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Racial Reverberations - The York Race Riots of 1969

Jan 30, 2008
York, Pennsylvania in the 1960's was a small, segregated town. The white community and black community lived in close proximity but in separate worlds. A local newspaper described York as, "a de facto segregated and discriminatory system support by a city government." The police encouraged the segregation, routinely stopping any black man who was seen in the presence of a white woman.

The black citizens of York began protesting police brutality and discrimination at city hall in 1963. They demanded an integrated police review board but were routinely turned down by the all-white city councilmen. The police, in an attempt to quash the protests, used German shepherds to intimidate the protestors. The tensions between the white and black citizens of York escalated throughout the 1960's.

By the mid-60;s, the city had become a war zone, divided by race and increasingly populated with gangs. The prevalence of armed white gangs increased the constant fear of violence among the whites and blacks.

The York race riots began on July 17, 1969 when a white gang member was shot and injured by a black man. A conflict between the races erupted as the buildings of York were set on fire. The police were brought in as they blockaded the black areas of the town. Entire city blocks were burned. In all, 60 people were injured and over 100 were arrested. There was one fatality, a white rookie policeman was shot while patrolling the city. The tensions between the races escalated after the death of the policeman.

On July 21, a young black woman named Hattie Dickinson was driving with her family down Newberry Street. This street was the notorious headquarters of the Newberry Street Boys, a white gang. As Dickinson was driving, a man was with a gun neared her car. As she attempted to turn her car around, her engine stalled and armed white men poured from the porches. As the Dickson family pleaded with the men with guns, a barrage of bullets cut down the young Hattie. According to a witness, "all hell broke loose and it seemed as though everyone started shooting." Up to 20 white men with guns on Newberry Street and the neighboring Gay Avenue shot at the car, killing Hattie's sister Lillie.

Despite the number of witnesses, to this day no one has confessed to the murders or come to provide evidence as a witness, fearing they would be named as a traitor.
About the Author
Ian Spellfield explores the most frequently used African American names through the lens of history in his blog, Black Ghetto Baby Names.
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