interesting findings. The survey said for Negroes the problem of job discrimination is a major one. Many jobs were closed to Negroes and most of those open were in the lower pay brackets regardless of the educational background. For Jews the problem was less serious. While prejudice did prevent Jews from being employed by a specific firm, it did not seem to have hurt Jews significantly of bar them from good jobs. 15% of the 99 firms surveyed reported they would not hire Negroes for any job regardless of educational attainment.
Among the companies that had Negro employees, two out of five of them reported they employed Negroes in service and unskilled jobs only. There were no Negroes in managerial or supervisory jobs. Four private employment agencies were interviewed. One said it found that higher type jobs for Negroes were almost “non-existent”. Another agency reported that it had been requested by companies never to send Negro applicants and had not sent Negroes to those firms in more than three years. Three of the agencies said that their experience was that Jews can get any type of job without difficulty and that all types of firms hired Jews.
In 1963 Blacks in York had become fed up with the discrimination and began protesting as a means to put the spotlight on the need for end to discrimination and equity in the hiring processes around this community. They formed an organization the Peaceful Committee for Immediate Action in York to organize the efforts for change. Maurice Peters was installed as temporary chairman of the organization with Marjorie Dean, Jim Colston, Hildegarde Breeland, Louis Sullivan, Raymond Rhoades, Halmon Banks, Calvin Kirkland, William Barber, Delores Wilson and Rev. David Orr serving as an executive committee. Banks said at that time “Let it be understood, that although it is the issue of police brutality that has bought us together, we are protesting the lack of job opportunity, segregated housing and everything else we were previously denied”. Over 350 people attended this first organizational meeting. One man who said he thought this could never happen here called the meeting the greatest response the colored people in York have given to anything. Another person attending the meeting, Hal Brown, former all state basketball star for York High, who now lived in San Diego and was active in the civil rights movement there said, “This is my home and I want to tell you that York, Pa. is known as one of the worst towns in this country when it comes to the lack of civil rights achievements”.
In August of 1963 the group began organizing direct action protest to put more of a spotlight on the problem. Their first actions were organized around an effort to abolish the overtly racist York City Police Department Canine Corps. This was the number one emotionally driven issue in the Black community. We will discuss more about this in the next installment of the story.
Their first employment related action was against the Pennsylvania State Employment Service. Over 60 persons marched on the local employment agency to focus community attention on the need for an active and concentrated effort by Negro workers to secure suitable employment on the basis of their ability. Calvin Kirkland, one of the leaders of the organization said there is a feeling among Negroes that there is discrimination in job referrals by the state agency. When someone pointed out that there were only 60 persons at this protest compared to over 300 at the last demonstration two weeks ago, Kirkland said, “You don’t need a million people to be effective”. The persons who participated in the march were there to register for services from the Employment agency. When asked about the possibility of discrimination in referrals from the agency, Roy English, district manager of the agency replied that is “absolutely untrue, we refer only on the basis of qualifications”. A reporter asked English how many Negroes were employed there to which English replied “at the present time we have No non-white employees”.
Kirkland said this visit was part of the “Find Me A Job” phase of the Peace committees program to attain full equality in jobs for Negroes. He said this was just a beginning, the source s of discrimination against York Negroes would be visited directly in the near future.
Over the next several years, as these demonstration continued, York’s business and manufacturing community. The Chamber of Commerce began a five day job recruitment program for minority unemployed persons. Manufacturers such as Thonet set up training programs for Minority workers. The Manufacturers Association set up recruitment efforts in Minority areas particularly in the Black Churches to recruit minority workers although there was still an issue of finding “skilled” workers.
