Northern home for families from the South

Voni B. Grimes boyhood home

228 Susquehanna Ave., York

The situation

When McKinley and Mittie Grimes boarded the train in Bamberg, S.C., in the 1920s, they were ready to follow the rails that had transported scores of their townspeople and kinsmen to the North. Many headed to a small city just north of the Mason-Dixon Line – York, Pa. The family lived in several York neighborhoods, including a small house without indoor plumbing on an alley, 228 Susquehanna Ave.

It’s unknown if they knew their neighborhood had been redlined. That practice was a product of the Depression-era alphabet-soup federal agencies whose policies essentially made residents or owners of property less likely to gain refinancing and more likely to default on loans. Government assessors had noted that the Grimes’ neighborhood was made up of “laborers, mechanics, negroes.” And if the Grimes family had sought to move to certain neighborhoods in York and its suburbs, restrictions in deeds and homeowner association agreements prohibited the sale to Blacks.

Voni B. and Lorrayne Grimes were honored at a 2014 event.

The witness

One of the Grimeses’ sons, Voni B. Grimes, would walk a short distance on Susquehanna Avenue with his Black and white friends to the main crossing street, East College Avenue. His white friends would walk across the street to Noell School, and Voni B. Grimes would walk with his Black friends five blocks to the segregated Smallwood School. Despite these humble beginnings or maybe because of them, Grimes, assisted greatly by his wife Lorrayne, became one of the most respected leaders in York County years later. He spent his life setting goals to break through barriers. Blessed with a special set of skills and an engaging personality described as “relentlessly cheerful,” he became a successful York businessman and college administrator.

The questions

  • Today, segregation is illegal. Yet, we still see housing lines based on race. This de facto separation is a result of the governmental policies stemming from the New Deal created in the Great Depression. What responsibility does the government have to correct these injustices?
  • Voni B. Grimes saw racial segregation as wrong, but something he could change. He was empowered to act, altering York forever with his leadership. How can we empower Yorkers today to feel like they can make a difference as Grimes did?

Links and sources: “Bridging Troubled Waters,” autobiography of Voni B. Grimes.  Redlining York: How policies fostered segregation; Map: U.S. government. YDR photo.


— By JAMIE KINSLEY and JIM McCLURE

The site of one of Voni B. Grimes childhood homes, 228 Susquehanna Ave., in York. Many of the black families in York, who like the Grimeses came here from the South, lived in alleys. The home here was demolished in the past 10 years.

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