There was a man who lived in South Bethlehem. He was a guidance counselor at Freedom High School. He cared deeply about the youth in our city.
One summer in our city, things were really bad. Kids were feeling angry about their circumstances. Bob tried to help as much as he could by not only being present to their voices, but to fight for their rights within city leadership.
On August 8th, something really sad happened. This event led to a number of incidents in which young people were expressing anger and frustration. It took only a few months for things to build into a huge blow up at a bar in which more than 20 kids and Bob were arrested.
I heard the last part of this story at Bob’s memorial service in 2010. Since then I’ve been sneaking trips to the campus library microfilm to learn more about the incident. I started reading The Bethlehem Globe-Times newspaper issue to issue to look for clues as to why the community would be so angry.
While I was piecing the story together I learned so much more about Bethlehem and Lehigh’s relationship to it in that year. It was 1970-1971; the year just before women were admitted to undergraduate study on campus. It was the year that most of the new buildings on the north side of Packer Avenue were dedicated. These new buildings came at the expense of homes taken by eminent domain. The Mohler Lab was a originally a synagogue that had a devastating fire that year. Fraternity housing was still in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. Not many were built on the mountain yet. Lots of parties. Lots of trouble.
Oh yeah – and the country was at war in Vietnam.
Investigating the “Ale House Ruckus” became a conversation piece when I would make my way into the community. I learned so much from folks; their stories and their attitudes on so many topics were rich with perspectives and insight. In 2012, I showed some of the articles to the [then] Chief of Bethlehem Police. That led to conversations with retired police officers and digging through archives of city council minutes.
This investigation also brought me to understand more about community policing than I would ever have before the Ferguson riots and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.
There is an opportunity for me to focus on gathering all the pieces I’ve collected over the past five years and put it into a solid story. I’ll be writing a proposal for support from the Mellon Digital Humanities Initiative. I hope that I’ll be able to find a couple of students to take this journey of discovery with me and to learn more about a community by listening to how it remembers its past.
Maybe I’ll finally finish this weird little hobby.