Marking Pennsylvania’s African American History

Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Charged with collecting, preserving, and interpreting more than three centuries of the Keystone State’s history and culture — as well as millions of years of its prehistory — the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has launched a number of widely acclaimed, innovative, and popular public history programs over the years. One of its most popular is the state historical marker program, a series of familiar blue and gold markers lining highways, punctuating community streets, and telling stories of people, places, and events in the Commonwealth’s history.

State historical markers recall for motorists and passersby what many call “hidden history,” the sites of buildings and structures long gone and the places where landmark incidents took place.

PHMC has dedicated more than 2,600 state historical markers citing fascinating chapters in the Commonwealth. Of these markers, a significant number are dedicated to African American history in Pennsylvania. It’s especially fitting that a select sampling of these markers is featured in this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage as PHMC has adopted “Black History in Pennsylvania: Communities in Common” as its annual theme for 2010.


Rev. Daniel Alexander Payne

239 North Washington Street, Gettysburg
(Gettysburg College campus) Adams County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.834966 LONGITUDE -77.233332

Born a free African American, the Reverend Daniel Alexander Payne (1811–1893) taught African Americans at Gettysburg College in 1837, while a student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, the oldest Lutheran seminary in the United States. A historian, Payne was elected bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1852. He was a founder and first president of Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest private historically Black university, located in Wilberforce, Ohio. In addition to his role as educator and college administrator, Payne was also an author and wrote Recollections of Seventy Years, a memoir, in 1888, and The History of the A.M.E. Church, the first history of the denomination, in 1891.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, he moved at the age of twenty-four to Philadelphia in 1835. He joined the AME Church in 1842, believing that a visible and independent Black church was a strong argument against slavery and racism. He worked to improve education for ministers, recommending a variety of classes so they could better lead their congregants. He also reformed church services, introducing trained choirs and instrumental music. In 1848, Bishop William Paul Quinn appointed him historian of the AME Church. Payne was the first African American to serve as a college president in the United States. He led the college until 1877. Dedicated March 10, 1991.


Avery College

610 Ohio Street, Pittsburgh Allegheny County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.453927 LONGITUDE -79.998666

Charles Avery (1784–1858), a Methodist lay preacher, philanthropist, and abolitionist, established Avery College in 1849 to provide a classical education for African Americans.

In 1812, Avery settled in Pittsburgh and established a wholesale drug business and later became involved in the cotton industry. While on buying trips through the South, he became acutely aware of the plight of slaves. He took up the abolitionist cause and began assisting slaves escaping to freedom in the North. He fought against the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and donated money to help establish Liberia, the West African nation developed by returned American slaves.

Avery College, originally known as the Allegheny Institute and Mission Church, was controversial because it offered education to male and female students and did not discriminate because of race. Although records are vague, it appears the college suspended operations in 1873, the year the nation suffered a devastating financial panic. Dedicated January 1, 1968.


Billy Eckstein (1914–1993)

5913 Bryant Avenue, Pittsburgh Allegheny County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.47584 LONGITUDE -79.91912

William Clarence “Billy” Eckstein (1914–1993) was an African American jazz balladeer and bandleader whose innovative style and nurturing of new talent helped revolutionize jazz in the 1940s. His smooth baritone and distinctive vibrato broke down barriers, first as a big band leader and then as the first romantic Black male vocalist in popular music.

Eckstein began singing at the age of seven and performed in a number of amateur talent shows. He joined Earl Hines’ Grand Terrace Orchestra in 1939, and in 1944 he formed his own big band, the Billy Eckstein Orchestra. His music attracted young musicians who reshaped jazz by the end of the decade, including Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, and Fats Navarro. Eckstein hit the charts often during the mid-1940s with “top ten” singles such as “A Cottage for Sale” and “Prisoner of Love.”

After touring with his band for several years, Eckstein went solo in 1947. His 1950 appearance at New York City’s Paramount Theatre drew a larger audience than Frank Sinatra had at the venue. He appeared on a number of television shows, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Nat King Cole Show,” “The Tonight Show,” and “Playboy After Dark.” Dedicated July 31, 1994.


