In January, we celebrated the 95th birthday of Addie Cunningham. A long-time Lancaster City resident, Mrs. Cunningham was a business owner, is a community leader in her South Lime Street neighborhood, a mom, a grandmother, a volunteer at Ebenezer Baptist where you can find her every Wednesday cooking meals for the community – and so much more.
In the State of the City this year, I shared about Violet Milburn, the namesake of the newly renovated Milburn Park in Southeast Lancaster, and the role she played in the neighborhood as a grandma to many.
I also was captivated by Rev. Louis Butcher’s walk-through time in which he had us riding trolley cars, and visiting the stores and restaurants of Lancaster past at the African American Historical Association luncheon, and then more recently about how 6 people and 57 dollars plus a lot of tenacity is what got Brightside Baptist started 22 years ago. Today, it’s an engine for our Southwest as a hub for community health, connection, and learning.
We’ve also renamed two schools in honor of Black women leaders, Dr. Rita Smith-Wade-El Elementary School and Hazel I. Jackson Middle School — honoring their legacy and providing opportunities to share their story too.
I share a few of these names and these stories of our elders for two main reasons:
First, they inspire me. They have all led a life grounded in service to others. They remind me of what our vision of creating a stronger, more equitable community looks like.
Second, their stories reflect just a few of the stories of African American people and their many contributions to our city as we honor Black History Month.
These stories, and the stories of many others, offer a look back at how in the face of many obstacles, Lancaster has evolved. History tells us about the swelling population in our city from the great migration in the 1920s up to Urban Renewal in the 1960s. Redlining that limited where black families could live or buy homes. An inhospitable community within and beyond city limits that went as far as codifying racism through racial covenants – clauses that prohibited anyone other than whites from owning homes. Even now, racial diversity in Lancaster County outside of Lancaster City is surprisingly small.
While redlining and racial covenants are a thing of the past, our Black neighbors continue to earn less and are less likely to own their own homes. This continues a national trend that deprives families from building wealth.
In our own county, we also know that black children are far more likely to attend high poverty schools. This is front and center as the School District of Lancaster defends the case against the Commonwealth of PA, seeking fair funding for our poorest schools across the state, including ours.
Black History Month is an opportunity to reflect on the absolute gift of our Black neighbors, like Addie Cunningham, Violet Milburn and Louis Butcher, and many others from venerable families. By learning our history, it can help guide our path forward — our investments, policies, and leadership.
Throughout this month, we’ll highlight stories, post data and share ways the city is working toward this more equitable future.
Lancaster, I invite you to join me in celebrating the brilliance of Lancaster’s Black History. And most of all, I invite you to take tangible action to build a more equitable Lancaster this month, and all year long.