Profile is a series of brief biographies on noted Pennsylvanians.

The record of civil rights in Pennsylvania is checkered at best. Proponents realize that it requires much more than legislation to guarantee equality for all Pennsylvani­ans. More often than not, it takes courageous private cit­izens to stand up in the face of bigotry, discrimination, and oppression. One such individual was the Reverend Dr. LeRoy Patrick (1915-2006), of Pittsburgh.

Patrick died January 12, 2006, at the age of ninety, bequeath­ing a legacy of tolerance, understanding, and equal opportunity for all citizens – an inheritance recalling the principles of founder William Penn (1644-1718). While serving as a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, he made significant contri­butions to the Keystone State’s social, cultural, and political development during the second half of the twentieth century. Challenged by resistance from the white community and apa­thy among African Americans following decades of discrimination, Patrick was determined to foment change.

Pittsburgh has played a key role in the struggle for civil rights for two centuries. The city was an important link on the Underground Railroad to help former slaves. Sympathizers es­tablished a school for black children and the Avery Institute on the city’s North Side in 1867 for nonwhite students refused ad­mission to college on the basis of their color. The Civil War decided that America would not be a slave society, but it did not guarantee racial democracy. Equality had suffered a set­back in 1837 when Pennsylvania enacted a state constitutional amendment to strip blacks of their voting rights, which were not restored until 1870. In 1887, Pittsburgh voters elected their first African American city councilman, Lemuel G. Googins, and the state legislature passed bills granting non-discrimina­tory access to public facilities. While discrimination in the South had been codified, it was more informal in the North. For civil rights proponents like Patrick, such ambiguity left many obstacles in the movement toward equality. Pittsburgh’s African American residents seemed mired in apathy, partly the result an entrenched political machine that ignored the issue of racial discrimination.

LeRoy Patrick was well ahead of his time. Before he and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. became allies and friends, Patrick was already on the front line fighting racism. He exemplifies individuals across Pennsylvania and America who alone, without the support of orga­nized protest or thousands of supporters, courageously confronted inequality as a matter of personal principle. In 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” had no place in American education, Patrick was al­ready active in fighting for equality for all members of society. After arriving in Pittsburgh, he almost immediately pushed for mandatory kindergarten in public schools. As chairman of the education committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he often took on the Pittsburgh Board of Education.

Perhaps the issue that gained Patrick the greatest attention was his 1951 fight to integrate Pittsburgh’s public swimming pools, the subject of an exhibition in 2003 at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, “Testing the Waters: Integrating Pittsburgh’s Public Pools.” Laws had mandated that public pools be open to all, but minorities who dared to use them faced possible vio­lence. Seven months after Patrick arrived in Pittsburgh, his church youth group wanted to plan a recreational swim at Pittsburgh’s Highland Park pool.

“I was not yet intimidated by the Pittsburgh mores,” Patrick remembered, “so I said, ‘Why, of course, we are going to swim in the pool.”‘ Patrick recalled visiting the Civic Unity Council in the mayor’s office, where he said, “I want you to have as many policemen there as you think necessary to keep our heads from being bashed in.” Patrick had no organized politi­cal agenda. He was just one man with a personal conviction and unafraid to confront discrimination.

A dozen reluctant teenagers went to the pool, several en­couraged by Patrick taking them by the arm. The police surrounded the pool area, and when Patrick’s group entered the water, white swimmers climbed out and began taunting them. After more than a half hour, several of his youths, hav­ing had enough of the verbal assault, asked Patrick if they could leave. The stalwart minister insisted they stay longer. Only when he was completely satisfied that they had made a statement, he announced for all to hear that they were leaving the pool area to enjoy lunch at a nearby picnic grove.

Patrick did not receive the attention outside Pittsburgh that later civil rights protests attracted. He did not carry signs or at­tempt to provoke authorities. It was only after Patrick demonstrated the success at Highland Park that the Pittsburgh Urban League and the NAACP followed his example with “swim-ins” at other city pools, despite hostile verbal threats. During a swim-in at the Paulson Pool, Patrick remembered that adversaries had hurled so many stones at his young swimmers that the city needed to drain the pool to remove them. He remembered clearly the result of about twenty-five days of swim-ins. “I went in,” he recounted, “just to see how things were going …. The pool was filled with black and white kids together having a great time …. And from that day to this, the pool has been integrated.”

Patrick, born in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 17, 1915, the son of a lumber mill worker and a homemaker, moved with his family to Philadelphia, where he graduated from Central High School in 1933. He was the youngest of three brothers, but his oldest brother died of tuberculosis and, after moving to Philadelphia, his other brother, at age sixteen, died following a racially motivated beating. Authorities never investigated the crime, which profoundly affected Patrick’s choice of career and his relentless pursuit of racial equality.

He chose a career in the ministry, completing his bachelor of arts degree at Lincoln University, Chester County, in 1939, and then earned two master’s degrees from Union Theological Semi­nary in New York – in divinity in 1942, and in sacred theology four years later. Ordained in 1942 by the Presbyterian Church, he continued his religious studies at Union and other institutions, including Crozer Theo­logical Seminary in Upland, Chester County. In 1964, Lincoln University awarded Patrick an honorary doctor­ate degree.

After serving as a member of the adjunct faculty and as a lecturer at Lincoln University from 1943 to 1949 and as pastor of Thomas Presbyterian Church in Chester from 1949 to 1950, Patrick and his wife Norma Brandon Patrick moved to Pitts­burgh, where he held the pastorate of Bethesda Presbyterian Church in the city’s Homewood section from 1951 until 1985, and as pastor emeritus until his death.

He was active in the affairs of the church, serving on several key committees of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, part of the church’s governing body, most notably on committees con­cerned with education and interracial issues. He was named chairman of the board of Lincoln University; appointed by Governor Dick Thornburgh to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1980 and served until 2003; and cited for twenty-five years of service to the NAACP. He was highly respected for his work with the Urban League of Pittsburgh, the American Red Cross, the Allegheny Council on Civil Rights, and numerous social and humanitarian organizations.

His community activism drew national attention in 1953 when Time magazine selected Patrick as one of one hundred “leaders of tomorrow.” Throughout his life, he worked for the homeless and led protests against discrimination in employ­ment and housing. Police arrested him twice – once for conducting a religious service in front of a dilapidated prop­erty owned by a slumlord.

Even with more than fifty awards, plaques, certificates, and citations from King, Jesse Jackson, governors, resolutions from both houses of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, and countless awards from local, state, and national organizations, Patrick was never one to rest on his laurels. He remained dedi­cated to the ideals of a color-blind society and equal opportunity until the end of his life.