August Wilson (1945–2005)

1727 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh Allegheny County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.445173 LONGITUDE -79.985535

August Wilson (1945–2005), cofounder with Robert Lee “Rob” Penny (1941–2003) in 1968 of Pittsburgh’s noted Black Horizon Theater, wrote a series of ten plays, the Pittsburgh Cycle, that has been hailed as a unique triumph in American literature. He also received Pulitzer Prizes for Drama for two of the plays.

Born Frederick August Kittel Jr. in Pittsburgh’s largely African American Hill District, he was the only Black student enrolled in Central Catholic High School in 1959, where he was driven away by threats and abuse. He attended Connelley Vocational High School but found his courses unchallenging. He dropped out of Gladstone High School in the tenth grade after a teacher accused him of plagiarism. He began working menial jobs at the age of sixteen, which allowed him to meet a number of people on whom he based several fictional characters.

His best known plays are Fences (1985), which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play, The Piano Lesson (1990), which garnered a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988). Dedicated May 30, 2007.


Bethel AME Church

119 North Tenth Street, Reading Berks County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.337324 LONGITUDE -75.91777

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Berks County’s oldest Black church building, was erected in 1837 by free African Americans and became an Underground Railroad station for escaped slaves seeking freedom. It is the only African American church in the country built exclusively with the private resources donated by members of its congregation, including Samuel Murray, George Dillen, Jacob Ross, and Isaac Parker. Murray, a free Black and shoemaker by trade, owned thirteen properties, which he used as collateral to finance the construction of the building. He became the first pastor.

The building was rebuilt in 1867 and remodeled in 1889. Its congregation, dating to 1822, moved to Windsor Street in the city in 1974. Dedicated May 11, 1996.


Logan House

Eleventh Avenue at Thirteenth Street, Altoona
Blair County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.515043 LONGITUDE -78.402117

Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin (1815–1894) hosted the Loyal War Governors’ Conference at Altoona’s Logan House, a grand hotel operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Held September 24–25, 1862, the participants “pledged their most loyal and cordial support” to President Lincoln. They also expressed their “heartfelt gratitude” for the Emancipation Proclamation and urged the president to create “a force of 100,000 reserve troops.” The conference buttressed Lincoln’s decision to free the slaves, solidify northern unity, and help boost the morale of the Union army.

Built in 1854, the Logan House was touted as “the Mansion in the Wilderness,” and was considered one of the finest hotels in the United States at the time. It boasted 106 rooms, gas lighting, and running water. Famous visitors over the years included Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William Howard Taft. Closed in 1927, the hotel was razed in 1931. It is now the site of Altoona’s Unites States Post Office. Dedicated April 1, 1947.


Ann Preston, MD (1813–1872)

225 State Road, West Grove Chester County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.81941 LONGITUDE -75.813872

In 1860, pioneer physician and educator Ann Preston (1813–1872) founded the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she later established one of the nation’s first training schools for nurses. A graduate of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, she became its dean in 1865, the first American woman to hold such an office. She was a Quaker devoted to women’s rights and an abolitionist involved with the Underground Railroad.

Preston was born in 1813 in West Grove to Margaret and Amos Preston, a Quaker preacher. Her parents were abolitionists and supporters of rights for women.

One of the leaders in the mid- nineteenth-century women’s movement to enter the male-dominated field of medicine, Preston’s dedication to the cause of women’s medical education was exemplary. During her tenure as both professor and dean of the Female Medical College, she emphasized the importance of qualified faculty members, expanded the curriculum, and promoted the extension of the school term. When she failed to obtain clinical instruction for her students at Philadelphia hospitals, she founded the Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Preston eventually succeeded in opening the doors of hospital clinics in the city to women. Dedicated March 22, 2008.


Lincoln University

State Route 3026, 2 miles northeast of Oxford
Chester County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.8106 LONGITUDE -75.9281

Lincoln University, one of two historically Black universities in Pennsylvania, was chartered as the Ashmun Institute on April 29, 1854. Founded by the Reverend John Miller Dickey and his wife Sarah Emlen Cresson Dickey to provide liberal higher education for students of African ancestry, it became Lincoln University in 1866 after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The Dickeys originally named the school in honor of Jehudi Ashmun, a social reformer and religious leader. In his book entitled Education for Freedom: A History of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, Horace Mann Bond (1904–1972), president of the university from 1945 to 1957, wrote, “This was the first institution anywhere in the world to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for youth of African descent.”

