As we agonize over the murder of George Floyd, the names of victims of police brutality are being listed in the media. I want to honor the memory of a woman who may be overlooked, Lillie Belle Allen. She was not killed by police, but the Mayor and Chief of Police in the City of York, Pennsylvania, had created an atmosphere so racially tense and poisonous that driving down the wrong street led to her death.
I wrote about this previously, here and here. I learned this tragic history in 2018, many years after the fact. It shocked me to realize that I moved to York in 1973, lived there two years, and never heard of Lillie Belle Allen, Henry Schaad or the York race riots.
What led up to the York riots, which are described in Wikipedia? In 1962, the City had imposed a discriminatory policy of aggressive policing in black neighborhoods, including the use of dogs. I don’t know why. I speculate that the white residents of York couldn’t tolerate the changes that came upon them in the 1950s and 1960s. African Americans from the South moved to York for work in its many factories. Suburbanization “hollowed out” the downtown. Schools were integrated by busing. Resentment festered. Gangs coalesced.
I am grateful to the York Daily Record and journalist Kim Strong for their reporting.
Some York residents regarded the summer of 1969 as a “draw”. One death on each “side”. I can’t accept this. Lillie Belle Allen was an uninvolved by-stander, not even a resident of York. Henry Schaad chose employment as a police officer. I regard his death as a particularly grim and awful case of the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons. One analyst, writing 30 years after the fact, concluded he died because he was a police officer, not because he was white. (York’s police force was not 100% white in 1969.)
I’m saddened by the death of Lillie Belle Allen. If she hadn’t been shot, she might now be 78 years old. Who knows what those lost decades might have brought? To her family, I offer sincere condolences.