The issue of job opportunity like several of the others issues that undergirded the riots continues to remain a persistent problem. In spite of perceptions and pronouncements from those who would have you believe otherwise, there has not been a lot of progress for Black Folk in the past 50 years. Whether you are looking at a national picture or locally Progress for the majority of Blacks has been strictly an illusion. According to the Washington Post, the Washington based Economic Policy Institute study on Black progress in the field of home ownership, employment and incarceration concluded that there was “no progress” in these areas. The EPI study documented stunning data on Black economic progress. It said that “Fifty years after the famous and controversial Kerner Commission Report identified “White racism” as the driver of “pervasive discrimination in employment and education”, for Black Americans not much has changed.
Much of what the data shows is connected to systemic policy problems that have been persistent for decades. Regarding the justice system, the share of incarcerated African Americans has close to tripled between 1968 and 2016, as Blacks are 6.4 times more likely than Whites to be jailed or imprisoned. Home ownership rates have remained unchanged for African Americans, over the last 50 years. Black home ownership is about 40%, which is 30% behind the rate for Whites.
Regarding income, perhaps the most important economic metric, the average income for an African American household was $39,490 in 2017, a decrease from $41,363 in 2000.
In the press release about the EPI report, EPI economic analyst Janelle Jones said that it’s clear that structural racism is the root cause of the economic inequality between Blacks and Whites. In the conclusion of the report Mrs. Jones echoes the words of social scientist David Rusk who visited York back in 1996 and presented a hard hitting analysis and prognosis. Mrs. Jones said, “Solutions must be bold and to scale, which means we need structural change that eliminates the barriers that have stymied economic progress for generations of African American workers.” David Rusk said on the need for change, “Those who have the will don’t have the means and those who have the means don’t have the Will”.
Part 1: Housing Discrimination
This will be the first part in a preview of a presentation I am preparing on the 50th Anniversary of the 1968 – 69 Civil Disorders here in York. There were four major areas that combined to build up to those riots. They were; inadequate housing, Job discrimination, Police Brutality including the police dogs and social discrimination. This first part will focus on housing……..
The York Riots of 1968 and 1969 were seminal events in the history of this community. The actions of that tumultuous time had an impact that changed the dynamics of this city and in fact are still reverberating with an undercurrent of emotion that continues to be felt even today. The events of those tumultuous summers did not begin with a spontaneous event like the Chester Roach Assault in 1968 or the Taki Nii Sweeney shooting in 1969, though we can say the Roach incident was the spark that really set things into high gear in 1968 as was the Sweeney shooting in 1969. These game changing events were the culmination of years of neglect, mistreatment and oppression. This community was such a tinderbox of pent up anger and emotion that anyone who lived here knew it was only a matter of time until it exploded. Years of discrimination, neglect and outright racist behaviors in every sphere of human existence; housing discrimination, police brutality, especially with the police dog unit along with unemployment, job discrimination and subpar education had made the situation here in York escalate to an untenable point.
During these times the majority of city houses occupied by Black folk were located in the alleys or in well defined ‘ghetto’ areas. These areas were created by different mechanisms such as redlining, Jim Crow Laws or Black Code tactics like placing racial restrictions on property deeds. Areas such as Allison Street, Codorus Street, Church Avenue, or the notorious Freys Avenue area became havens for poverty related issues. Although we as Blacks are resourceful, creative and resilient people, the oppressive nature of the areas had a way of stifling or sapping energy from even the toughest of us. Many of the homes had no internal plumbing and had deteriorated to the point where they could not pass safety inspections. Those who had the resources to get out were often discouraged by unscrupulous real estate agents or other restrictive tactics.
