Centre Avenue YMCA

Pittsburgh’s African American Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) originated in 1893 as a men’s Bible class at Old Bethel AME Church, which then formed a social and recreational club for young men and boys. This group was not officially recognized as a YMCA affiliate group until 1906, at which point they rented meeting space at 1847 Centre Avenue in the Hill District and became the third...
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From the Executive Director

Civil rights, voting rights and race relations. These are all topics of conversation today, as they have been for more than a century and a half across the United States, including here in Pennsylvania. But without a shared knowledge about the history of these topics, it becomes harder to have meaningful and productive conversations. This summer we are opening a new exhibit at The State Museum...
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Lincoln University

Pennsylvania has the distinction of hosting the nation’s first two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs): Cheyney and Lincoln universities. Both schools were established to provide people of African descent with higher education opportunities that were profoundly lacking in the 19th century. Cheyney, founded in 1837, initially provided training in trades and agriculture and the...
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A Portrait of Black Philadelphia in the 1930s

In 1938 William Strong and a companion named Egan spent months crisscrossing Philadelphia. Their mission was to photograph the city’s Black community, its culture, and its history. In February, they snapped students socializing in the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School’s cafeteria and energetic children playing instruments at the Wharton Centre settlement house. That April, they...
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Trailheads

After a long year of closure due to COVID-19, Pennsylvania Trails of History sites reopened to the public late this spring. Most sites operated on reduced schedules to allow staff extra time for cleaning and to help everyone get back into a routine. Visitors seemed eager to return, and they adapted to online reservations, timed tickets and mask requirements. By late June, the Wolf administration...
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Dox Thrash and the “Poetry of the Artist’s Own People”

A son of sharecroppers, Dox Thrash was born in 1893 and raised in a cabin outside the town of Griffin in rural Georgia. The second of four children, he was raised primarily, perhaps solely, by his beloved mother, Ophelia. Throughout her adult life, Ophelia Thrash worked six to seven days a week as a housekeeper and cook for a white family named Taylor while providing materially and spiritually...
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A Gathering at the Crossroads: Memorializing African American Trailblazers and a Lost Neighborhood in Harrisburg

Twice during the second half of 2020, people gathered at Harrisburg’s Capitol Park to witness the dedication of A Gathering at the Crossroads, a monument commemorating four statewide civil rights crusaders and the African American residents of a now-vanished neighborhood in Harrisburg who contributed to the commonwealth’s entrenched legacy of freedom. The monument, sculpted by Becky Ault,...
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“Without Fear and Without Reproach”: Octavius V. Catto and the Early Civil Rights Movement in Pennsylvania

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, the City of Philadelphia unveiled a monument to Octavius V. Catto in a ceremony at the southwestern apron of City Hall. Catto was a cornerstone figure in Philadelphia’s early civil rights struggle — a recruiter of an African American militia during the Civil War, an instrumental figure in the victory to desegregate Philadelphia’s horse-drawn streetcars, a...
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Editor’s Letter

The features in this edition focus on Pennsylvanians who strived for a more equitable, pluralistic America. The articles cover a period from the mid-19th century into the early 20th, a time when movements for civil rights were emerging and new barriers were being broken in several social and cultural realms. The story of Octavius V. Catto reflects a key moment in the history of the struggle for...
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Barbara Gittings, Activist for LGBTQ Equality

Barbara Gittings was one of the leading activists for LGBTQ equality, from the early years of the gay rights movement in the late 1950s until her death in 2007. Born in Austria in 1932 and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, she grew up feeling disconnected from her peers in a time when homosexuality was taboo in American society. She attended college in Chicago where she was called a lesbian. When...
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