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”.