“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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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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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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Executive Director’s Message

The Underground Railroad – the escape to freedom by slaves before the Civil War – remains one of the most compelling stories in American history. A unique blend of historical fact and colorful folklore contribute to an enduring message of hope, courage, and ingenuity in the face of persecution and adversity. Pennsylvania’s central role in the Underground Railroad is undeniable....
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Two Stationmasters on the Underground Railroad: A Tale of Black and White

As clerk of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society’s General Vigilance Committee, William Still (1821-1902) had grown accustomed to surprises. Not only did the young, free black abolitionist coordinate the Eastern Line of the Underground Railroad by finding shelter and escape routes to the North for fugitive slaves, but also he recorded their heart wrenching stories of inhumane treatment...
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Currents

Over the Line Beginning in the early nineteenth cen­tury, a clandestine movement known as the Underground Railroad helped African American slaves escape bondage in the South to freedom in the North. Adopting the vocabulary of the railroad, this secret passage to freedom consisted of a loosely organized network of abolitionists who lived in the southern border states and in the North and assisted...
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“In Immortal Splendor”: Wilkes-Barre’s Fugitive Slave Case of 1853

On Saturday morning, September 3, 1853, U.S. Federal Marshal George Wynkoop of Philadelphia and two deputies, John Jenkins and James Crossen, sat down to breakfast in the dining room of the Phoenix Hotel on River Street in the Luzerne County seat of Wilkes-Barre. At the far end of the room was a handsome, powerfully built mulatto named Bill (or, according to various newspaper accounts, known as...
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All’s Fair: Philadelphia and the Civil War Sanitary Fair


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African Americans and Civil Rights in Pennsylvania

Summer and swimming go hand in hand – or so thought the Creative Steps Day Care Camp. The camp’s leaders had signed a contract to use the pool at a private swim club, but when the children – 46 African Americans and ten Hispanics ranging from kindergarten through seventh grade – arrived for their summer swim, they were subjected to harsh criticism by some club members....
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