York, Pa.’s Codorus Street neighborhood is seen in this page from a book from a past reunion of former residents. Residents who grew up along this west end street have been meeting annually in reunions and plan to do so again this year. Also of interest: York, Pa.’s, Codorus Street Reunion photograph teaches history lesson.
You can learn a lot about a community by listening to the stories of folks reflecting on their youth in a neighborhood.
So when panelists at the York County Heritage Trust recently talked about the Codorus Street neighborhood in which they grew up, their comments brought the same rich understanding of York.
That predominantly black neighborhood, largely covered by Martin Luther King Jr. Park in York’s west end today, was torn down in 1961 in eminent domain action.
“The residents moved on from their former neighborhood,” a Heritage Trust program note states, “but the community still remains.”
The evening was, indeed, deep and wide in moments about the street with 73 addresses that ran from Penn Street on the east to Green Street on the west.
Here are seven moments that stand out, courtesy of panelists Jeff Kirkland, Rosetta Hawkins, Marilyn Duckett Smith, Brenda Rice and Ken Laughman:
1. The street itself contributed to community – one long street with little traffic. It was a community where people met on steps, visited on the street and whose front doors were never locked. Diverse community members mingled. “We were talking about the village concept before Hillary Clinton made it famous,” Jeff Kirkland said.
2. Many black families moving from the Bamberg, S.C. , area came there as part of the migration north for jobs in the 1920s. So the homes along the street housed multiple families and generations, as people came north to live with relatives. Codorus Street families would pull open clothes drawers to provide beds for children to sleep. Families along the street were among the working poor but considered themselves well off in family life.
3. Codorus Street families, like black people elsewhere in York, often faced racial discrimination. For example, parents would accompany their children in York’s stores. The parents knew those parts of the stores and eateries where black people could and couldn’t go. The practice in York schools to segregate elementary children in Aquilla Howard and Smallwood schools before the mid-1950s but integrating York High School still puzzled panelists.
4. Food, or sometimes lack of it, was deep in the memories of Codorus Streeters. They talked about rice as a staple at many meals, as well as the regularity of chicken as the main dish. “I tell you they knew how to cook on Codorus Street,” Laughman said. For breakfast, coffee soup was served. What’s coffee soup, a member of the audience asked? It was wet toast. Put toast in a bowl and poor coffee over it was the answer.
5. The Codorus Streeters reflected on the big pastime of playing marbles, going to church, “Miss Rhodie’s” popular eatery and the interesting perception that those neighborhoods closer to the Codorus Creek were poorer than those relatively farther from the waterway. They recalled the nearby Cookes House, a 1760s stone structure tied to American Revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine that contrasted with the brick and clapboard houses along the street. Treasure hunts in the floors and walls of the stone house brought no treasure, though.
6. When eminent domain came, families felt a sense of hopelessness and remembered tears. They could recall no negotiations. Jeff Kirkland was 10 when the order came down to move, and he remembers the rich neighborhood life. “That was sort of yanked away from you,” he said. Several panelists asked city and other government officials to think about the impact of eminent domain on tight-knit communities.
7. The families dispersed around the city, several moving to Kurtz Avenue. Former community members are still friends, still see each other at funerals and other gatherings. And, of course, the Codorus Streeters now are meeting annually in a reunion at MLK Jr. Park. In those reunions, each family “sets up” at the site where they think their home once stood as a reminder of those days when, according to Ken Laughman: “I didn’t know one family that didn’t get along with another.”
The Codorus Street neighborhood, as it looks today. Martin Luther King Jr. Park largely covers its footprint. That’s the 1760s Cookes House in the background. Also of interest: Codorus Street Reunion packed with history, meaning.
David and Eulamae Orr lived in the Codorus Street neighborhood. The Orrs operated a successful refuse company in York. Also of interest: York, Pa.-Bamberg, S.C., family connection looks to Isaac Nimmons as the patriarch.
This map, on display at the York County Heritage Trust, shows the Bamberg, S.C., connection with York, Pa. In the 1920s and later, families moved from Bamberg and other points in the South to York County, the first stop on the railroad in the industrial North, where there were relatively more jobs. Also of interest: York countian builds the Black American Experience one photo, one story at a time.
Rhoda Hawkins operated a popular Codorus Street eatery. Her business came up several times at the panel discussion. Also of interest: Their York, Pa., neighborhoods long gone, former Freys Avenue and Codorus Street residents plan for joint reunion.
The panelists the ‘Codorus Street Remembers’ event at the York County Heritage Trust. Also of interest: Will a generation’s values disappear with the loss of its neighborhoods?
For a host of stories and photos about African Americans in York County, check out this blog’s Black History category.