York Town Square

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Jazz Vespers in York, Pa., honored Martin Luther King Jr.

Lewis Miller’s father was a schoolmaster at York’s Christ Lutheran Church school, so Miller was familiar with Sunday happenings at the church. He shows a black man kneeling on the stairway, left center, in this 1800 scene. Some York blacks went to the churches with their master, and others met in homes before black congregations more formally came together to worship after 1811. Other black history posts of interest: of interest: Old York County Boy Scout camp still teaching lessons and U.S. Colored Troops Civil War soldier John Aquilla Wilson died at age 101 in York County and Prigg v. Pennsylvania early U.S. Supreme Court case with York County ties

Nineteenth-century York County artist Lewis Miller drew a famous scene of a worship service in York’s Christ Lutheran Church.
The focal point of that drawing was the pastor preaching from a raised pulpit.
Directly opposite him in the rear of the church, a single black man in a white congregation did not have a seat, but still worships by kneeling in a stairway leading to the church’s balcony… .

If Lewis Miller had observed a worship service more than two hundred years later on a cold Saturday night in January, he would have painted a far different scene.
The sanctuary at York’s First Presbyterian Church was filled with a diverse audience for a service in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That Jan. 8 service, a Jazz Vespers, came in connection with the holiday honoring Dr. King to be celebrated on Monday.
The presenters that evening were diverse. The service featured an opening welcome and closing benediction by First Presbyterian Church’s pastor John E. Morgan. Bible Tabernacle’s pastor Carl E. Scott led in two prayers, including a prayer of re-commitment to justice in which audience members of all colors prayed in unison and then stood to sing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
Jeff Stabley led a band which included white and black percussionists, trumpet players and saxophonists.
The crowd responded warmly to dueling, high-altitude jazz solos by saxophonists with national reputations Tim Warfield and Chris Bacas performing John Coltrane’s “Equinox.”
The scene was hardly the first time that people of different colors have worshiped together in York.
Indeed, before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in January and Black History Month in February, Jan. 1 was observed as a time to consider the accomplishments of blacks and their strides toward freedom.
In 1913, for example, blacks and whites also came out in the winter cold to fill the East King Street A.M.E. Zion Church on the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Robert H. Terrell, America’s first federal judge, spoke and a young black choir sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” with such patriotic emotion, according to one historian, “that there was hardly a dry eye in the audience.”
The recent event was the 13th annual Jazz Vespers at First Presbyterian.
But this Jazz Vespers produced another moment with meaning.
Kim Bracey, the first black mayor of York, was seated in the front of church.
If Lewis Miller had painted this scene, he would have captured a black person in a position of honor, instead of in the back of the church, as he did on that Sunday in 1800.
That contemporary scene would have documented progress in understanding and relationship among people of various colors, worthy of the ideals embodied in the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Also of interest:
All black history posts from the start.
– The Jazz Vespers is part of First Pres’s Abendmusik series. For a previous post, visit: York, Pa., accepted what Washington, D.C., rejected.
All York Town Square posts from the start. (Key word search by using “find” on browser.) Also, search topic via Google. For example, if you want to find posts about Christ Lutheran, google: Yorktownsquare and Christ Lutheran.
*Miller drawing courtesy York County Heritage Trust. Some parts of this text were taken from my “Almost Forgotten.”