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3 York County books, 3 different forms, one Black history theme


It was early 2002, and the pressure of a deadline prompted me to make a daily visit to the archives of the York County History Center.

I remember archivists Lila Forhman Saul, Lamar Matthew, and Nancy Amsbacher working steadily on the Underground Railroad exhibit. They will place their recent findings in a growing black history file that almost fills one of those big gray storage boxes in the stacks.

They were aware of an upcoming statewide event scheduled for later that year that the History Center—then the Heritage Fund—would co-sponsored: the 25th Annual Conference on Black History in Pennsylvania.

I was writing a book that would come out as part of the conference called Almost Forgotten, so I faced a specific deadline.

I’ve presented black history stories from my two previous books: “Never Forgotten,” a 1999 general history of the county, and “Nine Months in York,” the county’s story of the American Revolution. I was busy with the microfilm looking for more. Wm. Smallwood wrote me some articles on black history that were also helpful. I remember the joy on the faces of researchers in the History Center archives when they pointed out new stories about black history that they had discovered.

Daisy Myers, right, and George Leader address a session of the 25th Annual Conference on Black History at Penn State at York College in 2002.

After completing the research and the book in draft form, I sat in the York Daily Record conference room with Smallwood and Vonnie B. Grimes and Ray Crenshaw as they reviewed the final manuscript, made some suggestions and noted that Almost Forgotten writers would contribute. Thus, the book passed a major obstacle. It was signed by statesmen in the black community.

This was no easy feat, as was the work in the archives of the History Centre, which was headed at the time by archivist John Burke Lloyd. The Pennsylvania History and Museum Commission was holding a Black History Conference to deepen understanding of the subject and to bring the community together at a troubling moment. This was the era of the divisive and bruising race riot trials, in which dozens of defendants, including York Mayor Charlie Robertson, were put on trial in the 1969 shooting deaths of a black woman and a white police officer 30 years earlier.

more:York’s Daisy Myers, “the Rosa Parks of the North,” tells the story in a new edition of her autobiography

Daguerreotypes of Glenalvin Goodridge's camera, in view at left, are on display at the Goodridge Freedom Center on East Philadelphia Street.  A new exhibition is available entitled

The emergence of 3 literary forms

Those days came to mind several weeks ago when community influencer Andy Smith — operator of CultureOnTheLine.com — asked me to write about three books with a connecting thread.

I immediately thought of Almost Forgotten and then two other books on black history that completed this work.

The other two books – “Enterprising Images” by John F. Jezerski, about the three Goodridge York brothers who became pioneering black photographers, and Daisy Myers’ autobiography “Sticks ‘n Stones” — had a national scope. The three books—those by Jezierski, Myers, and Almost Forgotten—tell the black experience in York County in three literary forms: autobiography, autobiography, and general history, respectively.

Jezierski, a professor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, was drawn to the story of William C. and Evalina Goodridge’s three photographer children — William O. and Wallace L. Goodridge ran a studio near where Jezierski taught. The Saginaw connection came after the Goodridge family moved north during and after the Civil War.

William C. Goodridge was well established and successful in York County for his involvement in business, abolitionism, and the Underground Railroad. His name appeared on a barber shop in late 1865. He left York County, in part, because of trumped-up rape charges against Glenalvin, his eldest son and a pioneering photographer. Glenalvin Goodridge was imprisoned, fell ill, and received a pardon from the governor of Pennsylvania on the condition that he leave Pennsylvania.

Jezerski visited the archives of the York County History Center and meticulously documented his findings about the Goodridge family, bringing together research on its members in one place. I referenced the 2000 work extensively in writing Almost Forgotten .

But more importantly, he demonstrated that it was possible to work on a long-form project in an area—York County’s black history—that was little researched at that point. So I had nearly two years to digest Adventurous Pictures before Almost Forgotten came off the press.

Moreover, Jezierski’s work showed me that a white scholar could effectively publish—and gain community acceptance for that work—about what was in effect a history of the local black community. Remember, this was the era of race riot trials, and racial fissures opened up even further in York County society.

