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Education and the Uplift of Our People

 

Segregated Schools

Negro students were initially educated in a one-room schoolhouse in the basement of “Mother Zion” church on North Duke Street where one teacher, James Smallwood, taught all of the elementary grades. Later this school was expanded to two rooms located again in Zion church which had moved to East King Street near Queen Street. It was not until 1893 that the first school house for Blacks were built which was the three room Water Street School whose name was later changed to Smallwood.

For years more than 200 students were crammed into this four room building then as more Blacks moved to York as a result of World War I, the intermediate grades were transferred to the old York High building on Philadelphia and Beaver Street a dilapidated structure which had been abandoned for use by white students.

A new eight room Smallwood building was completed in 1929 and something closer to “equal” facilities were made available to Black students for the first time.

 

James Smallwood.

James Smallwood was an Educator. The architect of York’s Black educational History. He was one of only two Blacks to have a school named after him. He was borne in Philadelphia July 28, 1844. He began his educational journey attending the schools of that city and at 10 was sent to the Settlement Schools at Buxton, Canada West, which was one of four organized black settlements to be developed in Canada to educate free Blacks and promising escaped slaves.. The founder of Buxton, William King, believed that blacks could function successfully in a working society if given the same educational opportunities as white children. “Blacks are intellectually capable of absorbing classical and abstract matters” he said. Young James spent three years there and then returned to Philadelphia to complete his studies at the colored school there where he graduated as Valedictorian. He then began working for the U.S. Government as a clerk at Camp Chilton, near Philadelphia.

 

In 1867 he was elected teacher of the colored school in York, Pa. and held that position until his death from paralysis in 1885 at the young age of 46. Mr. Smallwood joined with the likes of Aquilla Howard, Merriman Cupit and John Noble to petition the local school board to provide a school building for the colored children of that time who were being educated in one room at the local A.M.E. Zion church. Mr. Smallwood was universally loved by his students and the colored people of this community. He was the very first person of color to sit on a Jury in York County. His first case involved a charge of fornication and bastardy bought upon a colored man named Milton Chambers by Lovenia Hess a white woman. No person has exercised so much influence for good among his race in York. He was very active worker in his church the A.M.E. Zion Church. Mr. Smallwood was an intelligent, courteous, Christian Gentleman and was highly respected by all who knew him. His remains are interred at York’s Lebanon Cemetery of which He was an original Charter member of the Lebanon Cemetery Board who helped purchase the cemetery.

 

Inside a Smallwood Classroom showing Principal Mr. Henry Hopewell standing in the Rear

Mr. Smallwood was ahead of his time. Even before W.E.B. Dubois used the term “talented tenth” to describe the likelihood of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change, men like Smallwood, Aquilla Howard, Merriman Cupit and William Goodridge were stepping forth taking responsibility for uplifting their race and community. Smallwood felt, as did Dubois that blacks needed a classical education to be able to reach their full potential. They said that “we shall make manhood the object of the work of our schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it” — this is the curriculum that Higher Education must pursue. On this foundation we may build bread winning men, with skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear that the child or man will mistake the means of living for the object of life. Who knows where our dysfunctional schools would be today if we had followed their lead

Ella Robinson.

Miss Ella Robinson was another of York’s Finest Educators. She was born here on January 25, 1868, the daughter of William T & Eliza H. Robinson. She graduated from William Penn High School June of 1886 and was the First Negroe, as we were called during that period, to graduate from York High. She began teaching that year in September at the colored school located in the A.M.E. Zion church on East King Street. When the new Smallwood School was built she became one of the first teachers there teaching first, second and third grades and remained there until the end of her teaching career. She was credited with 48 years of continuous teaching by the Employees Retirement Board in Harrisburg, Pa.  Miss Robinson also served as Principal of the Smallwood School for several years. She did postgraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, Pa. She was a life-long member of A.M.E. Zion church and served as Superintendent of the Sunday School there for 18 years. Miss Robinson died in 1935 and is buried in the Lebanon Cemetery.

