About pioneer W. Russell Chapman: ‘He was the swing vote … but he couldn’t be swayed’
W. Russell Chapman was appointed to the York City School Board in 1967, the first black person to fill a seat on that board. Background posts: Thackston Park area connects to York’s past and Civil rights heroes stand out at Bradley exhibit and York’s West Princess Street in 1950s: ‘I knew there was something special about that area’ .
Last night, I told a story about York City School Board member W. Russell Chapman’s vote on a crucial issue – at a meeting moved to his home so he could make the vote – four days before his death in 1971.
Someone made the point at the memory-filled evening, “Reflections of Greatness,
a Journey Through West Princess Street,” that the story shows that you can make a difference no matter now old you are, even on your deathbed.
Enjoy the story, based on newspaper accounts, about Russell Chapman, one of the community’s leaders in the middle part of the 20th century. See what lessons you can draw from it:
York City School Board member W. Russell
Chapman was homebound, battling
cancer in January 1971.
His vote was needed as the school
board was mulling a controversial busing plan
to achieve racial balance in city schools.
The school board pondered how to include
Chapman, sick in bed at his 135 S. Queen
St. home, which doubled as his business, a
Previously, Chapman had provided the
swing vote in making Martin Luther King Jr.’s
birthday a holiday in city schools.
His position on busing was expected to be
the deciding vote as well.
“He was the swing vote in several issues,
but he couldn’t be swayed,” school board
president Ralph F. Runkle would later say.
He made up his own mind, Runkle said,
after listening to all sides.
Chapman, a Cornell-trained chemist and
operator of the mortuary in York that served
the black community, was appointed to the
school board in 1967 to replace H. DeForest
Hardinge. Two years later, he gained election
as a Democrat, the top vote getter.
He thus became both the first appointed
and elected black school board member, a pioneering member of York’s black
community in gaining public office. Blacks slowly gained key public and private posi´
tions in the next 40 years, culminating in the
election of Kim Bracey, York’s first black
Chapman is among the 18 York residents
spotlighted on the mural “Civil Rights Heroes
— Barrier Breakers.” Their achievements on
the civil rights front ranged from the early
years of the 20th century until today.
They are current and former residents,
some living and some who have passed on,
who fought the good fight for civil rights, de´
ploying a variety of styles and approaches.
They are people like Maurice Peters, who
jumped in the Boys Club Pool to protest the
city’s ban of blacks there in the late 1940s.
And David M. Orr Sr., who paid for a
Springettsbury Township home with cash
after the white owner refused to sell to a
And the aged Ettie Lambert, who led the
singing as protesters marched on York City
Hall in the 1960s.
Stephanie Seaton, of the York City Human
Relations Commission, explained the mural
and the heroes who grace its canvases before
a gathering at the York County Heritage Trust
The city school board included W. Russell
Chapman by moving its meeting on
busing to his home.
There the board deliberated, as members of the
public looked on.
Chapman monitored discussions from a
chair at the top of the stairs.
When it came time for action on busing,
Chapman spoke up: “I’m voting for it.”
It was the deciding vote.
Four days later, Chapman died of a heart
attack at York Hospital.
His death came on Martin Luther King Jr.’s
birthday. A holiday in York City schools.