Clearly, Jezierski’s work provides a foundation for the Smithsonian to build on in its current project exploring pioneering black photographers. The Smithsonian Institution purchased several pieces of Glenalvin’s work as part of this project.

more:Smithsonian acquires work of pioneering black York photographer Glenalvin Goodridge

Published

All history is local

Daisy Myers’ story also shows that all history is local. She and her husband, Bill, who was born in York, were the first black residents to live in Levittown, and they endured demonstrations by white residents. Those protests attracted state troopers to make peace – ordered by a York County native, Governor George Leader.

The family returned to York County to live and work. Daisy Myers had a long career as an educator and as an aide to Congressman Bill Goodling. In about 2005, she approached the History Center to publish her autobiography. I was a member of the Publications Committee that edited and published the manuscript.

The project was important. Published memoirs from the county’s black community are rare. Before “Sticks ‘n Stones” came out, I knew two of them: Amanda Berry Smith, whose family worked as an Underground Railroad operator and then as a well-traveled missionary, publishing her book in 1893, and Carrie Ford, who after her retirement worked as a French teacher in the York City Schools and as a missionary. In Liberia, she published her book in 1994.

Following Myers’ memoir, Vonnie Grimes published his book Bridge of Troubled Waters in 2008. I do not know whether Myers’ work influenced Grimes in the treatment of his memoir. I know he invited me to edit his book, and we both carried Myers’ Sticks ‘n Stones to frequent evening editing sessions in his apartment.

As we have seen, the center of history played major roles in “Adventurous Pictures,” “Almost Forgotten,” and “Sticks and Stones.” This work formed the basis for future History Center publications that explored the history of black and civil rights: Mary Alliane Hamilton’s biography of left-wing newspaper publisher J. W. Jett, Rising from the Wilderness; Scott Mingus’s 2016 history of the Underground Railroad, “The Earth Swallowed Them Up”; And a 2021 reprint with a new introduction and afterword to “Sticks ‘n Stones”.

The History Center’s annual scholarly publication, York County Heritage Magazine, also regularly explores stories about men and women of all races and classes.

Coming full circle

I was thinking about these things when I saw the Friends of Lebanon Cemetery receive the prestigious Legion of Honor award from the Four Chaplains Memorial this month. This recognized their work restoring the historic Black Cemetery in North York as well as researching and writing about those buried there. Samantha Dorm, Tina Charles, and Jenny DeJesus Marshall subsequently published their findings digitally and in books.

The initiative comes as at least three museums or cultural centers are open or on the drawing board that will tell the story of black history in York County. The History Center Museum at York’s former Met-Ed steam station will weave that story into a comprehensive narrative of the county’s history when the museum opens this summer.

The Crispus Attucks Center for History and Culture will focus on the black history of the city and county with an emphasis on Crispus Attucks’ role in it. Jeff Kirkland, who has written and presented about black history for years, is part of the Crispus Attucks team.

The Mifflin House complex in the Susquehanna National Heritage Area in Hellam Township will explore the region’s Underground Railroad past when it opens later this decade.

The Goodridge Freedom Center, which runs a museum in the home of William C. and Evalina Goodridge, tells stories of the Underground Railroad and the early photographic work of Glenalvin Goodridge.

Thus, studies of Black County history have come full circle from Jezerski’s “Adventurous Pictures” to explorations of black history at the Goodridge House where a statue of William C. Goodridge greets visitors.

In fact, studies of black history have accelerated since the days in 2002 when History Center researchers were building a single box full of documents about black history.

Meeting in York

The 2002 Pennsylvania History and Museum Commission conference attracted a large audience and effectively brought the community together. An unforgettable moment came when he met Daisy Myers and George Leader at a session at York College – two principals from the late 1950s in Levittown.

Before her message at the 2002 Black History Conference in York, Myers said she would encourage more interracial outreach. Her lack in 1957 contributed to suspicions about her family and black people.

Her works “Sticks ‘n Stones” — “Almost Forgotten” and “Enterprising Images” — were all about such connections: black and white scholars and writers working together to tell stories that explain and explore the lives and times of blacks in York County and beyond.

Upcoming offers

Jim McClure will present with Scott Mingus and Jamie Norbell on “Historical Publishing from Idea Generation to Marketing Your Work” at 7 p.m. June 6 at the quarterly meeting of the York County Writers’ Roundtable, York County History Center, 250 E. Market St., York. .

Jim McClure is the retired editor of the York Daily Record and has authored or co-authored nine books on York County history. Access it at Jimmcclure21@outlook.com.



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