 

Of course no account of Black Education and Educators in York would be complete without recognizing the contributions of Mrs. Helen Reeves Thackston

 

Mrs Irene Felton Wife of longtime Smallwood School principal William Felton and a fine Educator in her own right.

 

Esteemed female teachers include Front row; Julia Harris, Joalto Ackward Daniels, Virginia King Hunter, Betty Mitchell Crenshaw and Drucilla Jenkins . Second Row; Christine Mitchell Bracey, Doris Chase McNiel, Mary Beattie, Hildegard Breeland, Marilee Jones

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Community Chorus of York

The Community Chorus originated as the Gospel Male Chorus in 1928 under the leadership of Mr. Emmanuel Washington and David Sexton. It has also been known as the Zion Boys Quartet, the Sextette and the Zion Male Chorus. In 1939 the all-male chorus decided to enlarge the group by adding female members and renaming the group the Community Chorus. The first meeting of that group was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Heirs, 470 Codorus Street where the following officers were elected; President, Mrs. Leah Hopewell, vice-president, Mrs. Pearl Keenheel Secretary, Mrs. Rosabell Colston. Treasurer, Mr. David Orr and Director, Emmanuel Washington. Rehearsals were held at the home of Rev. Frederick Lusan pastor of the Zion A.M.E. Church until it was decided that a larger meeting place would be necessary. Mr. Washington then secured the music room of the Crispus Attucks Community center for rehearsals. The members of the Chorus at that time included; Pianist, Miss Naomi Washington, sopranos, Ms. Bertha Nicks, Mrs. Ruby Ritter, Mrs. Rosa Bell Colston, Mrs. Alberta Washington, Mrs. Mabel Washington, Mrs. Rosanna Dowery, and Mrs. Mittie Grimes. Altos, Mrs. Johnnie Mae Scott, Mrs. Vera Holman Mrs. Pearl Keenheel, Mrs. Octavia Muldrow and Mrs. Rosa Jenkins. Tenors, Herbert Scott, Charles Washington, Willis Murray, Norman Washington, and David Sexton. Basses, Earl Ritter, Robert Scott and David Muldrow. Other members included; Mrs. Virgie Johnson, Mrs. Victoria Smith, Mrs. Emily Dagins, Mrs. Rebecca Freeland, Mrs. Rebecca Preston,  Mrs. Ruth Redman, Mrs. Florine Moore, Mrs. Mabel Grimes, Ms. Margaret Bailey Ms. Grace Bailey, Mrs. Johnny Carter, Joe Washington, Norman Washington and William Felton.

The Chorus became a featured attraction at many community events. In 1948 at a meeting of the York City Council the Chorus sang a rousing rendition of a song entitled “Jim Crow Must Go” in response to the closing of the community swimming pool at Farquhar Park. Rather than admitting Negroes the pool had been closed by the city for almost 3 years. 

Mr. Charles Washington, was born in Bamberg South Carolina the son of a Music teacher. His family was closely associated with music while in the South. After coming to York, Pa. he studied music under the late professor Dennis. He became a member of Zion A.M.E. Church where he joined the choir, Zion’s Quartet and the Gospel Male Choir. In later years he joined Bethlehem Baptist Church. He became director of the Community Chorus after his Brother Emmanuel, the previous director and a founder had died.

The Chorus became the first Black Chorus to appear Live on WSBA Radio on Sunday afternoons in the mid-forties. Mr. Washington became director and manager of the famous Jewel-tones Gospel Singers, a group of dedicated persons who came from various churches in York. The Jewel-tones traveled over many parts of the East coast appearing on Radio & Television programs. Through his work with various singing groups throughout York Mr. Washington taught many people to sing and play instruments even though they had no musical background. He was married to the lovely Alberta Washington and they had six children……Mr. Charles Washington another of York City’s African American Icons.

