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’.
Another long one but another piece of our Glorious History. This part is about the Brotherly Love Lodge #228 and its move to West Maple Street from West Princess Street……..
After being located for 42 years at 109 West Princess Street, the Brothers of the Brotherly Love Lodge #228 Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World came together to purchase a plot of land at 335 West Maple Street on which to construct a New Lodge. The Brothers were actually forced to move from their West Princess enclave due to the properties on West Princess Street, which was a mostly Black neighborhood, being designated as an Urban Renewal area. This was a common practice in those days to undermine and destabilize Black Neighborhoods. As in other so-called Urban Renewal areas the space eventually became a parking lot.
The Brothers retained attorney John R. Gailey to guide them through what would become a difficult and contentious process. The deed to the property, which was formerly owned by Mr. & Mrs. George A. Jacobs, had a racial restriction which stated that the property could not be sold to anyone who had even a drop of Negro blood in them. This was a common practice in many areas of the North at the time and contributed to the concentration of Negroes in specific areas of the community. To get around this Attorney Gailey had his secretary, a white woman, buy the property and then had the Elk Brothers purchase it from her. It worked like a charm. But the battle had only just begun.
The neighbors were very wary of a Black Club moving into what at that time was a mostly white neighborhood, so they protested in any manner they could. Despite neighbor attempts to block it the Brothers obtained a building permit for $35,000.00 and retained Architect Robert G. McAlarney to design a one story brick structure for the location. The neighbors did not give up there. They rally their supporters to oppose the transfer of the Lodges liquor license from their Princess Street location to the New West Maple Street location. More than three busloads of York homeowners and neighbors jammed a Liquor Control Board hearing room on Friday December 2, 1960 in an effort to block the transfer of a retail liquor license to the new Elks building under construction. Over 110 protestors and ninety-one signatories went on record opposing the club request.
Attorney Gailey first called The Lodges Grand Exalted Ruler, Raymond A. Rhoades, to the stand. Rhoades testified that more than 60 spaces for parking would be provided for their patrons. Rhoades rebutted testimony by protestor Joseph Borsellino, that the Elks had a “bad” reputation from West Princess Street. Asked by Gailey whether the fact that the club was a Negro club have any bearing on his objections, Borsellino said no. Rhoades said the Elks club had never called the police for a disturbance. “We operated our club the way it ought to be operated”, said Rhoades. Gailey bought out in Rhoades testimony that the area where the club was located was “the social and recreational center of the Negro community”.
Joe Bendel, executive director of the York Redevelopment Authority, testified that the Elks members were good citizens and that the old club had to be demolished for redevelopment. He stated that the new site would be adequate for the club’s purpose. Other protesters complained of lack of parking and other nuisance objections but eventually on February 18, 1961 the application was granted. The approval raised a storm of protest from the neighbors. But Liquor Control Board Secretary Frank J. Shea who presented the decision said, “Conjecture, fear and supposition cannot be permitted to sway board thinking where sound discretion must be exercised”. He added that the Elks had held a license for more than ten years and had never been cited for a violation. “It would be manifestly unjust to presuppose that a change in location would bring about a corresponding change in conduct. Fairness can dictate that only past good conduct will continue”.
There is so much more to the Elks story. The rise and fall of this Historic organization is a bittersweet part of our Glorious History and this, like other Historical events from our past is a story I will expand upon as I complete my book. Stay tuned.