The Meaning of Old Bethel

One problem with the construction, or reconstruction, of black history is the scarcity of original manuscripts, particularly those from the black church which traditionally has been a center of black activity. Because few records remain, misconceptions about the lives and attitudes of blacks have often led to a distortion of their history. The reason that few records exist, however, is not...
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The Restoration of Old Bethel: An Example for the Future

Introduction To a world in a state of con­stant change, today’s goals and cherished values may well be­come tomorrow’s prohibitions. The original idea of restoration – getting people to return to an undervalued old part of town – was understood only in positive terms, until gradually, it be­came apparent that some people at least were moving out or being moved out as a...
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Religious Freedom: Key to Diversity

“There can be no reason to persecute any man in this world about anything that belongs to the next.” – William Penn   To describe Pennsylvania’s re­ligious diversity is to present the history of its religious develop­ment. Although many other states be­came religiously heterogeneous during the nineteenth century, Pennsylvania was pluralistic even as a colony within...
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Doing Time in Dauphin County, 1842-1901

They locked up Elias Nation on April 18, 1842, giving him official first place in Dauphin County’s new prison. (For the record, Jacob Stripe was registered nearly two weeks earlier, for assault and battery, but he was out before the prison’s grand opening.) Nation was twenty­-nine years old and looked “yellow,” wrote Keeper Wil­liam Watson; he underlined that fact in his...
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How to Uncover Black Family History

Genealogy has replaced astrology as America’s favorite topic at social gatherings. Several factors are responsible in sparking the present upsurge in Black genealogy. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s encouraged a feeling of Black solidarity that had not existed before. Marches, demonstrations, and mass jailings brought together diverse elements of the Black community and made...
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Frankford, Philadelphia: A 19th-Century Urban Black Community

In the last two decades, American historians interested in Black history have focused increasingly on both the slave and free Black communities. These scholars have sought to explain how, in the face of white hostility and, at times because of it, Blacks have managed to create a viable setting for themselves and their children. By examining the web of social relationships and cultural traditions...
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The Emergence of Black Religion in Pennsylvania, 1776-1850

The emergence of Black churches at the beginning of the nineteenth century was crucial to the survival of Black people in Pennsylvania and in the North because it provided two key resources. First, it provided a sense of meaning and destiny grounded in hope. Secondly, the Black church provided the institutional base for the economic, social, and political struggle of Blacks, including the...
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A Black Underground: Resistance to Slavery, 1833-1860

The Underground Railroad is an important historical link with which most Pennsylvanians are familiar. Ever since William Still, the Black histo­rian, published his famous record of fugitive aid in 1872, however, many have questioned whether in reality the Underground Railroad existed. Some say that fugitive aid in Pennsylvania was rendered individually and spontaneously. Others say that an...
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Plagued! Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

On August 5, 1793, Dr. Benjamin Rush was summoned to the waterfront residence of fellow physician Hugh Hodge, whose daughter had recently taken ill. For days Rush had been treating Philadelphians for a serious outbreak of influenza and had assumed that this was yet another case. But when he found the small girl on her deathbed, gasping for breath and vomiting black bile, Rush instinctively knew...
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Some Questions for Examining Pennsylvania’s Black History

Civil rights activist Julian Bond was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in January 1940. When he was five years old, his father, Dr. Horace Mann Bond, was named the first Black president of Lincoln University, Chester County, the country’s oldest private African American college. Bond’s family lived on the campus of Lincoln University until 1957, when Dr. Bond was appointed dean of the...
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