Mildred and Russell Chapman, ‘Black History Profiles,’ Part I
Crispus Attucks Community Center’s Mildred Chapman told girls that they should care about the way they looked. ‘You can be poor,’ she said, ‘but you don’t have to look bad, or smell bad.’ She and her husband, Russell W., (see photo below) were among the top leaders in York’s black community in the middle of the 20th century. Background posts: Thackston Park area connects to York’s past and Civil rights heroes stand out at Bradley exhibit.
Everyone in York’s black community – heck, everyone in York – knew Mildred and Russell W. Chapman… .
It is said that W. Russell Chapman would not turn away families from his funeral home if they couldn’t afford to bury loved ones.
Mildred Chapman ran Crispus Attucks’ program for girls.
Russell Chapman was a funeral director, and the first black York City Schools director.
They were the in-laws of the county official everyone knew – Mattie Chapman.
The Chapmans are part of a large group of black people from York County who have achieved on the local and national stages. The York Daily Record/Sunday News has developed the profiles and published them in the newspaper and in Newspaper in Education publications for distribution to York County schools.
(If you’d like a copy, e-mail me your address and I’ll mail it out.)
Our profile on the Chapmans follows:
Sometime in the 1930s, W. Russell Chapman came to York for a funeral with a friend. But the viewing took place in a garage.
He realized that York needed a funeral home for black people. He decided to make that happen. In 1941, he and his wife, Mildred, moved to York from Uniontown, Pa., and opened the first black funeral home. In 1967, he was appointed to the York City School Board, becoming the first black person to join the board. He was elected to the post in 1969.
Chapman cast the deciding school board vote to make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a school holiday.
His wife, a pharmacist, was unable to find work in York, likely because she was black. But that didn’t stop her from becoming a major contributor to the lives of the black women and girls who lived here. In addition to helping her husband with the administrative end of the funeral business, she was the supervisor of the women’s and girls’ program at Crispus Attucks.
The couple had two children. William Russell Chapman Jr.’s wife was former prothonotary Mattie Chapman, York County’s first elected black official.
Mary Brabham, caretaker for Chapman Jr., and York City resident Alice Bowers, who was a member of the Crispus Attucks Community Center Women and Girls Program, which Mildred Chapman directed, share their memories of this couple who helped bury and change the lives of many members of the black community.
What are they best known for?
Mildred Chapman is best known for her work as the head of the women’s program at Crispus Attucks, Brabham said.
“Mr. Chapman is best known for his work with the school board and the NAACP,” she said.
What makes them heroes?
“They would always put other people before themselves. Encourage others to get an education. Both of them were big on that,” Brabham said.
How did they impact their profession?
“Anything that was good for people, she ( Mildred Chapman) was behind it,” Bowers said. “She was always pushing people to achieve as much as they could achieve.”
“Mr. Chapman wouldn’t turn people away,” she said, even if they didn’t have the money to bury their loved ones. “He taught people how to help others in spite of money,” she said.
How did the couple affect the York County community?
“To my knowledge, they buried the majority of the black people, because there was no black mortician,” Brabham said.
What should York countians know about them?
“They opened up one of the first black-owned businesses in York, which was the mortuary,” Bowers said.
What is something few people realize about them?
“A lot of people didn’t know she ( Mildred Chapman) was a pharmacist,” Brabham said. “The reason why she didn’t (work as one) was because she couldn’t be one. No one would hire her.”
What is the best piece of advice they gave?
Chapman would say: “Great things come to those who work hard,” Brabham said.
Mildred Chapman, who would take the girls in the Crispus Attucks program on trips to nearby cities and towns to make them aware of how others’ lived, always looked her best. “She said, ‘You can be poor, but you don’t have to look bad, or smell bad. Have dignity in the way you look,'” Bowers said.
In celebration of the accomplishments of black people in history, the Daily Record is profiling 25 of a host of people connected to York County who have made a difference locally, statewide or nationally. Some of these profiles were featured in a series of public service announcements on black history by WGAL-TV (Ch. 8) in February. More black history will come to York May 2-4 at the 25th Annual Pennsylvania African American History Conference.
W. Russell and Mildred Chapman
Occupation : W. Russell Chapman was a funeral director and the first black member of the York City School Board. Mildred Chapman was director of the women and girls program at the Crispus Attucks Community Center.
Born : W. Russell Chapman was born in 1898. Mildred Chapman was born in 1904.
Birthplace : W. Russell Chapman was born in Uniontown, Fayette County, and Mildred Chapman was born in Oklahoma.
Children : Two sons.
Died: W. Russell Chapman died January 1971. Mildred Chapman died January 1987.
Education : W. Russell Chapman graduated from Howard with a bachelor’s degree and from Cornell University with a master’s degree. He went onto Colan’s College of Embalming School in Chicago and the University of Wisconsin. Mildred Chapman graduated from Howard University with a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry.
For a wealth of information on black history in York County, see: http://www.ydr.com/blackhistory.