The college attracted highly talented students. Notable graduates included Nnamdi Azikiwe (1930), first president of Nigeria; Harry W. Bass (1888), first African American elected to the General Assembly of Pennsylvania; Joseph Winthrop Holley 1900), founder of Albany State University; Thurgood Marshall (1930), first African American Supreme Court Justice; Kwame Nkrumah (1939), first president of modern Ghana; and Herb J. Wesson Jr. (1999), speaker of the California state legislature. Dedicated January 25, 1967.


Daniel Kaufman

301 Front Street, Boiling Springs Cumberland County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.148301 LONGITUDE -77.127156

Daniel Kaufman (1818–1902) was an Underground Railroad agent in Boiling Springs, Cumberland County, from 1836 to 1847. He was sued by a Maryland slave owner, Mary Oliver, who charged him with assisting thirteen slaves. He was fined $4,000 in 1852 — the equivalent of $102,000 today — in a case that drew widespread attention. Kaufman had provided food, lodging, and transportation to fugitive slaves passing through the area, giving them shelter in his barn and densely wooded areas of his property.

After Kaufman was accused of violating fugitive slave laws, several witnesses claimed the plaintiff’s agents had offered them bribes to identify him as the guilty party. Kaufman lost his case in the local county court, but his guilty verdict, as well as a fine of $2,000, was reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the grounds that the case should have been tried in federal court. After two federal trials, he was convicted and ordered to pay $4,000 in damages. Abolitionist groups and a wealthy brother-in-law contributed to help pay the fine. Although the penalty did not ruin Kaufman financially, it did end his Underground Railroad activities. Dedicated May 25, 2002.


T. Morris Chester

Market Street near Third Street, Harrisburg
Dauphin County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.2607 LONGITUDE -76.8812

Journalist, educator, and attorney Thomas Morris Chester (1834–1892) was born in Harrisburg to Jane and George Chester. At the age of sixteen, he enrolled at Allegheny College in western Pennsylvania where he excelled and took an active role in politics. He returned to Harrisburg, an advocate of the colonization of Liberia, on Africa’s western coast, by African Americans. Chester immigrated to Liberia in 1853.

Chester returned to the United States in 1854 but returned to Liberia the following year, where he taught until 1861. He returned home again and recruited Black soldiers for service in the American Civil War, during which he was a noted war correspondent. He captained one of two companies of African Americans, organized by the Black community, when Confederate forces threatened the capital city in June 1863. He then sailed for England and lectured in support of the Union. On his return in 1864, he was hired by the Philadelphia Press as a war correspondent. After the war, he returned to England and in London in 1870 achieved his dream of practicing law.

The United States once again called him, and he settled in New Orleans, where he taught school, became involved in several business enterprises,and returned to the practice of law. Chester remained in New Orleans until illness brought him back to his native city, Harrisburg, where he died in 1892. Dedicated December 3, 1986.


The 54th Mass. Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops

Zion Union Cemetery, Bennette Avenue, Mercersburg
Franklin County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.82031 LONGITUDE -77.90564

In 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry was among the first combat units open to Black soldiers during the American Civil War. Troops from Pennsylvania made up more than 20 percent of the acclaimed unit. Mercersburg was second only to Philadelphia in mustering volunteers from the Commonwealth. The valor exhibited by the regiment dramatically improved regard for Black soldiers and helped spur recruiting. Of thirty-eight veterans who served with the United States Colored Troops, thirteen served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrews authorized the 54th Massachusetts in March 1863, after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The 54th spearheaded an assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863. The infantry suffered 272 casualties, the highest for the 54th in a single engagement during the war. The unit was highly acclaimed for its valor during the battle, which helped encourage additional enlistment and mobilization of African American troops, a development President Lincoln cited as helping to secure victory for the Union.