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Smallwood School One of York, Pa’s. Two Segregated Schools

James Smallwood was an Educator. The architect of York’s Black educational History. He was one of only two Blacks to have a school named after him. He was borne in Philadelphia July 28, 1844. He began his educational journey attending the schools of that city and at 10 was sent to the Settlement Schools at Buxton, Canada West, which was one of four organized black settlements to be developed in Canada to educate free Blacks and promising escaped slaves.. The founder of Buxton, William King, believed that blacks could function successfully in a working society if given the same educational opportunities as white children. “Blacks are intellectually capable of absorbing classical and abstract matters” he said. Young James spent three years there and then returned to Philadelphia to complete his studies at the colored school there where he graduated as Valedictorian. He then began working for the U.S. Government as a clerk at Camp Chilton, near Philadelphia.

In 1867 he was elected teacher of the colored school in York, Pa. and held that position until his death from paralysis in 1885 at the young age of 46. Mr. Smallwood joined with the likes of Aquilla Howard, Merriman Cupit and John Noble to petition the local school board to provide a school building for the colored children of that time who were being educated in one room at the local A.M.E. Zion church. Mr. Smallwood was universally loved by his students and the colored people of this community. He was the very first person of color to sit on a Jury in York County. His first case involved a charge of fornication and bastardy bought upon a colored man named Milton Chambers by Lovenia Hess a white woman. No person has exercised so much influence for good among his race in York. He was very active worker in his church the A.M.E. Zion Church. Mr. Smallwood was an intelligent, courteous, Christian Gentleman and was highly respected by all who knew him. His remains are interred at York’s Lebanon Cemetery of which He was an original Charter member of the Lebanon Cemetery Board who helped purchase the cemetery.

 

Mr. Smallwood was ahead of his time. Even before W.E.B. Dubois used the term “talented tenth” to describe the likelihood of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race in the world, through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change, men like Smallwood, Aquilla Howard, Merriman Cupit and William Goodridge were stepping forth taking responsibility for uplifting their race and community. Smallwood felt, as did Dubois that blacks needed a classical education to be able to reach their full potential. They said that “we shall make manhood the object of the work of our schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it” — this is the curriculum that Higher Education must pursue. On this foundation we may build bread winning men, with skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear that the child or man will mistake the means of living for the object of life. Who knows where our dysfunctional schools would be today if we had followed their lead…….Brothers and sisters it is Not too late……..We just have to ‘Seize the Time’ as Black Panther Bobby Seale titled one of his early books. Here’s to James Smallwood, another of York’s true Legends……

Old photo of the inside of a classroom at the Segregated Smallwod school on South Pershing Avenue……Smallwood was one of the two segregated schools in York before the 1954 desegregation of schools as a result of the Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas suit……The principal of the school Mr. Hopewell can be seen standing in the rear………Sitting in the very front with glasses is Louise Dancy, sister of Mrs. Kathleen Garvins.

An old desk saved from the Smallwood School before it closed in 1955. This desk was in the possession of Mrs Mary Beatty a York City School District teacher who taught at Smallwood during it’s last year of operation in 1954. She was subsequently transferred to McKinley Elementary School where she taught for almost 30 years. Mrs. Beatty donated the desk back to the School District in 2016. It now sits in the hallway of the School District administration on North Pershing Avenue, 3 blocks away from where it was originally utilized for the education of York’s Black students.

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Two Early Photos of the First Crispus Attucks Building on West College Avenue in York, Pa.

FIRST CRISPUS ATTUCKS BUILDING AA

 

This building on the intersection of West College Avenue and Oak Lane in York was originally the home of the York Hospital. The leaders of the Hospital arranged for the transfer of ownership of the building to house the newly formed Crispus Attucks Community Center in 1931. It caught fire and most of it was burned down in 1943. Crispus Attucks moved to a new location at East Maple Street in 1944. The remains of the building now house the Shady Maple housing complex.

