“Black history begins in slavery,” said Dr. Leroy Hopkins, a speaker at Franklin & Marshall College’s Oct. 5 Common Hour, a community discussion open to the public and held every Thursday classes are in session.
Hopkins, emeritus German language professor at Millersville University and president of the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, is committed to learning about black history in Lancaster.
He told the audience he considers his early education that taught “the idea that slavery was a southern phenomenon” a fallacy.
In 1820, Africans lived in Lancaster City's four quadrants. By 1950, most African Americans lived in the southeast quadrant, according to Hopkins.
Hopkins’ talk was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Antonio Callari, F&M's Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Professor of Economics. Joining Hopkins was Betty Hurdle, a veteran member of the African-American community in Lancaster, a retired housing and community advocate, and a member of the 7th Ward. Kevin Ressler, executive director of Lancaster Meals on Wheels and a mayoral candidate in last May’s Democratic primary, rounded out the panel.
Callari asked the panelists how the spirit of community changed among African Americans following the eradication of Lancaster's old 7th Ward neighborhood, which began in 1957 and resulted in 14 blocks being demolished.
Hurdle said the area had flourished as a community. “There were different minorities gathered together, and they were supportive of each other,” she said.
Now the community is scattered. “It’s a diaspora,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins and Hurdle are at work on a "7th Ward Oral History Project" in which current and former residents can share their stories from 1930 to 1980, and hopefully build connections to the past.