Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The WPA His­tory of the Negro in Pittsburgh

Edited by Lawrence A. Glasco
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004 (cloth, 422 pages, $39.95)

The story of Pitts­burgh’s African Americans is deeply in­tertwined with that of other ethnic groups, yet in many ways it is unique. Before the Civil War, Pittsburgh’s rivers and proximity to the Mason­-Dixon Line made it a critical junction on the Underground Railroad and offered runaway slaves an important measure of freedom. Following the war, Pittsburgh offered increasing op­portunities for white wage laborers, but not until World War I cut off the supply of European labor did the city’s mills and factories open to black workers. The promise of employment touched off a massive black migration from the South in search of economic opportunities and a better life. The discrimination that African Americans continued to face in Pittsburgh, as else­where in the country, made their history a turbulent struggle for equality. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project provided work to thousands of unem­ployed researchers, writers, and editors of all races. The monumental American Guide Series featured books on states, cities, rivers, and ethnic groups, opening an unprecedented view into the lives of the American people. University of Pittsburgh English professor J. Ernest Wright (1894-1958) was selected to compile and edit ‘The Negro in Pittsburgh.” He as­sembled an impressive, racially mixed team of writers and other professionals – newspaper editors, teachers, social work­ers, and preachers – but when a hostile Congress abruptly terminated funding for the program in 1939, the nearly com­pleted project languished, largely forgotten, in the depths of the State Library of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Now, nearly seventy years later, and never before published, The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh combines the original texts with an insightful introduction and explanatory notes by historian Laurence A. Glasco, coauthor of Legacy in Bricks and Mortar: African American Landmarks in Allegheny County. The essays in this pioneering history of African Americans in Pittsburgh were written before World War II and the economic recovery that followed the Great Depression; before the civil rights movement of the 1960s and desegregation; before the destruc­tion of a black cultural locus in the city’s lower Hill District. The book not only tells the history of African Americans in Pittsburgh from the colonial era through the 1930s, but also ex­quisitely captures the perspective of the period in which it was created.

 

To the Latest Posterity: Pennsylvania-German Family Registers in the Fraktur Tradition

By Corinne and Russell Earnest
The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004 (153 pages, cloth, $45.00)

The family register holds a significant place in American visual culture. Used to record marriages and offspring through several generations, the fam­ily register also incorporates hand-illuminated art. To the Latest Posterity: Pennsylvania: German Family Registers in the Fraktur Tradition is the first major study to explore the vibrant world of these works and their place in American social, religious, and cultural traditions. The book traces the evolution of decorative family registers from their roots in medieval European illumi­nated manuscripts to the distinctively American forms that spread throughout the culture of the Pennsylvania Germans. Persecuted Mennonites had a special association with such fraktur, as they used the ornamented documents to claim roots in their new homeland. Such records came to represent the sep­aration from life in the Old World and the creation of family roots in the New World. Other Pennsylvania German groups picked up the practice from the Mennonites, and the tradition spread, particularly among communities that felt threatened by efforts to Americanize them. To the Latest Posterity is filled with examples of family registers from museum and private collection – many of them never before published, including early handmade work as well as printed registers filled in by hand in the nineteenth century. Bringing the art into the twentieth cen­tury and beyond, the book discusses its adoption by the Amish, who continue the practice of illuminated family record keeping today. To the Latest Posterity possesses broad appeal because it combines the interests of the art enthusiast, the calligrapher, the genealogist, and the historian. The book is part of the Pennsylvania German Society’s series of works on Pennsylvania German history and culture.

 

Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution

By Paul Douglas Newman
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004 (259 pages, cloth, $29.95)

In 1798, the federal government levied its first direct tax on American citizens, one that seemed to favor land speculators over farmers. In eastern Pennsylvania, the tax assessors were largely Quakers and Moravians who had abstained from participating in the Revolutionary War and were recruited by the administration of President John Adams to levy taxes against their patriot German Reformed and Lutheran neighbors. Led by local war hero John Fries, the farmers drew on the dynamics of crowd action and halted the assessment. Following the Shays’s Rebellion, an armed insurrection by debt-ridden farm­ers led by Daniel Shays in western Massachusetts against the state government in 1786-1787, and the Whiskey Rebellion, an uprising of farmers in western Pennsylvania in 1794 who chal­lenged the federal government’s tax on liquor, Fries’s Rebellion was the last in a trilogy of uprisings against federal authorities in the early republic. On contrast to the earlier instructions, the Fries rebels used nonviolent methods while simultaneously exercising their rights to petition Congress for the repeal of the tax law, as well as the Alien and Sedition Acts. They sought to manifest the principle of popular sovereignty and to expand the role of local people within the emerging national political system rather than attacking it from without. After some resisters were liberated from the custody of a federal marshal, the Adams administration used military force to suppress the insurrection.The resisters were charged with sedition and trea­son. Fries was sentenced to death, but President Adams pardoned him at the proverbial eleventh hour, a reprieve that fractured the president’s cabinet and splintered the party. Fries’s Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolu­tion, the first book-length treatment of this significant event, illustrates how the participants reengaged Revolutionary ideals to further democratize their country. To them, the American Revolution was much more than a War for Independence, the founding of a national republic, or the parchment documents that defined each. It was a political, economic, and social process of expanding popular sovereignty. The Revolution was a spirit to be constantly revived and a set of political principles to be frequently redefined – always in a democratic direction­ – to provide more local and personal control of daily life as well as increased power over broader collective policies. The Fries rebels believed they were upholding the Revolution’s promise and founding ideals, even when they engaged in their own dis­criminatory, majoritarian behavior against some of their neighbors.

