Nelson Polite Jr. stands next to a panel display about his family at "The Road to Freedom Takes Many Paths" exhibit at the Ware Center in Lancaster on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (Image: Kyle Gamble)
Nelson Polite Jr. stands next to a panel display about his family at "The Road to Freedom Takes Many Paths" exhibit at the Ware Center in Lancaster on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. (Image: Kyle Gamble)

Nelson Polite Jr. has devoted his life to upholding and building on the legacy his father and grandfather left behind.

Polite Jr. is president of the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania and a board member of Lancaster History.

One United Lancaster recently sat down with him at the Ware Center, which is hosting a Black History Month exhibit, "The Road to Freedom Takes Many Paths. It features a collection of photographs, illustrations and maps depicting Lancaster County's rich African American heritage.

The Polite family has been an integral part of Lancaster's Black community and social justice advocacy.

Abraham Lincoln Polite, Nelson’s grandfather, was a social activist, musician, and a political and religious leader. The Polites' address was listed in "The Green Book," a directory for African Americans in the 1940s that outlined safe places to eat, sleep and shop while traveling in segregated America. Polite and his wife would welcome travelers into their home on North Street.

Nelson Polite Sr., Nelson’s father, was a World War II veteran and civil rights advocate. He was president of Lancaster City Council, chair of the city Planning Commission and a member of community organizations including Crispus Attucks Community Center, United Way of Lancaster County, the local Boy Scouts and more.

In our interview, Polite Jr. explains what it was like to grow up as a black man in Lancaster city.

He talks about “fitting a description,” police brutality, symbolic versus systematic change as well as his family’s impact on the Lancaster community.

He concludes with this message for the younger black generation: “Appreciate not only what has been done but what will be done in the future, and look towards the future. Those who came before us were able to see this day and see a brighter day and we need to do the same. Self-love and the spirit of the creator is really what will propel us forward.”

(Source: Millersville University)

Exhibit: The Road to Freedom Takes Many Paths

Presented by the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, this exhibit of photographs, artwork and maps illustrates our area's African American heritage, with particular focus on the Underground Railroad.

This is the last weekend to see the exhibit at the Ware Center, 42 N. Prince St., Lancaster. Hours are as follows:

  • 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25
  • 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26
  • 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28

(The Ware is closed Sunday, Feb. 27.)

Other resources

To learn more about the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania, visit https://www.aahsscpa.org/

The society offers walking tours of downtown Lancaster's Underground Railroad and African American heritage sites. They are scheduled for the first Saturday of each month, May through November. Contact the organization for more information.

To learn more about Lancaster History, visit https://www.lancasterhistory.org/

Madeline Seiler