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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From the Executive Director

Places can change you. Ordinarily, I write about Pennsylvania history here. But I recently returned from a trip to Montgomery, Alabama, and I came home a different person. Montgomery was not on my radar as a destination. Having little time to prepare for my trip (and consequently few expectations) left me wide open to surprise and to change. The city is home to two of our nation’s most...
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Charles Carroll Public School

By the late 1960s the Philadelphia public school system was faced with a crisis. The urban population, after years of growth and expansion to the city’s outskirts and beyond, was now in decline. At the same time racial tensions became prevalent as the urban population became more integrated. Many Philadelphia public schools, especially those found in integrating or depressed neighborhoods, had...
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Three Generations on the Underground Railroad: The Gibbons Family of Lancaster County

Shortly after sunset, a fugitive slave from Maryland tapped on a window of a modest farmhouse near Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. Daniel and Hannah Gibbons walked swiftly to the door. The Quaker couple escorted the young man to the barn to sleep and in the morning summoned him back to the house. If the fugitive’s owner was in close pursuit, they would send him to another farm. If there seemed to be...
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Editor’s Letter

August 18, 2020, will mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote. In issues of Pennsylvania Heritage leading to this significant anniversary, we will be featuring articles on the early 20th-century movement that led to suffrage as it played out in Pennsylvania, as well as the stories of women’s achievements in the Keystone...
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