Local Politics - Woven With Words
Until the last few decades of the twentieth century, there were few African Americans involved in or running for Berks County political offices. In the early part of the century, involvement was largely limited to roles that supported political parties. Yet this limited participation was not due to barriers to voting, such as was common in the South. Rather, the relatively small African American population, coupled with the reality that many whites simply wouldn’t vote for a person of color, led to few African Americans running for office.
Sam Holsey was a strong poll worker for the Republican Party between 1900 and 1930, and his wife, Nellie, was the president of the Reading Council of Republican Women and a member of the Berks County Council of Republican Women. James Battle, Sr. served as a poll worker for the Democrats in the same era. Justin Carter ran in the primary for District Attorney in 1930, and no other African American ran for office until the 1950s, when William Miller vied for the Reading School Board.
As the African American population grew in Reading in the 1960s, African American voters began to organize, and it appeared as if, for the first time, African Americans would become a significant force in city politics. However, nature intervened, and 1972’s Hurricane Agnes changed the demographic of the African American community: many people moved away after their homes were destroyed, taking with them the potential of a unified political community.
In the 1970s, certain members of the African American community emerged in area politics. In 1971, activist and civic leader Pattee J. Miller ran unsuccessfully for City Council. In that same year, well-known jazz musician Frankie O. Scott was appointed to the Reading School Board, and the following year, civil engineer Harold L. Jackson (father of former Reading High superstar basketball player Stu Jackson) was elected to the Board, the first minority elected to citywide office (“Making a Difference” 2002). Pierre V. Cooper was later voted onto the School Board.
In 1992, the Rev. Frank McCracken was appointed to the City Council and was elected to the post the following year. City Patrolman Bill Hall won the Democratic nomination for district justice in the northwest sector of Reading. In the next decade, Vaughn Spencer became the second African American member and the first African American president of the City Council. In the May 20, 2003, primary, Bishop Robert Brookins, Evelyn Morrison, and Vaughn Spencer were mayoral candidates in Reading; Karen McCree and Yvonne Stroman were candidates for the Reading School Board; and Johnathan Beckett and Eugene Green were candidates for Reading’s City Council.