 

Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia

By Roger W. Moss, with Photographs by Tom Crane
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004 (314 pages, cloth, $34.95).

Philadelphia is well known as a walkable city where a visi­tor encounters historic architecture at every turn – in fact, it is so richly endowed with buildings and structures dating to the seventeenth century. In addition to the clearly obvious national treasures, among them Independence Hall, the First Bank of the United States, and Carpenters’ Hall, there are thousands of eighteenth and nineteenth century residences that continue to shelter Philadelphians as they have for generations. Less well known are the hundreds of sacred places – Catholic and Protes­tant churches of the colonial and Victorian eras, Quaker meeting houses, and Jewish synagogues – that enrich virtually every neighborhood. Replete with symbolism and often archi­tecturally impressive, these hallowed edifices await discovery in the pages of Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia. The author has selected fifty of Philadelphia’s historic sacred places and conducts readers on a tour of each, calling attention to the ar­chitectural style and details that are recorded in exquisite color photographs. At each site the reader is provided with the basic information about the congregation that commissioned the building as well as the architects, artists, and artisans who cre­ated these masterpieces. Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia serves as a guidebook, complete with maps, addresses, tele­phone numbers, web sites, and a glossary of terms.

 

Citizen Extraordinaire: The Diplomatic Diaries of Vance Mc­Cormick in London and Paris, 1917-1919

Edited by Michael Barton, with Cherie Fieser, Susan Meehan, and Teresa Weisser
Stackpole Books, 2004 (400 pages, cloth, $39.95)

Subtitled With Other Documents from a High-Minded American Life, Citizen Extraordinaire: The Diplomatic Diaries of Vance Mc­Cormick in London and Paris, 1917-1919, offers an insider’s view of the rarified realm of international diplomacy and the individ­uals and events that shaped world history early in the twentieth century. Vance Criswell McCormick (1872-1946), scion of a prominent Harrisburg family, was born in Silver Spring Town­ship, Cumberland County, graduated in 1893 from Yale University (where he was an All-American quarterback and football team captain), and published The Patriot and The Evening News, influential Harrisburg newspapers. The year 1902 proved pivotal to the thirty-year-old McCormick: Harrisburgers elected him mayor and he purchased The Patriot, through which he kept residents abreast of advances in city government and municipal services. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Convention and was instrumental in reelecting Presi­dent Woodrow Wilson. During World War I, he served as chairman of the War Trade Board, concentrating on such mat­ters as the ongoing blockade, damage caused by German submarines, and trade relations with neutral countries. The mis­sion also included a trip to Paris and to the front, where McCormick toured the battlefield near Verdun. In 1919, the vic­tors of World War I gathered in Paris to negotiate peace and determine the fate of the world. And Vance McCormick was there. At the Paris Peace Conference, he advised President Wil­son and, in a more official capacity, sat on the committee on reparations, perhaps the most contentious issue the victors con­fronted. McCormick’s service thrust him into an arena with the leading lights of the day, among them Bernard Baruch, Ameri­can financier and a presidential advisor for forty years, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, future United States presi­dent Herbert Hoover, and Raymond Poincare, president of France, among others. Still others, such as McCormick’s young assistant John Foster Dulles, would shine in the decades ahead. Both the House Mission on 1917 and the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 are chronicled in McCormick’s meticulously detailed di­aries. His writings offer provocative information and insightful perspectives on the personalities, people, and diplomacy that shaped the world’s vision of peace in the early twentieth cen­tury. They also offer a fascinating peek into the behind-the-scenes galaxy of dinners, parties, dances, and social events – even tennis matches – that formed the backdrop of the negotiations. Ta.ken as a whole, the diaries deepen understand­ing of a bygone era of international relations. Citizen Extraordinaire: The Diplomatic Diaries of Vance McCormick in Lon­don and Paris, 1917-1919, With Other Documents from a High-Minded American Life, includes documents that highlight the diplomat’s other achievements, photographs of him at home and abroad, and illustrations of programs and invitations he re­ceived while serving as an architect of world peace.