1969 York race riots: Timeline and map

Map: Key locations in the 1969 York race riots


Timeline: The story of the riots, from 1968 to 2003

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

1968

  • July 11, 1968: Neighbors around Penn Park tell a reporter they saw 12 policemen chasing black youths across the grounds and firing three shots into the air. Police deny knowledge of the incident and refuse to talk to the press.
  • July 12, 1968: Police Chief Leonard Landis admits one officer fired a “warning shot” as officers tried to disperse a group of youths milling around Penn Park before the 10 p.m. youth curfew. More than half a year later, the officer would be suspended for five days.
  • July 13-14, 1968: While city officials and residents debate how complaints against police should be handled, youths begin fighting against one another and all figures of authority. Some set fire to garages, some throw rocks at cars, others assault residents for money. Public Safety Director Jacob W. Hose says the 10 p.m. Penn Park curfew that police had been enforcing actually was an outdated ordinance not legally enforceable.
  • July 15, 1968: Mayor John L. Snyder scoffs at the importance of the fighting and refuses to declare a state of emergency. A group of 40 black community members meet at Crispus Attucks to discuss how to handle grievances with the city and police.
  • July 16, 1968: Officers unleash police dogs in Carmella Hudson’s home on South Duke Street while searching without a warrant for guns.
  • Aug. 4, 1968: A white man living above the former Hoffman’s meat market in the 200 block of South Penn Street, in a black neighborhood, comes outside with a shotgun and a revolver and wounds 10 black people. He claims he acted to stop a break-in at the store below.
  • Aug. 5, 1968: The meat market goes up in flames while 65 police in riot gear and armored trucks battle more than 100 black youths firing guns and throwing firebombs. Schmidt and Ault Paper Co., at South Penn Street and Kings Mill Road, also is fire-bombed that night. During a second day of stonings and fire-bombings, armed police cover firefighters who try to extinguish a fire that severely damages the York Bedding Co. factory at 231 S. Queen St.
  • Sept. 4, 1968: The canine corps, started in the fall of 1962, is expanded. The force soon will total 13 dogs and 11 officers.
  • Dec. 19, 1968: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission releases the findings of local hearings held in August and September concerning the summer’s violence. The findings reveal inadequate urban renewal, hostilities generated by the police force, housing discrimination and an unresponsive city government. They also conclude that blacks have higher unemployment and are paid less than whites.

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

1969

  • July 17, 1969: Taka Nii Sweeney, 17, is shot by an unseen gunman when Detective George Smith stops him and friends for violating the city’s youth curfew. White and black gangs begin rumbles that afternoon. Eleven others are hurt when people in six blocks of the city revert to rock-throwing, barricading and shooting from behind bushes and poles. Fighting lasts until 4 a.m.
  • July 18, 1969: Gang fighting and rioting against the police force continue until 4 a.m. Nine more people are injured, including Officer Henry C. Schaad, 22. Schaad is shot while riding in one of the police department’s two armored trucks. He dies Aug. 1. … The York Gazette and Daily at 31 E. King St. and R. H. Bentzel Meat Market at 564 N. Pershing Ave. are fire-bombed. Damage is minimal. … A 51-year-old Bannister Street man’s skull is fractured when he is hit with concrete while riding in his car.
  • July 19-20, 1969: Mayor John L. Snyder declares a state of emergency for the city. A citywide curfew calls for those 21 and younger to stay home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and for adults to stay home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Snyder closes liquor stores and malt shops during curfew hours and restricts gasoline sales to vehicles. … York Hospital calls in 15 extra nurses while 120 police officers and 32 state troopers patrol the city. Fighting rages until 2 a.m. … Lynn Register, 2, and Jeannette Register, 8, are reported among the 27 injured over the weekend. Police accuse black residents of keeping children in their ranks to prevent officers from shooting back. Black residents say white gang members shot the children while police watched.
  • July 21, 1969: Lillie Belle Allen, 27, of Aiken, S.C., is shot and killed while on a trip to visit her sister in York. … A blaze razes the 400 block of West Hope Avenue. Police protect firemen from snipers. … Violence hits all parts of the city. Public Safety Director Jacob W. Hose requests help from the Pennsylvania National Guard in fighting the “war” on the streets of York. Hose’s son, patrolman Bill Hose, is shot near the heart while riding in an armored truck. He is saved by a bulletproof vest. (He later becomes city police chief and is now the county sheriff.) … Officials at the Crispus Attucks Center on East Maple Street urge parents to keep their children indoors. Meanwhile, 50 youths with guns set up ranks outside the center.
  • July 22, 1969: Under teeming rain, 200 National Guard members roll into town with five ¾-ton tanks, 18 jeeps and three armored trucks. … Gov. Raymond P. Shafer declares a state of emergency and establishes an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. emergency curfew for all residents. The City Council votes to ban guns temporarily, threatening those who violate the ban with fines and jail time. … At 7:50 p.m., authorities drive through town with a loudspeaker, directing residents to return to their homes. … After five nights of fighting, 57 have been arrested for 48 curfew violations, 16 gun violations and two acts of disorderly conduct. The rain and the presence of tanks slow the fighting. Still, at 1:30 p.m., a 64-year-old man is shot in the chest.
  • July 23, 1969: Elmer Woodyard, one of six blacks on the 98-member police force, steps down, citing racism in the ranks and “senseless use of firepower.” … Witnesses report an armored car opening fire down a street in a black neighborhood. … Police and National Guard members search five black homes with “John Doe” warrants and take guns and ammunition. … The fighting eases slightly, with only three shootings that night and the serious-condition list down from eight people to six. But residents continue to put lives on hold. Mail carriers are given a choice whether they will deliver in barricaded blocks.
  • July 24, 1969: Police take 11 guns and ammunition from one of three white homes on Newberry Street that were searched with “John Doe” warrants. … The arrest list rises to 92 and the injured list to about 40. … Two black Penn Street residents start fighting on the judicial front, suing the city for illegal search and seizure.
  • July 25, 1969: National Guard troops leave York. The governor and mayor ease the curfew, ordering residents to stay indoors from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. The Gazette and Daily reports a fourth night of relative calm after five nights of fighting.

