(Reprinted from the Lancaster Independent Press, Special Edition, September 2001 – LANCASTER LYNCHING – Twenty Years Later)
My name is Becky Holzinger.Twenty years ago I was the former editor of this paper, living in Philadelphia and working as a freelance reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune,America’s oldest Black newspaper.Twenty years ago they printed a headline that changed my life.It read, “Man critical after Lancaster Lynching try.”I jumped on a train to Lancaster.Nothing would ever be the same.
TWENTY YEARS AGO I WAS STUNNED BY THIS STORY.I WAS TERRIFIED BY THE IMPLICATIONS.IT STUNS AND TERRIFIES ME TODAY.
So, after twenty years, I will tell my story.Well, actually, you see it on the pages of this paper.So I’ll just tell you things.
I’m not going to be a reporter.I’m not going to cite every source.I’m not going to state a date for every clipping and every quote.
I have the clippings, the photographs and the notes.A lawyer watched and read and listened as I pulled all of those out of a twenty-year-old box over the course of three evenings.
“Find the victim.Find Henderson,” he said.“If he identifies the men in your photograph, we can make a case.”
Robert Leslie Henderson, Jr. died in Florida in September of 1986, apparently from unrelated causes, although that has not been verified.
Henderson is dead.Rhoads is dead.What was left to do?
Tell my story.
So I will start with the photograph.I took it the day before the artist sketches were printed in the paper.
A friend from Lancaster called the following morning.“They printed artist sketches and descriptions.”“Read me the descriptions,” I asked?
How do you describe a moment like that?As she read, I realized that while I thought I might have gotten one of them, I actually got all three of them – sitting around a table.Sitting around a table less than half a block from the crime scene.
“I FOUND YOUR SUSPECTS”
I didn’t realize, even then, what I had.I called the police – “by golly, guys, I found your suspects.”
When did the fear set in?When did I realize, that by chance, I had walked into the biggest story of my life?The scariest story of my life.I had no idea where it would take me.
Yes, my life was threatened.Yes, I was followed by the Lancaster police.Yes, the original photograph was stolen after I showed it all over town.I showed it at the Friendly Greek.I showed it at the Wonder Bar.I showed it at the 7-11.(By the way, Mr. Henry, there aren’t a lot of stores open at that hour of the night in that area of town, that sell hand cream.Why don’t you name them for me, Mr. Henry?I only know of years ago.Please tell me the others.)
VIOLATION OF HIS CIVIL RIGHTS
What I didn’t know was why?Why wouldn’t the police arrest them?Why would they say there was no resemblance between my photograph and the artist’s sketches and descriptions?
Alice Johnson, Henderson’s grandmother, told me.I was sitting on her porch one day talking, as we did, and she very casually told me that her grandson had taken two Lancaster detectives into Federal Court for violation of his civil rights.“What,” I said?“What?”
So, I looked it up.And yes, he had.And I went to City Hall in Philadelphia and looked up the case.It still brings tears to my eyes.
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
I sold my story to the Philadelphia Daily News for $100.The editor took one look at my photograph and the artist sketches and said, “Jesus.”
I needed rent money.The Philadelphia Tribune didn’t reach Lancaster and they couldn’t afford to follow the story.
The Daily News sent me to Lancaster with a white reporter who was nervous around Black people.The police told her I was crazy.They said it wasn’t those three men.They said I was interfering in their investigation.They told her they might arrest me.This is the absolute truth – she was afraid to drive back to Philadelphia with me.
“I AM SORRY, MS. JOHNSON”
I went to the FBI.They opened and closed the case in less than a day.I imagine they called the police.The police told them I was crazy and that was that.
A friend called after Rhoads was attacked.“You better see these artist sketches,” he said.
Now the story would break.The three men would be arrested.This was a former Armstrong executive.It was in the paper for days.
I went to see Alice Johnson.I was elated.“They will have to arrest them now,” I told her.“They attacked an 81 year-old, white, former Armstrong executive.They will have to arrest them now.”
I am sorry, Ms. Johnson.
COMING TOMORROW – TOTARO LIES.
[Please note the reference to Lancaster Police Captain Luther Henry in the editorial below.Three days after this appeared, the case would take a dramatic and incredibly ugly turn.I took a train to Lancaster.I walked downtown and stopped into Coe’s Camera Shop and bought an instamatic Polaroid camera.I continued walking.In a line right out of a movie, I said to a neighbor of the building I was about to enter whom I had met several times before, “I’m going in there to take a picture.If I’m not out in five minutes, please call the police.”I entered the building and took a picture of three men sitting around a table.]
Lynchings must be stopped
(An editorial published by the Philadelphia Tribune on May 19, 1981.)
Many times when we report about the racist, violent assaults against Blacks, Hispanics and other racial minorities, we tend to think of those situations in abstract terms.The reason is that it always seems to be something you read about that will never happen to you or a relative, until it does.
