Fifty years ago York, Pennsylvania, was a sleepy Little town of around 50,000 persons with nothing much to say for itself except for a thriving air conditioning manufacturer, some pretty conspicuous members of the Ku Klux Klan and a hard hitting progressive newspaper, “The York Gazette and Daily.” Before the Civil War in the United States between the slave states in the south and the burgeoning middle class in the north the city was a bustling agricultural center, led by mostly Teutonic church goers, including many Pennsylvania Dutch.
York is located just some 18 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line that divided north and south during the Civil War in the United States; at the time there were not a few sympathizers with the southern cause. As in other parts of the country, during the world wars there was a significant entrance into York of blacks from the south. But they were not very well received—Trumpet player Gene Krupas’s band was arrested when he tried to eat at a burger stand near the Valencia Ballroom and a black soldier back from the war was refused a bed at the Salvation Army facilities.
The town’s black ghetto was concentrated a block away from city hall. And the general atmosphere was, to say the least, conservative, with churches on almost every other block and for decades schools avoided the subject of human evolution. It was in this context that “The York Gazette and Daily” began to move things in the 1960’s with an openly friendly attitude towards race equality and lively discussions concerning problems related to poverty, exclusion and the struggle for peace and economic equality, under the guidance of J.W. Gitt—a well-to-do financer whose viewpoints on many issues marked him as a trouble maker in York.
In one of his columns he asserted: “…those who insist upon transacting the people’s business behind closed doors are going to be needled by us into remembering that after all they are public servants and it is their duty to conduct themselves as such…”
Many of the Gazette reporters were hired because they were fired from other newspapers for their ideals.
Even way back in the 1960’s when contamination and pollution were not important issues the newspaper discussed the problem.
However, times change. Gitt died and the newspaper disappeared. With it one of the few voices of those who believe that the press has a duty to reveal cases of injustice, abuse and corruption also vanished. Today few commercial newspapers in the country are free of influence from government, the Pentagon or big business. One of the Gazette’s most promising reporters was Robert Maynard, who later became the first negro to purchase a mass circulation newspaper—the Oakland Tribune.