York Town Square

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The story of former slave William C. Goodridge of York, Pa., would play well in Hollywood. Starring Poitier?

This cover of John Vincent Jezierski’s “Enterprising Images” shows Wallace L. Goodridge, front left, and William O. Goodridge, front right, sons of William C. Goodridge and pioneering American photographers. The book is available at York County libraries, yorklibraries.org. Also of interest: Freed slaves living north of Mason-Dixon Line often faced return to bondage and Research needed to unearth Underground Railroad in York County – Part I and Research needed to unearth Underground Railroad in York County, Part II
I told my editor, Opinion Page Editor Scott Fisher, that my York Sunday News column (7/31/11) was up, ready to be read.
It covered what Glenalvin Goodridge, son of well-known 19th-century former slave William C. Goodridge, faced at Eastern State Penitentiary after his incarceration on a dubious rape conviction in 1863.
In the large sense, it was a story of a politically divided town coming together to rescue a native son in the middle of a war.
Scott commented that the Goodridge story would make a great Hollywood movie script.
I’ve written about the Goodridge family numerous times but never took a step back to see the big picture, as Scott suggested.
Hollywood producers take note.
Here’s the rough outline of Goodridge’s life: …

Goodridge was born a slave on a Maryland farm in the early 1800s. Some say the C. in his name stands for Carroll, as in the prominent Maryland family.
He came to Pennsylvania and worked his way to freedom, finally getting his own business – actually numerous businesses including an emporium covering several retail enterprises. It was an amazing accomplishment for a black man to keep his businesses running in a predominantly white town for four decades in the 1800s.
At one one point in the late 1840s, his building on York’s Centre Square was the tallest in York at five stories. Another businessman would not let that stand, building a six-story structure with the reported vow that no black man should own the highest building in town.
As in many long-running businesses, he ran into a tough financial stretch – right before the Civil War. But he kept out a shingle until after the Civil War, when he departed for Minneapolis.
One of his businesses was a rail line, that he reportedly used to secret fugitive slaves to freedom east of the Susquehanna River. His East Philadelphia Street home is certified as a member of the Underground Railroad network.
His three sons became involved in the photography business in the early days of that art. One of them, Glenalvin, also a teacher in the black school in York, was convicted of rape for an incident that allegedly occurred in the York photo studio.
He was sentenced to serve five years in Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. His father, William, successfully rallied bipartisan forces in York to appeal to Gov. Andrew G. Curtin for a pardon. That was no little accomplishment in the middle of a divisive Civil War and points to the respect the community held for Goodridge and his family.
William accompanied a freed Glenalvin, then suffering from tuberculosis, north to Minneapolis. As part of Glenalvin’s pardon deal, he was asked to leave the state.
Meanwhile, his other two sons settled in East Saginaw, Mich., where they have been recognized as pioneering American photographers.
To fill in some blanks in this script, see my column: Life in the Eastern State Penitentiary for Glenalvin Goodridge.
Now, who would play Goodridge, when Hollywood picks up this story?
How about Sidney Poitier? See his picture here and Goodridge’s likeness here.
If not Poitier, Morgan Freeman?.
(Sorry I did not tell the Goodridge story well. I’m on vacation in Ocean City, N.J., battling a bad wireless connection. But you get the idea of this great story, and hopefully Hollywood will, too.)

Charles Bressler’s letter to Gov. Andrew Curtin helped spring Glenalvin Goodridge from detention at Eastern State Penitentiary, where he was incarcerated after a trumped-up rape conviction. The letter asserted that Goodridge had two marks against him: He was a Democrat and black.
Also of interest:
A short test of your York black history knowledge.
What York County, Pa.’s Glenalvin Goodridge faced in the Eastern State pen before his pardon .
All York Town Square posts from the start. Then use “find” function on browser to search for keywords.
– Of course, you can always search for York Town Square posts on Google. For example, when you search for yorktownsquare and William C. Goodridge, you get this.
*Photos courtesy of York Daily Record/Sunday News