“THIS IS A
In light of today’s Intell article, “Gover slams SDL” and the Talkback under it (click here), I am rerunning the below article.
This is from the Philadelphia Tribune of May 19, 1981 and is now dedicated to my good friend, Ruth Cooper, who died last year.
As I noted when I first published this on the old LIPNews site, I originally wrote: “Lancaster is small town America. Lancaster is racist America.”
Jim Davis, the city editor of the Tribune, deleted my second sentence and optimistically sub-headed the story with “A small town in America’s racist past.”
Is it in the past? The article is one day short of being 25 years old. Has anything changed? Has anything changed? Twenty-five years. Has anything changed?
A small town in America’s racist past
By Becky Holzinger
(Special to the Tribune)
Lancaster is small town America.
Ruth Cooper’s family has lived in Lancaster “forever.” She run’s Cooper’s Daycare on Howard Avenue.
She lives in the Seventh Ward, the southeast section of the city. That’s were the Blacks and Hispanics live in Lancaster. Roughly 80 percent of all the minorities in Lancaster live in the Seventh Ward.
She said goodbye to her 19 year-old son in March. He followed the pattern of every generation of males in her family. He could not find a job in Lancaster. He looked for months.
“The Army was the only one who said they wanted him,” the mother said.
She looked for a job herself for a year and a half after she left the Lancaster City School District three years ago. With a master’s degree and a human service background, she could not find one. Now she runs a daycare center from her house.
She says she has watched as all her friends left Lancaster because they could not get a decent job. And she is paranoid. More paranoid at being Black in Lancaster than she has ever been.
The other night she said she left her house to walk four blocks to the 7-11: “I turned around and came back. I’ve walked those streets for 30 years and I’ve never been afraid. Until the police provide a reasonable explanation of why three white guys impaled a Black man, whether they knew him or not, I’m going to be afraid.”
Three white men tried to lynch Robert Henderson on May 1. The police are not concerned. The newspapers are not concerned. The city is not concerned.
It’s not difficult to explain. Lancaster is a city with a population of 57,000. The Black population is 9,500. The Hispanic is 10,500. Together they average about 22 percent of the population.
The police force has 118 sworn officers; three are Black, two Hispanic. That’s four percent minority.
There are two daily and one Sunday paper in Lancaster. They all have editorial staffs of between 20 and 25 employees. There is not a single minority on those staffs.
There are no elected minority officials. There is one Black and one Hispanic on the Lancaster Fire Company. There are only two Blacks who work in professional capacities for the city.
The Lancaster City School District is 40 percent minority. About five percent of the teachers are minority.
Juries are notoriously white here. Ruth Cooper was called for jury duty several years ago. She was the only minority in a pool of 100.
The downtown department stores are white.
“If you’re Black, you’re either overqualified or under qualified. It doesn’t matter if you have a college degree or are a high school dropout,” Ms. Cooper said.
If you ask the average white person in Lancaster if there is racial tension, they are uncomprehending. They are so well insulated from the Black community they don’t know.
There is a lot of racial tension in Lancaster. There are no jobs and no social life. There was Reagan and Atlanta and Buffalo. There is resurgence in the Klan and a notice of a Klan meeting printed in the Lancaster New Era. And now there is a lynching attempt and the white community, those in power, have ignored it. The Black community is stunned and outraged.
“I don’t see the police as my protectors,” says Ms. Cooper. “They are mostly white and ‘slightly’ fascist. If I’m on the street and the police stop, they are more likely to see what I’m doing on the street than worry about the person following me.
“The radar system is coming back. That self-preservation, watch-out type of paranoia.”
Ron Ford knows Lancaster well. He was the only Black and the only Democrat on the city council from 1976 to 1979. He is running again this year.
“There is a permissible level of crime in the Black community,” says Ford. “There are occurrences no one can seem to solve. The illegal dispensing of alcohol from grocery stores and drug sales on the street. If that were happening in another part of the city it would be stopped. It’s not being stopped and people are aware it’s not being stopped.”
“Lancaster hasn’t changed,” says Ms. Cooper. “We still have the same judges. The attitudes haven’t changed. There’s still the same discrepancy between who’s guilty until proven innocent and who’s innocent until proven guilty.”
Vernon Fisher moved to Lancaster 12 years ago. He is director of Neighborhood Services.
He says, “There is nothing for Black professionals here. There is no social life. If a person doesn’t have a family or church activities, there is nothing.
“I really think Lancaster and the country are sitting on a powderkeg,” Fisher said. “It’s the same as the ‘60s. There are no jobs and no housing. Lancaster escaped the violence of the ‘60s. I don’t know if it will escape the ‘80s.
“The Black community is not well organized here,” says Ford. “The progress seems to dissipate. A lot of people who have lead the battle are tired. It seems you take one step forward and then two backward.”
“I’m not optimistic,” Ms. Cooper says. “I was optimistic in the ‘60s. That’s all been taken away by Reagan. Lancaster hasn’t changed.
“I don’t want my sons to come back to Lancaster to work and live. This is a stagnating place. You don’t see any changes here.”