'It has to be told': Crispus Attucks York unveils plans for museum

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Bobby Simpson's vision for the future Crispus Attucks York museum is more than just a place to hang pictures on the walls.

In Simpson's words, it's going to be a classroom and a lecture hall — a space for open dialogue and conversation for years to come.

"The next generation of leaders won't say 'Who was Crispus Attucks?' They'll be able to go to the museum and actually see the things that are going to happen," said Simpson, the CEO of Crispus Attucks York. "I don't think there's going to be anything like this."

The almost 20,000-square-foot, three-story building is planned for the nonprofit's campus at 605 S. Duke St. in York City. Officials are working with architecture firm Murphy & Dittenhafer on the design, and the project is estimated to cost between $8 million and $10 million.

This sketch plan illustrates the future Crispus Attucks York museum. The almost 20,000 square foot, three-floor space is planned at the Crispus Attucks York campus in York City. Submitted by Murphy & Dittenhafer.

The organization — celebrating its 90th anniversary this year — will utilize the space to document the history of Crispus Attucks York, the local Black community and its relationship with York City.

"We have a long history with the city of York — both good and bad," Simpson said. "This history can no longer be in people's shoeboxes or basements or hidden somewhere. It has to be kept and it has to be told."

Bobby Simpson, the CEO of Crispus Attucks York, poses in front of the York City site on Wednesday, April 14. Tina Locurto photo.

According to a Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission report, systemic discrimination in everything from housing to medical care to recreational opportunities led to the 1969 riots in York City.

The violence claimed the lives of Lillie Belle Allen, a Black woman visiting family in York, and Henry Schaad, a white city police officer, injured dozens more and left houses and businesses destroyed.

Simpson said he hopes the Crispus Attucks museum will be a place where individuals can come and talk about race — emphasizing truth and honesty. 

This sketch plan illustrates the future Crispus Attucks York museum. The almost 20,000 square foot, three-floor space is planned at the Crispus Attucks York campus in York City. Submitted by Murphy & Dittenhafer.

"The thing that would satisfy me is that we're preserving history," he said. "We think the support in our community is going to make this happen."

Crispus Attucks York — named for the African American man believed to be the first person killed in the Revolutionary War — was founded in 1931 to meet the social and educational needs of Black people, according to the organization. Its campus includes an active living center for elderly adults, an early learning center for children and a charter school.

The organization also provides housing for low-income York residents, employment training and an after-school and summer program for children and teenagers. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.