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1907 York Gazette Newspaper Article Detailing York’s Black Elite community in the Early and Mid 1800’s

Some of York’s Black Elite portrayed in this 1907 newspaper article included;

Mrs. M.E. Joice – Mrs. Joice conducted one of the oldest hair dressing and manicure parlors of its kind in the city. Her trade had a reputation for the very best service. She was a property owner and a very careful businesswoman,

Samuel E. Johnson – Mr. Johnson was a stenographer and secretary to the General Superintendent of the York Manufacturing Company. He was a product of York schools and held the prestigious position for seven years. He was a property owner and had the respect and confidence of both races in the community.

Edward W. Faucett – Mr. Faucett was the proprietor of a barber shop, cigar store and pool room at 122 South George Street. He also conducted a boarding and lodging  house at 118 West Prince Street. He had splendid qualities and his establishment were especially attractive to the traveling public.

Harry G. Woods – Mr. Woods ran a cigar, tobacco and pool room on the corner of George and King Street for more than 12 years. He owned several other nice properties and was a well-respected citizen.

Robert Diggs – After twenty years as a public waiter Mr. Diggs started his own restaurant and lodging business. He had splendid quarters at 201 South Beaver Street which had been tastefully fitted with a soda fountain, confectionary and ice cream bar.

Rev. John Joice – One of the first Black Ministers in York and an original trustee of the Mother Zion A.M.E.Church.

Mr. John Reeves – Father of Mrs. Helen Reeves Thackston. A prominent porter at the National Hotel for over 31 years. Proprietor of the Hot Oyster Sandwich shop. A stalwart supporter of the A.M.E. Zion church. Mr. Reeves was able to earn and save enough money selling oysters that he was able to buy and give each of his three daughters their own home.

Mr. William Butler – Mr. Butler Drove oxcarts to drag lumber to the sawmills. Was the first janitor of the Smallwood School from the time it was built. He also worke for Eli Lewis the President of the First National Bank for about 35 years. Close friend of Aquilla Howard.

Miss Susan Marrs – Mrs. Marrs was born in York in 1809. She worked for the prominent James Lewis Family. She was given a plot of land by the powerful lawyer Charles Barnitz on which she planted mulberry trees to breed silkworms.

Mr. William Wood – A master machinist. A member of A.M.E. Zion since its beginning. Lived on Newberry Street for over 50 years. Designed and built many innovative impliments for steam locomotives and steamships.

The Schales – They were carpet weavers who lived on Water Street.

The Clarks – Lived on Philadelphia Street near George Street. They wer scourers, dyers and tailors.

Mr. Aquilla Howard – Longtime superintendent of the A.M.E. Zion Sunday School. Came to York in 1860. Worked for the Phillip Small family for 43 years.

Mr. Drowery – Mr. Drowery was a shoemaker who made shoes for many of York’s prominent white citizens.

 

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1952 Crispus Attucks Award Ceremony

TEEN TOWN GROUP COLORED

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One More Vintage Photo of Historic Scout Troop #11 of York, Pa. at the Crispus Attucks Center

C A SCOUTS FIXCOLOR.jpgNEW

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Another Photo of Historic Scout Troop #11 at Crispus Attucks Center circa 1954

 

Historic Crispus Attucks Cub Scout Pack #11…….Front Row l – r; Butch Thomas, Benson Beattie, Dwight McKinney, Ray Williams, Tommy Owens, Butch Hawkins, unknown, Leonard Beattie, & Bill Holland. Second Row l – r; Cameron Colston, unknown, McKinley Orr, Ritchie Holmes, Bennett Sexton, Steve Ballard, Dale Saxon, Wayne Holland, unknown, & Buddy Hill. last row l – r; Mr. William Holland, Al Foster, Mrs. Beatrice Ballard, Mrs. Helen Thackston, Mrs. Mae Jenkins, Mrs. Daisy Owens, Leroy Hunter and Mr. Joe Jenkins……

 

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Vintage Photo of the Homestead of York’s Generette Family in Bamberg, South Carolina

GENERETTES HOMESTEAD IN BAMBERG S.C..

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1919 Photo of Historic Boy Scout Troop #11 at the Devils Den on the Gettysburg Battlefield

TROOP 11 IN 1919


 

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