This Day in History… “Group Gathers for Meeting on Negro Plight”

Group of local students at a meeting to discuss the Black Community. (ironically, of the dozens of faces none appear to represent the black community). Scranton Times, 20 Sept 1968.

On this day in history, FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 20th 1968, in the thick of  the national civil rights era, Scranton was in its own debate over race.  The Scranton Times article opens:  Scranton was described as a “lovely, religious, church going bigot city”

51 years ago today at Scranton Technical High School (present day Northeast Intermediate School). The City’s Race Relation Commission sponsored the event.  Over 600 area college students packed the auditorium to advocate for fair housing legislation and include courses in Black history and culture in the Scranton’s school system.  Program speakers, organizers, local students, and residents were offended that the Mayor James J. Walsh and directors of Scranton School Board failed to show up at a public forum called to discuss the plight of the “Negro population.”

The then Superintend of Scranton School District Joseph L. Pollock said he spent a “lifetime working for equality of the minorities.” According to the article Mr. Pollock was very pleased to see so many collegians passionate about helping minority groups “achieve equality,” to a predominately white crowd.  As part of his plan for the district, he hoped infuse courses on African American history into the curriculum.  He also had aspirations to deploy courses “on the story of other minority groups, such as Indians, Orientals, Puerto Ricans.”

Angelo Craig, commission chairman and local civil rights leader was not surprised by the lack of involvement from city officials.  “Personally…I knew they wouldn’t come, but in a way, I’m glad that they didn’t because this gives you a good picture of the Establishment in this area.”  Mr. Craig also addressed the packed auditorium of supporters on this day. “We don’t want any handouts,” he affirmed. “All we want is an opportunity.” An opportunity we have yet to witness.

The meeting attracted collegians from Marywood University, Misericordia, King’s College, Wilkes-Barre and Keystone College. Of the approximately 600 hundred people in attendance rallying in support of fair housing and black studies initiatives for the Scranton School District, accounts from the day observed no more than ten people of color in the high school auditorium.  

When they say a “picture is worth a thousand words,” The headlining photo in the Scranton Time from this day in history is uncontested truth that as Black Scrantonians we can’t even rally in support and justice for our own community.  This photo says it all.  There is not even one person of color in this in this image.  It’s unsettling and embarrassing.  What has changed 51 years later? Not much, those course were never integrated into the Scranton School District curriculum.  Today, our students of color are still underperforming academically.  Five decades later and African American history has still not been added to district social studies curriculum.  Despite spikes in demographics there is still severe disparities in the distribution of educational resources. Worst yet, the Scranton School District is in far worst condition than it was in 1968. “If you don’t tell them the world will never know.” – Carter

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