The regiment was disbanded after the Civil War, but its legacy endures. The 54th was most recently depicted in the Academy Award-winning 1989 motion picture, Glory. Dedicated November 7, 2009.


Frederick Douglass and John Brown

West Washington Street, Chambersburg
Franklin County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.934741 LONGITUDE -77.665178

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) and John Brown (1800–1859) met at an abandoned stone quarry near Chambersburg on August 19–21, 1859, and discussed Brown’s plan to raid the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown urged Douglass to join an armed demonstration against slavery, but he refused, warning Brown that the attack would fail. Douglass was correct. Brown was captured during the October 16, 1859, raid and with his surviving conspirators, he was executed on December 2.

Brown had written to Douglass, asking him to meet with him at Chambersburg, a stop on the Underground Railroad, where he stayed in a boarding house owned by Mary Ritner from June through mid-October 1859. Using the alias Isaac Smith, an iron mine developer, Brown and John H. Kagi met with Douglass and Shields Green. Dedicated August 21, 1994.


Elijah Heath (1796–1875)

64 South Pickering Street, Brookville Jefferson County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 41.155523 LONGITUDE -79.080877

An outspoken abolitionist and judge, Elijah Heath (1796–1875) and others rescued two fugitive slaves, Charles Brown and William Parker. A Brookville resident, Heath was sued by a Virginia slaveholder and fined for his actions. Undeterred, however, he continued his Underground Railroad activities.

Born in Warren County, New Jersey, Heath became, in 1820, one of the earliest settlers in Jefferson County and built the area’s first sawmill along the Mahoning Creek near Punxsutawney. His association with Brookville began in about 1829, when he was elected a county commissioner. In 1830, Governor George Wolf (1777–1840) appointed him an associate judge, a position he held until 1835 when he was admitted to the bar and began practicing law.

Heath was an avowed abolitionist actively involved with the Underground Railroad during a time when it was considered a serious offense to raise even a voice against slavery. In 1834, Brown and Parker were lodged in the Brookville jail for safekeeping by their owners. With the assistance of the jailor, Heath provided the pair with tools that enabled them to pick the lock and once again escape. His complicity was eventually discovered and the law suit filed. However, he avoided paying the fine of two thousand dollars by conveying his properties and business interest to others until he was able to negotiate a reduced settlement. Dedicated August 31, 2005.


Hickory Grove Cemetery

273 Miller Road, Waverly Lackawanna County Coordinates:
LATITUDE 41.52546 LONGITUDE -75.69275

One of the oldest known burial grounds associated with African Americans in northeastern Pennsylvania, Hickory Grove Cemetery was established in 1807 in Waverly (known at the time as Abington Center). The cemetery is the final resting place for many fugitives who fled to the area along the Underground Railroad in the mid-nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, seventy-five former slaves lived in Waverly, and this cemetery is evidence of the former African American community. Dedicated May 3, 2003.


The Christiana Riot

Lower Valley Road, Sadsbury Township Lancaster County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.93633 LONGITUDE -76.0122

The federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 strengthened the position of slave owners seeking to capture their runaway slaves. Pursuing four escaped slaves, Maryland farmer Edward Gorsuch arrived on September 11, 1851, at the Christiana home of William Parker, an African American who was providing refuge. Neighbors gathered, fighting erupted, and Gorsuch was killed. The incident did much to polarize the national debate over the issue of slavery.

The Christiana Riot is an extremely important episode in the struggle for equal rights by African Americans and the escalating tension between the North and the South. Passed by Congress, the Fugitive Slave Act gave slaveowners broad power to recapture runaway slaves and imposed heavy fines on citizens who assisted or protected them.

The federal government charged the participants in this conflict with treason, setting a significant legal precedent. With more than one hundred counts filed against thirty-eight individuals who took part in the incident, it was the most wide-ranging indictment for treason in United States history. Dedicated April 25, 1998.


