Cemetery group unearths York’s forgotten history

York Dispatch editorial board

Thumbs up for the Friends of Lebanon Cemetery and the incredible work they’re doing in uncovering lost chapters of York’s history — particularly its Black history.

Established in December 2020, the organization works to reclaim and preserve African American burial grounds, many of which have been neglected or ignored over the years.

That was certainly the case with Lebanon Cemetery in the North York. As CNN recently recounted, when York native and Special Olympics great Loretta Claiborne visited the cemetery in 2000 in search of the gravesite of her great-grandmother, she couldn’t find it. This was especially devastating, as her ancestor died under mysterious circumstances following the 1969 race riots and Claiborne hoped to bring attention to the case.

'Everyone here is family': Restoring York's first black cemetery

Some decades later, Friends of Lebanon Cemetery uncovered the marker. It is among some 800 headstones they have located in the cemetery, which is estimated to contain more than 3,700 graves.

Researching, identifying and documenting the people interred in these cemeteries is helping to restore important chapters in the story of York — and, in many ways, of the nation.

“For too long these burial grounds and the men and women interred there were forgotten or overlooked,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, co-sponsor of a bill that would provide funding for initiatives like those underway in the Lebanon Cemetery. “Saving these sites is not only about preserving Black History, but American history.”

Thumbs down for ongoing efforts to unseat York City Mayor Michael Helfrich over what is essentially a housekeeping technicality.

A dozen and a half residents, including several former city officials, have been battling in the courts all year to have the mayor turned out for the supposed crime of taking his oath of office three days after a required 14-day window following his reelection last fall.

That Helfrich was advised by the city solicitor that he could delay the formality until he returned from an out-of-state conference of mayors; that he had taken the oath four years previously upon winning his first term; that a local Common Pleas judge denied a petition to remove Helfrich; that the timing of the oath has absolutely no bearing on the job the mayor is doing — none of these facts appear to matter to his litigious critics.

The latest chapter in this yearlong folly sees the contingent taking their arguments to a statewide appellate court. Hopefully, it will meet the same fate as it did in Common Pleas court, where the judge correctly called the three-day delay “trifling.”

Thumbs up for the local nonprofit foundation Workforce NOW for recently holding its first high school job fair.

The fair connected some 150 area high school students with more than 20 local businesses, all of which employ workers in skilled trades fields. These types of careers, which include areas such as carpentry, construction and automotive repair, pay well but do not require four-year college degrees.

“There’s a lot of businesses that will do on-the-job training, paid training, apprenticeship programs,” Melissa Longenberger, York Builders Association vice president of member relations, told the Dispatch. And trade schools cost far less in time and tuition than liberal arts institutions.

The foundation, which launched five years ago, focuses on building the local skilled-trades workforce by making sure high school graduates and young adults are aware of the wide array of opportunities in the construction trades. Workforce NOW says there are nearly 400,000 skilled-trade job openings nationwide this year — and as Longenberger points out, many of them will be here to stay.

“Trade careers aren’t going away,” she said. “It’s not something a computer program can do. You have to have people to go in and fix your plumbing and your heaters and replace your heaters.”

And Workforce NOW can help them get started.