“The 1960s saw a buildup of black resentment against a city administration that they said systematically ignored their community’s needs and a police force that used dogs and other tough tactics to antagonize blacks.
In 1968, the year the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. plunged the nation into deepening racial turmoil, a state human rights commission admonished York for its polarized racial atmosphere and warned of the potential for violence.
In July 1969, York exploded.
Violence between white and black youths unleashed more than a week of mayhem. Buildings were set afire, police barricaded black neighborhoods and enforced curfews and the National Guard rolled in on tanks to try to restore order.
Amid the chaos, a white police officer, Henry Schaad, suffered a fatal gunshot wound while riding in an armored vehicle that came under fire. Four days later, Lillie Belle Allen, a young black mother of two visiting from Aiken, S.C., died in a hail of gunfire when her car stalled while she was trying to steer away from white gang members.
The slayings went unpunished and questions unanswered for three decades until prosecutors, acting on new information dug up by reporters, began asking questions.
Eventually, they charged 12 people, including Charlie Robertson, the mayor at the time, in an extraordinary investigation that grabbed national headlines. Two white men were convicted of second-degree murder in Allen’s slaying, while seven others pleaded guilty or no contest to lesser charges. Two black men were convicted of second-degree murder in Schaad’s death.
Robertson, a police officer during the riots who was accused of stirring up white gang members and inciting violence against blacks, was acquitted.
The trials proved to be cathartic, if uncomfortable, for many in the city. More than six years after the last person went to jail, some blacks say they don't feel as though the city is entirely integrated.
“I’m 36. I've never been in trouble with the law and I’m still a suspect,” said Shawn Ford, who runs a general contracting business in York and is black.”
The Daily American - Somerset County Newspapers
November 28, 2009