York Town Square

Part of the USAToday Network

York, Pa.’s Ray Crenshaw about Helen Reeves Thackston: ‘All the children of York were hers’

Ray Crenshaw leaves the booth after he voted at Jackson Elementary School in York, Pa., on in November 2001. (See additional York, Pa., Daily Record/Sunday News photograph below.) He recently provided insight about his adopted home of York in a York County Heritage Trust interview. Also of interest: Helen Reeves Thackston’s name lives on in York, Pa. and Civil rights heroes stand out at exhibit and Roy Borom served as York’s first black city councilman

Community leader Ray Crenshaw remembers arriving in York in the mid-1950s looking for a place to stay.
Many hotels were closed to him and other people of color in those days.
He ended up boarding at Helen Reeves Thackston’s 525 Cleveland Avenue residence.
There, he found a surrogate mother, who was back in his home state of Texas.
He told an audience at the York County Heritage Trust’s “Voices Remembered” evening that, in fact, “All the children of York were hers.” …

She had no children of her own, but she connected with countless others as early learning center at Crispus Attucks Community Center and a Girl Scout and Sunday School volunteer.
Crenshaw acknowledged that but for Mrs. Thackston, he could have gone the other way. The way he went brought the businessman seats on the York City School Board, York City Council and a candidacy for mayor of York.
She even expected Crenshaw, then in his 20s and a Korean War veteran, to be back at Cleveland Avenue by midnight.
“I had to get everything done before 12 p.m.,” he said, with a chuckle.
His stories about Mrs. Thackston were among those he told in a question-and-answer format with community leader Vernon Bracey in this Black History month event that, among other things, explored black cemeteries in York County.
Here is a sampling of other anecdotes:
— Crenshaw and four girls attended York Collegiate Institute, later York Junior College, the first blacks to attend the East College Avenue school that later became York College of Pennsylvania.
Racial tension was apparent at first, he said.
“Things went pretty well when we got acclimated to each other,” he said.
— Wilbur Spells, Amos Palmer and Tom Chatman were pioneering black members of the York City Police department.
Crenshaw joined Spells working to stem rioting in York in the summers of 1968 and 1969.
He rode with Spells for two days and two nights in one of those summers, traveling throughout the city talking to agitated black youths.
Officer Spells was a positive force in those tense times.
“He was there to do a job. He did it. That was it,” he said.
— Crenshaw remembered the days of overt racism, when there were places in York that you couldn’t go.
Racism, often less overt, exists in York today.
“Sometimes you take it in stride,” he said.
But he spent a share of his time in the wide-ranging interview discussing Mrs. Thackston and the difference she made in his life.
It was the love of a mother for a son, and vice versa.
“She’d call me son,” he said. “I’d call her mom.”
And both meant it.

Mary Preston pins a corsage on Ray Crenshaw’s jacket Sunday at Union Lutheran Church before the start of ‘A Black History Tribute’ in 2006. The Order of the Eastern Star honored Crenshaw and Voni B. Grimes for their work in the community.
Also of interest:
This blog’s black history posts from the start.
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 black history, you get this.