An excellent example of this type of abstract thinking occurred in Philadelphia for years when Blacks were frequently assaulted by some racist members of the police force.As often as this newspaper documented such widespread police abuse during the Frank Rizzo years and prior to that, not many Blacks were totally convinced until the white media decided it was one issue it wanted to deal with after more and more whites started coming forward and reporting similar abuses.
We see the exact situation occurring in the reemergence of blatant racial attacks on Blacks across the country.Recently, we reported the lynching of a Black man in Mobile, Ala.But again, that seems distanced in the minds of Blacks in Philadelphia.
Closer to home, a similar racist attack occurred when three white men attempted to murder Robert Leslie Henderson, a 37 year-old Black resident of Lancaster, PA.The grisly, inhuman assault on Henderson, which left him in critical condition in Lancaster’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, has yet to really fire the ire of anyone other than Henderson’s immediate family.
Certainly Lancaster police claim they are investigating the attempted lynching.Governor Richard Thornburgh’s office says it’s monitoring the investigation and that both the State Police and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission have been instructed to stay of top of events involving the Henderson case.
State Rep. David P. Richardson has raised as much storm as he can.He has publicly called on State Attorney General Leroy Zimmerman to conduct an independent investigation of the incident.
As reported in the May 8, 12 and 15 editions of the Tribune, Henderson was held at gunpoint and forced to sit on the vent pipe of an oil tank for several hours.As a result of the assault by three white men, Henderson suffered extensive internal injuries and had to undergo a colostomy, the creation of an artificial anus for a bowel passage by surgical procedure.
The Henderson case isn’t an isolated incident.We know that the Ku Klux Klan has been active in central Pennsylvania, particularly in nearby York.
We know of similar racial attacks against Blacks in nearby Darby and Roslyn where cross burnings and firebombings have occurred.These incidents have received the most attention in the Black press, but little elsewhere.
The Lancaster lynching attempt has been practically blacked out in the local media.A Lancaster newspaper, in reporting the incident, started out by detailing Henderson’s previous arrest and conviction as a blatant attempt to cover up the racial attack on a Black man.
The Lancaster police have been trying to keep the attack as quiet as possible.Police Capt. Luther Henry was literally knocked off his rocker when he found out that the Tribune had gotten hold of the Henderson lynching attack.
If we sit around thinking that this is 1981 and lynchings are in our distant past history, we can expect another rude awakening.The KKK is very much alive and getting bigger.Whether it’s Mobile, Roslyn, Lancaster, Atlanta, Darby, Buffalo, N.Y., or Philadelphia, the aims of such racist groups as the Klan or neo-Nazis are the same.
THE KLAN CONNECTION
(Reprinted from LIP – Special Edition, September, 2001 –“LANCASTER LYNCHING – Twenty Years Later.”The paper was handed out at a Klan rally in downtown Lancaster and later at a Unity Festival at Franklin & Marshall College on Saturday, September 8, 2001.It was also mailed to many people and delivered door to door in several Lancaster neighborhoods that weekend.Two days later, the 9-11 tragedy occurred.)
Is there a Klan connection to the Henderson assault?Yes, I believe there is.I covered the Klan meeting for LIP when David Duke came to Lancaster on November 18, 1978.
I was in the room with Duke and the Klan for over an hour.It was one of the scariest times of my life.
There was a man in attendance at that meeting, whom I believe, worked with the three men in my photograph.Was it a coincidence that the New Era ran a notice of a Klan meeting in Cly four days after the Henderson assault?I have always wondered.
I heard from good sources that Duke came back to Lancaster, quietly, within a year of his publicized meeting.Why?
Who is giving money to the Klan in Lancaster?What is going on here?Why would he come twice in one year?
There is a marked difference between Blacks and whites on the subject of the Klan.Suburban whites think they have nothing to fear from the Klan.They don’t really think it exists as an organization.They don’t believe the Klan is killing people.
Blacks, and other minorities, know better.The Klan kills people.They are a threat to the daily life of every minority, including religious, in this country.And even Blacks in Philadelphia comment on all the Klan activity in Lancaster and nearby.Why so much activity?
Yes, I believe there is a Klan connection.Find the three men in my photograph and you will find a connection to the Klan.
Who knows how deep and far that Klan connection will go?We must find out.
Klan Plans York Rally
A rally sponsored by the York
Haven chapter of the Ku Klux Klan
is scheduled for Saturday,
May 9, at Cly, YorkCounty, it was
The rally, which its organizer
says will include a cross burning,
will take place on River Road.
This notice of a Klan meeting appeared on Page 2 of the NewEra, boxed, four days after the Henderson lynching attempt on May 1, 1981.
TOMORROW - MUCH MORE ON THE KLAN AND THE SUNDAY NEW’S ARTICLE, “Supreme word on hatred.”
COMING SHORTLY - “The Klan” CHAPTER OF “Tribune Days,” dealing with the Klan meeting with David Duke in Lancaster on November 18, 1978.