'I'm determined': Man fights for plaques at memorial to York City race riot victims
Bob Mann has been placing flowers at the site of a memorial to honor the two victims of York City's 1969 race riots for almost two years.
For the Dover Township resident — who was witness to the murder of one of the victims — it's personal.
"It's just important to me," Mann said. "I saw (Lille Belle Allen) get killed. So it's very important to me that I take care of this project — and I'm not going to stop."
Just about every day, Mann stops by the benches dedicated to Allen and York City Police Officer Henry Schaad. He began placing flowers at the site just after the 50th anniversary of the riots.
Mann's efforts are more than just placing brightly colored petunias and roses at the bases of each granite bench, located at the corner of Newberry and Park streets in York City's Farquhar Park.
It's also about the fight to get two permanent plaques installed that provide passersby with the context of the memorial.
In December 2019, Mann took it upon himself to print his own temporary markers that now sit at the memorial site. The benches were installed in 2005.
Temporary plastic markers on either side detail how Allen and Schaad died in 1969. Mann said he used old newspaper articles to make sure the information he posted about the benches was accurate.
"Nobody knows what they're here for," Mann said. "They do now, because I put these markers here."
According to a Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission report, systemic discrimination in everything from housing to medical care to recreational opportunities led to the riots in York City.
The violence in July 1969 claimed the lives of Allen, a Black woman from South Carolina visiting family in York, and Schaad, a white York City Police officer. Dozens more were injured, and houses and businesses were destroyed.
Mann grew up on Gay Street and was witness to Allen's murder. He said that in the days after her death, hundreds of civilians lined the streets toting guns.
"It's part of York's history," Mann said. "Granted, it's a bad part of the history — but people need to know about it."
Two years after Mann first installed his own markers at the memorial site, he is still after the York City Council to install a permanent version.
York City Council President Henry Nixon did not return inquiries for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
"I'm either going to go six feet under, or I'm going to finish this," Mann said. "This is my project — I'm determined to get this done."
— Reach Tina Locurto at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.