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

1970

  • April 19-26, 1970: The York Charrette is held at the Bond Sanitary Products warehouse at the corner of Duke and King streets. Its purpose is to bring the community together and discuss underlying causes of racial tension.

Sources: The Gazette and Daily, the York Daily Record, the books “Never to be Forgotten” and “Charrette at York, Pa.”

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

1999

  • Newspapers take a look back on the 30th anniversary of the riots.

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

2000

  • April 11, 2000: Donald Altland, 51, of East Manchester Township commits suicide a day after York Police interviewed him about the riots. He leaves behind a note saying “Forgive me God” and two tapes – one for his family and the other for authorities.
  • June 14, 2000: York County District Attorney’s Office announces plans to seek a grand jury to investigate the murders of Schaad and Allen. Authorities say they have interviewed 100 witnesses and have promising leads.
  • June 15, 2000: Mayor Charlie Robertson questions the timing of the latest investigation into the murders. “Is it being done now for political reasons? I don’t know,” Robertson said outside his office. “Is it being done now to embarrass the city? I don’t know.”
  • June 20, 2000: York Police Commissioner Herbert Grofcsik says at a public meeting that the mayor, a police officer at the time of the riots, is not suspected of wrongdoing.
  • June 21, 2000: York County District Attorney’s office issues a news release refuting Grofcsik’s statement, adding that no one has been exonerated.
  • June 23, 2000: Charlie Bacas, a member of Better York Inc. and long-time supporter of Mayor Robertson, writes a letter making accusations against the district attorney’s office, county commissioners and others. It draws flak.
  • June 27, 2000: York County Judge John C. Uhler approves the request for a grand jury. He says its work must remain secret. The NAACP votes to give its support of the investigations.
  • Sept. 27, 2000: A York County judge impanels a grand jury to investigate the two murders. All 30 jurors -16 men and 14 women – are white. Representatives of the NAACP speak out, saying that officials should have made sure more minorities were included in the jury pool.
  • September to December, 2000: Grand jury meets more than six times. Residents of North Newberry Street say it appeared that the grand jury took a field trip to the neighborhood in late September.