Harriet A. Baker

410 Union Street, Allentown Lehigh County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.60102 LONGITUDE -75.464436

Born free in Havre de Grace, Maryland, Harriet Ann Cole (1829– 1913) married William Baker, a fugitive slave, in 1845. She moved to Columbia, Lancaster County, had twelve children, and was ordained an AME preacher and evangelist. She preached at revivals and camp meetings in St. Clair and Pottsville, Schuylkill County, and moved to Allentown, Lehigh County, where she established the Bethel Mission, or the Gospel Union Mission, at 738 North Penn Street. Baker preached in Allentown until her death.

In 1914, her mission became the first home of St. James AME Zion Church, built in 1936. Dedicated May 4, 1990.


Bowman Field

1700 West Fourth Street, Williamsport Lycoming County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 41.2417 LONGITUDE -77.0471

Bowman Field, built in 1926, was long noted as Pennsylvania’s oldest operating minor league baseball park and the second oldest in the United States. The first professional game played in Bowman Field, on April 27, 1926, pitted the Williamsport Grays against the Negro League’s Harrisburg Giants. Over the years, the park became home to successive Williamsport teams and hosted many major league teams for exhibition games. Originally named Memorial Field, it was renamed, in 1929, to honor J. Walton Bowman (1864–1931) a prominent businessman and community booster. Dedicated July 29, 2000.


Freedom Road Cemetery

Township Route 456, Loyalsock Township
Lycoming County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 41.2622 LONGITUDE -77.0102

Daniel Hughes (1804–1880) was a prosperous lumber raftsman and agent on the Underground Railroad in Loyalsock Township, Lycoming County.He owned a barge and transported lumber from Williamsport to Havre de Grace, Maryland, on the Susquehanna River. On his return trip up the river, he hid fugitive slaves in the hold of his barge and provided them with shelter on his property.

Identified by the census of 1850 as a mulatto, he married Ann Rotch, a free African American. The couple took great care in hiding slaves because many neighbors and local residents did not approve of Underground Railroad activities.

Hughes gave part of his land for a cemetery, and among those buried in the Freedom Road Cemetery are nine known African American veterans of the Civil War. Hughes is buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery, according to his wishes. Originally called Nigger Hollow, the area was renamed Freedom Road in 1936 in response to concerned African Americans who disliked the pejorative term. Dedicated May 15, 1993.


Freedom Road

U.S. Route 62, southwest of Sandy Lake, Mercer County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 41.33535 LONGITUDE -80.09734

In search of freedom, African Americans escaping from the South via the Underground Railroad settled near here beginning about 1825. After passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed owners to reclaim them, most fugitives departed for Canada. Their cemetery — which is all that remains of Liberia, a fugitive slave settlement established by the African American Travis family — is located across the road from the main gate of the historic Stoneboro Fairgrounds.

Although most of the slaves fled north, several remained, including an entrepreneur who sold cigars and whiskey to his neighbors, and “Auntie Strange,” a runaway who escaped twice. After she was captured the first time, she was beaten and her left hand cut off. However, her second escape was successful. Dedicated August 23, 1948.


Camp William Penn

7322 Sycamore Avenue, LaMott Montgomery County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.066401 LONGITUDE -75.142348

Camp William Penn was the Keystone State’s only training camp for Black soldiers—and the largest of the nation’s eighteen — during the American Civil War. Comprising more than ten thousand men, eleven regiments of the United States Colored troops were trained at the camp, including the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 22nd, 24th, 25th, 32nd, 41st, 43rd, 45th, and the 127th. Recruits first arrived at Camp William Penn on June 26, 1863. The property was leased to the federal government by the family of Lucretia Mott, an ardent women’s rights advocate and abolitionist. The camp was originally to be named in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, but when final plans were approved, it was named for Pennsylvania’s founder.

Local antagonists closely watched the activities at Camp William Penn. Many worried that Black recruits might defy government authority. When Frederick Douglass arrived on the grounds to speak with Black recruits, he observed some disturbing incidents. He noted African American soldiers — many of whom bore the scars of slavery — were being punished for various military infractions. “You are a spectacle for men and angels,” he addressed the troops. “You are in a manner to answer the question: Can the Black man be a soldier? That we can now make soldiers of these men there can be no doubt.” Dedicated May 15, 1999.


