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.