Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

Once again, the Pennsylva­nia Historical and Museum Commission will sponsor a conference on the Common­wealth’s Black history and heritage. The conference will take place on Friday and Sat­urday, May 5-6 [1989], in Altoona, and will feature papers and special events concerning the Black presence in the central region of Pennsylvania. High­lights of this year’s conference include the keynote address by C. DeLores Tucker, former Pennsylvania Secretary of State, and the dedication of a state historical marker honor­ing Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a pioneer in heart surgery.

The conference represents an ongoing effort by the Com­mission for more than a dec­ade to call special attention to the unique role of Black citi­zens ill the Commonwealth’s history. Since 1978, a volunteer advisory board has served the Commission to identify key issues in collecting, research­ing, writing and preserving Pennsylvania’s Black history. Former Pennsylvania Speaker of the House K. Leroy Irvis helped establish the advisory board, whose members have included speakers and teach­ers from throughout the Com­monwealth.

While the annual confer­ence is the most visible activity of the Commission and the advisory board to recognize Black history, other significant activities take place through­out the year. The board, which meets twice a year in addition to its special meeting during the conference, considers ways to shape the study and appre­ciation of Black history throughout the state. The responsibilities of the board include the review of historical markers related to Black his­tory, the development of spe­cial projects for student interns and the design of thematic research projects. The most recent idea to emerge from the advisory board is a proposal to conduct an inventory of the country’s manuscript collec­tions that contain material related to the Black presence in Pennsylvania. Such an inven­tory would be a tremendous asset to scholars and students, eventually resulting in a pub­lished guide. The Commission will take the first steps to initi­ate the inventory this summer.

In the meantime, a guide to the Commission’s own archi­val collection related to the state’s Black history remains an excellent source on the subject. This brief booklet, written by David McBride in 1979, clearly documents the roles that Blacks have played since the earliest colonial set­tlement of Pennsylvania. Man­uscript collections related to slavery, abolitionism, military service, special conditions and cultural and political achieve­ments offer rich possibilities for scholarship.

One particularly valuable collection of the State Archives includes the records of the Works Progress Administra­tion (W.P.A.), a New Deal program of the 1930s. The authors of these papers – most of them local journalists and social workers – chronicled the history of Blacks in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia from the earliest settlements through 1940. Each entry covers a vari­ety of topics and features con­temporary narratives obtained by interviews. Coincidentally, one of the first projects taken up by the Commission follow­ing the creation of the Black history program in 1978, was the collection of oral histories in communities across the state. In 1983, the Commission also published an edition of essays on Pennsylvania’s black history.

Although our effort to collect and preserve Black history is a somewhat recent development, we will maintain a strong commitment to in­creasing the public awareness of, and interest in, this signifi­cant subject.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director