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

2001

  • April 26, 2001: Brothers Arthur and Robert Messersmith, former members of the Newberry Street Boys, a white gang, are arrested and charged with killing Lillie Belle Allen. Affidavits filed by York County Detective Rodney George apparently implicate Mayor Robertson, saying an unnamed police officer at the time incited white gangs and provided members with ammunition. Robertson has said in the past that he shouted the racist slogan to a crowd and that he had harbored racist attitudes. But he said he changed after attending a racial sensitivity class. He denied providing the Newberry Street Boys with ammunition.
  • May 8, 2001: Robertson tells his staff that a top city official – Michael O’Rourke, the city’s business administrator – will run the city if he is arrested.
  • May 9, 2001: Rick Lynn Knouse and Gregory Harry Neff, former members of the Girarders, a white gang, are arrested and charged in Allen’s death. Affidavits state that Neff and Knouse testified before the grand jury that they fired at Allen’s vehicle. Each was released on $100,000 bail.
  • May 9, 2001: Robertson says he has hired William Costopoulos – considered one of the best criminal defense specialists in the state – to represent him if he’s charged in Allen’s death.
  • May 10, 2001: Arthur Messersmith nearly makes bail but his release is stalled when another inmate at York County Prison says Messersmith threatened to flee to Mexico. In addition, Messersmith needed a full-time job. One offer had been withdrawn.
  • May 10, 2001: Robertson’s attorney, Richard Oare, says Robertson is taking a few days off to get away from reporters. He will play some golf and do some campaigning.
  • May 14, 2001: Robertson returns to the office. Later that evening, York County GOP Chairman John W. Thompson Sr. defends Robertson, a Democrat, during his speech at the Republican’s annual Shrimp Feed. Thompson criticizes the news media for its coverage and urged people to let the judicial system decide.
  • May 15, 2001: Robert and Artie Messersmith are released from York County Prison on $100,000 bail each.
  • May 15, 2001: Robertson wins the primary over York City Councilman Ray Crenshaw by an unofficial total of 48 votes.
  • May 16, 2001: Authorities arrest William C. Ritter of the 1900 block of North Sherman Street in York in connection with the 1969 murder of Allen. He is charged with criminal homicide.
  • May 16, 2001: On the steps of City Hall, Robertson announces that he will turn himself into authorities the next morning, May 17, and will be charged with criminal homicide in Allen’s death. He maintains his innocence.
  • May 17, 2001: Amidst a swarm of reporters, Robertson turns himself in at District Justice Barbara Nixon’s office. He is released later in the day on $50,000 bail. Clarence Eugene Lutzinger is later arrested as well, becoming the seventh man to be linked with Allen’s murder.
  • May 18, 2001: Chauncey Curvin Gladfelter is the eighth man arrested in Allen’s murder. Robertson and his attorney make the rounds of national television morning shows where the mayor claims he saved the lives of others in the car the night of the shooting.
  • May 21, 2001: Thomas Paul Smith is arrested, accused of also being one of those who shot at Allen’s car on Newberry Street.
  • June 25, 2001: At a preliminary hearing, three of the nine men charged with first-degree murder in Allen’s killing – Rick Knouse, Gregory Neff and Clarence “Sonny” Lutzinger – agree to plead guilty to lesser charges in return for their testimony against the remaining defendants. Knouse agrees to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit homicide, with a sentence of not more than 23½ months. Neff agrees to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit an unlawful act, a misdemeanor. His sentence will be time served and 23 months of non-reporting probation. Lutzinger agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter for a sentence of not more than 23½ months. Shortly after that hearing, prosecutors withdraw Neff’s plea agreement when he refuses to take a polygraph test to back up his testimony.
  • July 3, 2001: York County Senior Judge Emanuel Cassimatis rules that enough evidence exists to order Robertson, Arthur and Robert Messersmith, Ritter, Smith and Gladfelter to stand trial for Allen’s murder.
  • Oct. 30, 2001: Police arrest Stephen Donald Freeland and Leon Forrest Wright on Oct. 30, 2001 and charge them with Schaad’s murder. Autopsy findings show that Schaad was hit by at least one .30-caliber bullet. Dr. Martin Fackler, a wound ballistics consultant who then worked with the York County District Attorney’s Office, reviewed the original medical evidence compiled after Schaad’s death and indicated the bullets that penetrated the armored van could have come from a .30-40 Krag rifle. The affidavit for Freeland’s arrest cites two witnesses who told the grand jury that Freeland had told them he shot Schaad with a .30-40 Krag. Ten witnesses told the grand jury they saw Freeland fire at the armored van that night, the affidavit indicates; one of the witnesses identified the gun Freeland used as a .30-40 Krag. The affidavit for Wright’s arrest cites a witness who said she saw Wright fire twice at the armored van that night and then heard Wright shout, “I got the white mother f—–!” Another witness cited in the affidavit said that in August 2001, she was talking to Wright in a York bar and the conversation turned to Schaad’s murder. The witness said she asked Wright if he had killed Schaad, and said Wright responded, “No, but I shot at the mother f—–!”
  • Dec. 18, 2001: Senior Judge Edward G. Biester rules that the passage of 32 years between Allen’s death and arrests in the case does not mean that the six defendants cannot get a fair trial. Defense attorneys for the men had argued that their chances of mounting a successful defense had been damaged because authorities waited so long to arrest anyone, and that the arrests were improper because they came as a result of a change in policy at the district attorney’s office. Biester, a Bucks County judge who had been appointed to hear the time-delay argument after Uhler recused himself and other York judges from hearing the motion, said there was no evidence to show the delay had been caused by anything other than a lack of credible eyewitnesses.

