Rev. Thomas E. Montouth A York Legend

Another senseless killing on the streets of the REAL York City (Not the “Green Zone”) and it seems as if no one understands what is going on or how to address it. Well this dire situation has been in the making for several decades as hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent on brick and mortar projects to shore up the downtown “Green Zone”, while the neighborhoods and their human inhabitants are left to survive on whatever “trickles down” from those projects. Now don’t shoot the messenger here because social scientist David Rusk sounded the alarm over 20 years ago as to what would happen if we did not take deliberative actions to rectify the inequities which were part of the system being designed and maintained here. Well take your heads out of the sand because wake-up time is here. More on the deteriorating social situation later, but as of now I would like to share with you some Historical insight from one of York’s early Black leaders.
I have not been doing a lot of writing on the situation we find ourselves in here in York for a variety of reasons. But as I sit here watching our city spiraling out of control, I would be remiss if I did not add another perspective or further insight into rectifying our malaise. Even at a time when it seems like the “Big Trees” of this community want to continue shutting out the sun from many of our small voices, there is a legitimate rationale for speaking out and up. This will be the first of several critiques I will put forth in the coming weeks. With the upcoming 50 year observance of the 1968 and 69 civil disorders that rack this community right around the corner, understanding the change or lack of change that have happened here makes it even more important that the “Tale of Two Cities” is a story that Must be told in its entirety.
As I was doing research on some of York’s past Black Leadership I came across another powerful and timely letter from a man I am quickly becoming aware of as one of Our most Brilliant and Courageous Black Leaders. During a time when York’s Black community was in need of leadership and direction this Man stood up with courage and integrity as a fearless advocate for the Uplift of the Black community. Rev. Thomas Montouth was a scholar and used his intellect to exhort our community to strive for excellence in all that we endeavored.
We could learn a lot from these early years of York’s history. If ever the Black community was undergoing a renaissance it was during those years, the late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, when many of our social and civic organization were being developing and had a focus on community uplift. Work ethic and education were values that were stress in our community
Rev. Montouth along with Dr. George Bowles, a local Black Physician, and others, became one of the founders of the Community House, a precursor to the Crispus Attucks Association, he was a founding member of the Crispus Attucks Association, the Lincoln University Alumni Club and the Powerful Citizens Political Club. He was a prolific writer and a fearless advocate for justice and would publish letters in the local newspapers on many topics related to the uplift of the Black man in York, Pa. In 1932 his letter entitled “The Dawn of a New Day” called for the Negro elite of the community to come together to identify and resolve the major problems facing the Negro here.
In this 1936 letter 30 years before Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Montouth set out directions for the Black community on how to take advantage of the political system in our community. In his letter called, “Warning to the Negro Voter”, Rev. Montouth encouraged us to, “not be carried away by artificial, pumped up enthusiasm, but to demand from candidates for office unequivocal pledges on matters of importance to the Black community”. In the letter Montouth went on to say “Specious appeals to catch phrases and emotional issues should be ignored. If the Negro is to get any benefit from the opportunity which elections afford, we must be realist and not let ourselves be led astray by meaningless party labels or flamboyant oratory”. (After all, in matters related to Blacks in America, the two political parties have acted as two different wings of the same Bird).
Finally Montouth goes on to say, “Let the candidates know that while we Expect Black to be given jobs just like the representatives of other groups, the masses Will Not be satisfied with a few Token berths for politically connected wheel horses. We instead should be more interested in other important issues facing us such as equal opportunity to jobs at equal pay, the abolishment of discrimination, quality education and the establishment of a more just social and economic order for ALL Yorkers.
Rev. Montouth was a small diminutive Man, but a Giant in the History of York’s Black community. One of the benefits of knowing our History is understanding the tactics and strategies that work and not falling victim to the merry-go-round of useless pandering to manipulative and unscrupulous politicians.
As we approach the Dawn of a new political season it would do us well to remember the exhortations of those who came before us…..Life lessons are Lessons for Life…..if we LEARN them.

Author: jkirk

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