The national spotlight was cast on the small town of York, PA during the 2008 presidential campaign when National Public Radio made it the centerpiece of a seven-part series on race and politics titled "The York Project: Race & the '08 Vote."
The series highlighted the city's diversity even amid a history of strained race relations. It sparked some very powerful conversations among citizens that many say have helped heal some of the wounds of racial division.
As a state, Pennsylvania leans Democratic, and York is no different. In 2009, York elected its first African-American and second female mayor, Kim Bracey. Bracey was re-elected in 2013.
African Americans make up a little more than 40 percent of the population in York – a major jump from the 25 percent reported in the 2000 Census. In fact, six percent of the African-American population have recently moved from another county of state.
Several factors account for this migration, not the least of which are the economic opportunities the city affords. The city's unemployment rate of 4.7 percent is significantly lower than the national average rate of 6 percent, and over the next decade, future job growth is projected to be more than 37 percent. York is home to dozens of manufacturing and distribution facilities, including Appleby Systems and Graham Packaging, but there are also a number of high-tech companies moving in – for example, Ritter Software, a custom software development company.
The William Goodridge House – now a National Historic Landmark – stands as a symbol of African-American prosperity in York. Born a slave in Baltimore, Goodridge received his freedom in 1822 and moved to Pennsylvania, where he learned to be a barber. He opened his own barbershop in York and quickly earned a name for himself with his Oil of Celsus treatment for baldness, which he sold to other barbers across the state.
Today, Black business owners and future entrepreneurs have a number of resources at their disposal, including the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ, and DE, which supports the economic empowerment of African Americans throughout the tri-state region.
Upward mobility in York is also aided by access to higher education opportunities. The city is home to York College of Pennsylvania; YTI Career Institute, which offers hands-on skills training in areas such as health care, business and culinary arts; and Penn State York, which accepts 83 percent of applicants, and has an active Black Student Union on campus.
Another factor impacting York's popularity among African-Americans is its close proximity to Baltimore, MD and the Washington, DC area, offering African-American families quick access to Black arts, culture, and history opportunies these two cities provide.
However, families can also find plenty of cultural activities and entertainment right in York. The Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center hosts many nationally acclaimed black artists, and each Mother’s Day, the town hosts the Olde York Street Fair in Continental Square downtown featuring live music, arts and crafts.