Magazine article Newsweek

A Mayor's Ugly Past: Did a Popular Politician Foment a 1969 Race Riot?

Magazine article Newsweek

A Mayor's Ugly Past: Did a Popular Politician Foment a 1969 Race Riot?

Article excerpt

Mayor Charlie Robertson of York, Pa., should have been a shoo-in this fall for a third term. For the past decade, York has cheerfully prospered under his leadership, and the town of rolling green hills and integrated neighborhoods is still undergoing a $100 million building boom. But York hasn't always been so placid, and nobody knows that better than Robertson. Last week, just as the mayor was celebrating a tight Democratic primary victory, police put him in handcuffs. Prosecutors charged Robertson, a town cop in 1969, with murder for allegedly supplying white gang members with bullets, urging one to "kill as many n----rs as you can," and fomenting a race riot. "It sickens me to my stomach," Robertson said of the charges in an interview with NEWSWEEK. Sitting in his oak-paneled office, with the Ten Commandments and a picture of his adopted Cambodian son hanging behind him, the bachelor mayor insisted: "I'm not going to resign; I am innocent."

The known facts of the case are these: For a week in July 1969, bullets rained and entire city blocks burned, sparked by the shooting of a black resident. Lillie Belle Allen, a preacher's daughter, rode with her parents and sister through the turf of the Newberry Street Boys, a white gang. "It's n----rs, and they have guns," a kid yelled, according to grand-jury testimony. Rifle-toting teens charged the Cadillac, causing Allen's sister to swerve and stall the car on railroad tracks. …

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