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

2002

  • February, 2002: The state Superior Court rejects a request by Robertson’s lawyers to review Biester’s decision.
  • March 25, 2002: The state Supreme Court rejects a request from the Messersmith brothers and Neff to review Biester’s decision.
  • March 28, 2002: Uhler’s rulings on pre-trial motions in the Allen case go against the defendants. He rejects defense motions to dismiss the first- and second-degree murder charges, hold separate trials for some of the defendants, remove himself as trial judge, and prohibit the introduction of grand jury testimony at trial. Uhler puts off ruling on a request by Robert Messersmith. His lawyer sought to bar from the Allen trial information about Messersmith’s involvement in another 1969 shooting, and to prohibit the introduction of ballistics testimony.
  • April 4, 2002: Robertson’s lawyers ask Uhler to certify his March 28 decision to uphold the charges against the former mayor, because Robertson’s defense team wanted to appeal that March 28 decision to the state Superior Court. If Uhler would certify his decision, it would increase the defense team’s chances of being heard by the Superior Court. Certification is an introduction or suggestion from the ruling judge that an appellate court, in Pennsylvania the Superior and Supreme courts, should consider reviewing the case. Uhler rejects the April 4 request.
  • June 18, 2002: The Pennsylvania Superior Court, without comment, rejects Robertson’s request to review the legal soundness of the murder charge lodged against him.
  • June 19, 2002: Uhler rules on several requests concerning Robert Messersmith. He rules that statements Messersmith made to detectives as they drove him from his Perkiomenville home to York the day he was arrested are admissible in court. Messersmith’s lawyer, Thomas Sponaugle, said the statements were responses to improper police questioning and a violation of Messersmith’s right to counsel. Uhler rules that statements Messersmith made to investigators in prison May 2, without Sponaugle present, violated Messersmith’s right to counsel and are not admissible. Uhler rejects a defense request to suppress evidence taken from the Messersmith home after the Allen shooting. The evidence included many guns.
  • July 17, 2002: Ezra Slick is arrested and charged with criminal homicide in connection with Allen’s death. He becomes the 10th person charged in the case. He remained in York County Prison as of Aug. 22 pending a bail hearing. The affidavit for Slick’s arrest indicates that Slick told investigators he fired four shots from a handgun in the direction of the Allen family’s car.
  • July 31, 2002: Robertson’s attorneys file notice in court that he would present an alibi at trial. The notice indicates that “at the time of the alleged offense, as alleged by the commonwealth, (Robertson) was a York City Police officer on duty deployed in an armored personnel carrier together with other police officers at various places within the city of York.”
  • Aug. 14, 2002: Four men accused in Allen’s killing – Rick Knouse, Clarence “Sonny” Lutzinger, William Ritter and Thomas Smith – enter guilty pleas in connection with her death. Each pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit an unlawful act in return for agreeing to cooperate with the prosecution against the others charged in the case. The maximum sentence each faces is two years in jail and a $500 fine. Judge John C. Uhler said he will defer authorizing the pleas until after the trial for the remaining defendants.
  • Aug. 20, 2002: In court, Ezra Slick is overheard telling two other men awaiting hearings that prosecutors “want me to be a witness” and that he might get “one or two” years in jail as a result of a plea agreement.
  • Aug. 21, 2002: Chauncey Gladfelter enters a guilty plea in connection to Allen’s death. He pleads guilty to criminal conspiracy to commit an unlawful act in return for agreeing to cooperate with the prosecution against the remaining defendants. He faces up to two years in jail and a $500 fine.
  • Aug. 29, 2002: Arthur Messersmith pleads guilty to attempt with the intent to kill, a felony, and conspiracy to commit an unlawful act, specifically first-degree murder, a misdemeanor. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in state prison and a $3,000 fine; the misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $500 fine. The plea agreement means that Messersmith might have to testify against his brother Robert.
  • Sept. 23, 2002: Jury selection for the Allen trial is scheduled to begin.
  • Sept. 26, 2002: A 12-person jury, all white, is seated to hear the prosecution’s case against Messersmith, Neff and Robertson.
  • Oct. 19, 2002: After deliberating for parts of three days, the jury convicts Robert N. Messersmith and Gregory H. Neff of second-degree murder in Allen’s killing, but acquitted former Mayor Charlie Robertson of all charges.
  • Nov. 14, 2002: Six co-defendants in the Allen case who cooperated with the prosecution are sentenced. Arthur N. Messersmith receive 1½ to three years in state prison for felony attempt with the intent to kill, and a concurrent one to two years for misdemeanor criminal conspiracy to commit the unlawful act of first-degree murder. The other five plead guilty to the misdemeanor criminal conspiracy charge and receive county prison terms. Rick L. Knouse is sentenced to nine to 23 months; Clarence “Sonny” Lutzinger, nine to 23½ months; William C. Ritter, nine to 23½ months; Thomas P. Smith, three to 23½ months; and Chauncey Gladfelter, three to 23½ months.
  • Nov. 19, 2002: Bucks County Senior Judge Edward G. Biester Jr. rejects arguments by defendants Stephen D. Freeland and Leon “Smickel” Wright that too much time has passed since Henry C. Schaad’s murder to allow them to get a fair trial. Biester hears the arguments because several York County judges have ties to the district attorney’s office.
  • Nov. 22, 2002: Judge John C. Uhler rejects Thomas Smith’s request to serve more than 200 hours of community service instead of a three-to-23½ month prison sentence. The U.S. Department of Justice turns down York City Council’s request for a federal investigation into Lillie Belle Allen’s killing, citing the statute of limitations.
  • Dec. 18, 2002: Robert Messersmith and Greg Neff are sentenced for their second-degree murder convictions in the Allen trial. Messersmith receives nine to 19 years in state prison, and Neff receives 4½ years to 10 years.
  • Dec. 30, 2002: Judge John C. Uhler rules on motions filed in the Henry C. Schaad murder case. Uhler denies defendant Stephen D. Freeland’s requests to be tried separately from co-defendant Leon “Smickel” Wright, to sequester the jury, and recuse York County judges from the trial. Uhler grants Freeland’s requests to individually question potential jurors during jury selection, and file supplemental or amended pretrial motions. Uhler denies Wright’s requests to move the trial out of York County or bring a jury to York County from another county; to make the York County District Attorney’s Office identify what information in more than 1,000 pages of material shared by the prosecution could exonerate the defendants; and to bar Wright’s grand jury testimony from the trial. Uhler grants a joint defense request to unseal the grand jury presentment documenting the grand jurors’ decision to recommend the arrests.

