A Rose That Grew From Concrete Series: Dr. Thomas Ritter

Image may contain: one or more people and eyeglassesAnother 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.
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The Story of “Black Esther” Oliver

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……..Image may contain: 1 person
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The Story of the York Riots and the community dynamics which led up to It. Part 2

Part2: 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 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.Image may contain: text

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.Image may contain: 1 person, text

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.Image may contain: one or more people, people walking and text

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.Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and text

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.Image may contain: 1 person, text

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.Image may contain: text

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”.

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The Story of the York Riots and the community dynamics which led up to It. Part 1:

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……..Image may contain: text

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 andImage may contain: outdoor and text 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.Image may contain: text and outdoor

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.

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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.

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And Still We Rise The Story of Black History in York, Pa.

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.No automatic alt text available.

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.Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and text

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’.

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The York ELKS Brotherly Love Lodge #228

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. Image may contain: text and outdoorThe 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.Image may contain: text

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 GaiImage may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoorley 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 Image may contain: 6 people, textgood 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”.Image may contain: one or more people

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.

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Dr. George W. Bowles

Dr. George W. Bowles

Dr. George W. Bowles was born in York, Pa. in 1881. He was the Son of Mr. Adolphus & Mrs. Harriet Bowles of this town. His father Adolphus Bowles, was born in 1850 here in York. They lived at 127 West Princess Street. His Father Adolphus was employed in the Small building downtown as an Elevator Man. George was always an intelligent and motivated individual. He was the First Black Man to graduate from York High in 1898, although he was the second Black Person overall. Mrs. Emma Robinson, longtime school teacher of this town, was the very first person of color to graduate from York High in 1886.

After graduating from York High, Dr. Bowles attended and graduated from Livingstone College, a Historically Black University in North Carolina, affiliated with the A.M.E. Zion Church. He then pursued a four year Degree in Medicine at Howard University in Washington D.C. Dr. Bowles graduated number one in his class from Howard University on June 1, 1906. He was awarded his diploma personally by U.S. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. In 1906, immediately after graduation, Dr. Bowles returned to York to become the First Black physician to practice in this city. But Dr. Bowles became more than just a Doctor. He became a Guiding Light in the development of York’s Black community for the next several decades.

In 1917 Dr. Bowles married the lovely Helen Hunter Taylor, a teacher in the Harrisburg public schools. She was the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Lorenzo Taylor, who were prominent in the colored circles of Harrisburg. Miss Taylor in addition to being a school teacher was a musician of marked ability. The couple would reside at 322 Water Street in York which is now Pershing Avenue.

Dr. Bowles was well known in this city and commanded great respect especially among the leading citizens here, both Black and White. He was President of the Peoples Forum a Black organization which stressed education and vocational activities in York. In 1910 the Peoples Forum opened and operated a tobacco factory on Penn & Smyser Street in York. The factory was under the direct supervision of Dr. Bowles and employed about 50 Negroes. The factory was one of the greater accomplishments of the Peoples Forum Vocational and Employment initiatives. The workers were paid between $2.50 and $9.00 per week. Dr. Bowles intended the Forum and its initiatives to be a Great force for uplift among the colored race in this city. The Forum was non-sectarian and held a regular meeting every Sunday at A.M.E. Zion church which was on East King Street at the time. Other officers of the organization were; Marion J. Armstrong Vice-President, S. Milton Gibson, Secretary, Albert Foster assistant Secretary, Paul Foster corresponding Secretary, Nathan Gibson Chaplin, George Chapman Bible Instructor and John C. Reeves Treasurer.

Dr. Bowles along with Rev. Thomas Montouth and his wife Mary, was also instrumental in procuring the Community House for Colored People which was established on North Duke Street in 1917 and had a reading room, reception room, game room and a small gymnasium. Community House was under the auspices of Faith Presbyterian Church and was a model for the Crispus Attucks Association, of which Dr. Bowles along with Rev. Montouth, was a Founding member. In addition to Bible study classes, domestic science and art classes, boys and girls clubs and an employment bureau the Community House became famous for its Community Lyceums or forums. These lyceums were held every week alternatively at the several Negro churches in the community.

In 1915 Dr. Bowles, whose office was at 112 West King Street, was one of three representatives from the State of Pennsylvania to be appointed by then Governor Tener to attend the Emancipation Celebration marking the fiftieth anniversary of Negro Freedom, which was to be held in Chicago.

In 1917 Dr. Bowles was elected as a member of the House of Delegates of the National Medical Association, an organization of Negro doctors, surgeons, dentist and pharmacists throughout the United States. In 1938 he was elected as President of this prestigious organization. As President of this organization Dr. Bowles was honored by the Pennsylvania Institute of Negro Health for his “outstanding contributions” and for his activity in planning for better Negro health in the United States. He testified before the U.S. Senate committee on a national health bill.

For 10 years Dr. Bowles chaired the advisory committee of the National Negro United Public Health Services in Washington. In 1942 he was appointed by Governor Gifford Pinchot as a member of the Pennsylvania Inter-Racial Commission. Locally he served for six years as Chairman of the Inter-Racial Commission of York. And in addition to his character building efforts at Crispus Attucks he was instrumental in insuring that the young Black males of York had an opportunity to build their character and leadership skills by participating in the Historic Boy Scout Troop #11, which he along with others worked diligently to sustain.

Dr. Bowles was a prolific writer and a powerful speaker. He would write many letters to the local newspapers trumpeting the need for Negro Unity to address the problems in the Negro community. During celebration recognizing the two hundred and ninety sixth anniversary of the Negro in this country, held at St. Pauls Hall on West Jackson Street, Dr. Bowles spoke on the subject “Will the Education of the Negro Solve the Race Problem?” For a speech at the Bethel A.M.E. church on Newberry & King Street, Dr. Bowles chose as his topic “Race prejudice and Some of It’s Causes”. At another Lyceum at Bethel A.M.E Dr. Bowles spoke on “The Negro Problem Real & Imaginary”.

In March of 1916, Dr. Bowles and others, organized a committee of persons interested in uplifting the colored people of this community. They called a mass meeting for the expressed purpose of forming a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The objectives of the organization would be to form a center for popular education, to create a bureau for the study of local racial conditions and to seek the overall welfare and advancement of the colored people of York.

A short time later Dr. Bowles and a delegation of York Negroes met with Mayor Hugentugler to petition against the showing of the racist film “Birth of a Nation”. The delegation felt that the already considerable prejudice against the Negro race in York would be made far worse by the showing of this anti-Negro film which was based on the Thomas Dixon, Jr. book “The Clansman”. Other members of the delegation were; Rev. J.A.S. Cole, Pastor of A.M.E. Zion church; Rev. G.S. Burton Pastor of Shiloh Baptist church; Rev. W.E. Williams, George I. Reed, G.H. Chapman, and B.T. Montgomery.

Dr. Bowles served on the Board of Directors of Crispus Attucks for over 20 years. Crispus Attucks had a resounding impact on the growth and development of York’s Black Community during and after the tenure of Dr, Bowles. Dr. Bowles statement on the founding of Crispus Attucks was prophetic. He said, “We have a National Purpose in forming this organization. We will be a character building organization. We want to influence the young in order to bring them into Harmony with our ideals. We hope in the development of our center to bring to bear influences that will create conditions which will enable another rising generation to develop character and to perpetuate the best of our culture and traditions. The overall purpose of our organization is for the promotion of the social and moral welfare of the colored people of York. To us this means up-building character by creating and developing activities and conditions that will help the individuals to live happily and normally with each other.”
Dr. George W. Bowles was a Giant in the History of York

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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.

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

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

 

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

 

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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