Eventually government institutions designed and built several public housing areas. These areas which in spite of original intentions became the new ghettos even though at that time they were considered a step up from the ghetto housing most Blacks resided in. By happenstance an original plan to segregate the newly built “projects was derailed.” According to Mr. Chester Hayes who was chief of the Rehousing Bureau of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and who previously had served as the first Executive Director of the local Crispus Attucks Center, he had it on great authority that there was a plan to segregate the new housing developments, with Codorus being restricted to Blacks and Parkway being restricted to Whites. Although this was denied by Carl Gudat, Executive Director of the York Housing Authority. Hayes presented the example of the Yorktown Homes, built as a defense housing project during the war, which had all white residents. Milton j Butler, manager of the Homes, said that residents were all white because during the four years which he has served as manager “no Blacks had ever applied, even though the homes had very low rents of $34.50 to $40.50 per month”. The stories are many more stories to be presented in all areas
This chart represents a multitude of Talent on all levels that have risen from this town and although many of the people chronicled in this piece did not have the opportunity to Blossom here in their Hometown it is a testament to our resiliency and tenacity as a people that we achieve this high level of success in spite of……
The talent that has sprung forth from our community over the years, In spite of the adversity we’ve faced, reminds me of Tupac’s song “A Rose That Grew From Concrete” or Mary J Blije’s “Children of the Ghetto” or even Donny Hathaway’s “Little Ghetto Boy”. It kinda makes me think of Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land” or Eldridge Cleavers “Soul on Ice”, or even Mr. Louis Lomax’s “When the Word is Given”. It even makes me think about Miles Davis playin’ “So What” or Grover Washington Junior’s Sausilito” or John Coltrane “Greensleeves”. What I mean to say is that the more I research the illustrious History of the Black Man in York the more I am astounded at the depth, level, and variety of the talent that continues to rise from York’s Black community. One of my goals is to be able to tell a version of that story from the perspective of one of the Sons of the community.
My biggest hope and Prayers is that God grant me the grace and mercy to be able to finish such a monumental but worthy task. Reminiscent of one of the theme of the recent Blockbuster movie “The Black Panther”, the more I immerse myself into the Culture, the Greater the Energy that’s share. It’s like being “Plugged In”. My wonderful Cousin Stephanie Terry recently wrote some potent words of encouragement. As we were discussing the powerful effects of Culture, Tradition and Values on a Peoples development she said it’s like the old adage “A People without knowledge of its History is like a Tree without Roots, Destined to Perish”. She said, Jeff, whenever you are propagating our History you are actually watering the roots of our Communal Tree and in watering our roots you help to keep us alive. So keep it up at ALL cost.
Now I don’t take what she said lightly because Stevie is someone I have Greatly admired. A Nationally recognized retired Teacher, She has that “Rose that Grew from Concrete” kinda story that is indicative of that which inspires me. Just the talent that came up from the Neighborhood she was raised in would be enough to fill several volumes. The 300 Block of West Princess Street was the home of an extraordinarily number of high achievers. Like I said, the impact that Block had on and the role it played in the development of York’s Black History is impressive.
In fact like in the Black Panther movie, the roles and interactions of the different Clans or Council in the movie is to me representative of the interplay which existed between the various Black neighborhoods of York ‘back in the Day’. Neighborhood Pride was at an all-time High. Things have changed over the years but there’s somethings going on. Like my man Beanie Seagle says “I Can Feel It In the Air”, and I believe like my man Sam Cooke would say “A Change is Gonna Come”.
So in the hopes of Rolling with the Flow, I will keep gathering and organizing the scattered bits of our history in the hopes of binding them together again in a manner that will do justice to the magnitude of the Story. I will continue trying to share some of the interesting info I come across in the hopes that it will Inspire someone else. I will continue to share stories about those Roses who came from Concrete.
The chart I drew up to illustrate York’s Black Diaspora is very indicative of the Talent we have produced in this town. It shows hundreds of the Roses that were nurtured and grew here. Like Langston Hughes said in his poem “Harlem” our Dreams although deferred here, have not dried up like a raisin….they may have festered like a sore and at times have even exploded……but in the end, in other places these Dreams are coming true. So like Langston says in another of his Powerful poems “Mother to Son”……Don’t you get tired, don’t you sit down on those steps cause thing are getting’ kinda hard for I’se still goin’, honey…. I’se still climbin’ and Life for me ain’t been no “Crystal Stair’.