1968  |  1969  |  1970  |  1999  |  2000  |  2001  |  2002  |  2003

2003

  • Jan. 14, 2003: Judge John C. Uhler takes himself off the Henry C. Schaad murder case, citing his ongoing caseload and high blood pressure. President Judge John H. Chronister assigns the case to himself.
  • Jan. 23, 2003: Judge John C. Uhler rejects Greg Neff’s claim of errors in his October 2002 trial and sentencing the following month. Uhler’s response is part of the procedure set in motion by Neff’s appeal to the state Superior Court of his conviction and sentencing.
  • Jan. 29, 2003: Lawyers for Lillie Belle Allen’s family file a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg against the City of York and five former York Police officers. The suit alleges the city and the officers named knowingly mishandled the investigation and allowed Allen’s killers to walk free for more than 30 years.
  • March 3, 2003: Jury selection begins in the Henry C. Schaad murder case.
  • March 5, 2003: A 12-person jury, including one black man, is seated to hear the prosecution’s case against Stephen D. Freeland and Leon “Smickel” Wright in the murder of York Police Officer Henry C. Schaad.
  • March 5, 2003: Ezra Slick, the 10th and final defendant in the Lillie Belle Allen murder case, asks that incriminating statements he made to police before his arrest be suppressed at his trial.
  • March 13, 2003: After seven hours of deliberation over two days, the jury convicts Stephen D. Freeland and Leon “Smickel” Wright of second-degree murder in York Police Officer Henry C. Schaad’s death.
  • April 2, 2003: Ezra Slick pleads no contest to charges of attempt with the intent to commit first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit an unlawful act. Slick is the final defendant in the Lillie Belle Allen case. His sentencing is scheduled for May 28.
  • April 21, 2003: Stephen D. Freeland and Leon “Smickel” Wright are sentenced for their second-degree murder convictions in the death of York Police Officer Henry C. Schaad. Freeland, who had about 3½ years left on an eight-to-20-year drug sentence, receives nine to 19 years in state prison for his role in Schaad’s murder. Wright receives 4½ to 10 years in county prison.

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Read more

· Background information of the riots and their aftermath, including the grand jury investigation

· View the players in the Henry C. Schaad murder investigation