First Protest Against Slavery

5109 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia Philadelphia County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.030325 LONGITUDE -75.165426

In 1688, at the home of Tunes Kunders, a cloth dyer who arrived in Pennsylvania with an emigration of Quakers from what is now Germany, an eloquent protest against slavery was written. Kunders, the first to sign the document, was joined in protest by fellow Quakers Gerrit Henricks, Derick op den Graeff, and Abraham op den Graeff. Their leader, and the document’s probable author, was Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1720), a prodigious writer fluent in several languages. Pastorius was immortalized in 1872 by poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) in “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim.”

Pastorius and his fellow Germantown compatriots were appalled at the incongruity of Christianity and slavery. Even though their protest did not change the fate of African Americans in general, it did set the standard for German religious communities. None of them ever owned slaves and the secular religious communities lived up to the Germantown declaration. Dedicated September 8, 1990.


Octavius V. Catto

812 South Street
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.942499 LONGITUDE -75.155872

Octavius V. Catto (1839–1871), was an educator, intellectual, Union army officer, civil rights activist, and political organizer. He was also known in nineteenth-century Philadelphia for his athletic prowess as a cricket and baseball player.

Catto began his education at Vaux Primary School and continued at Lombard Grammar School, segregated institutions in Philadelphia. He entered the all-white Allentown Academy in Allentown, New Jersey, in 1853 and the following year enrolled in Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth.

The American Civil War increased Catto’s activism for abolition and equal rights. He joined Frederick Douglas and Black leaders to recruit African Americans to fight for the Union. He helped raise eleven regiments of the United States Colored Troops in the Philadelphia area. Catto was commissioned a major but did not fight. He was elected corresponding secretary of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League in November 1864 and served as vice president of the State Convention of Colored People held in Harrisburg the following February. He also fought for the desegregation of Philadelphia’s trolley cars.

On Election Day, October 10, 1871, Catto was teaching in Philadelphia. Fights broke out between the city’s white and African American voters. Black voters, mostly Republicans, were intimidated by white voters, particularly individuals of Irish descent. On his way to cast his ballot, Catto was harassed by white detractors. He was accosted at the intersection of Ninth and South streets by Frank Kelly, who shot him three times. Catto died of his wounds, but Kelly was not convicted of assault or murder because the inquest was unable to determine if Catto had pulled his own gun. Dedication date unknown.


Pennsylvania Hall

Sixth and Haines streets, Philadelphia Philadelphia County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.954259 LONGITUDE -75.149656

Built in 1838 by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society as a meeting place for abolitionists, Pennsylvania Hall was described as “one of the most commodious and splendid buildings in the city.” To finance its construction, a company was organized, and two thousand individuals purchased shares at twenty dollars each, raising $40,000. Others donated labor and materials.

Just one day after the building’s dedication, critics began entreating city residents to “interfere, forcibly if they must, and prevent the violation of these pledges (the preservation of the Constitution of the United States), heretofore held sacred,” On the evening of the third day, prominent social reformer William Lloyd Garrison (1805– 1879) introduced abolitionist and colleague Maria W. Chapman (1806–1885) to an audience of three thousand abolitionists. A mob outside Pennsylvania Hall grew violent and began smashing windows. Despite the chaos, Angelina Grimke Weld (1805-1879), an abolitionist and suffragist, persuaded the audience to stay. Despite orders by Mayor Isaac Roach (1786-1848) to restrict the following day’s meetings to white women, the Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women met again, in full. Concerned about the women’s safety, the building managers turned over the building keys to the the mayor, who promptly locked the doors and announced that all further meetings had been cancelled.

Roach’s announcement infuriated the mob, which broke into the building and began setting fires. City police were either unwilling or unable to restore order. By 9 p.m., Pennsylvania Hall was engulfed in flames. Firefighters sprayed water on surrounding buildings and structures but did little to save the hall. The city’s official report blamed the fire on the abolitionists, contending they had upset citizens by encouraging “race mixing” and inciting violence. Dedication date unknown.


Jonathan Jasper Wright (1840–1885)

Route 29 (Cemetery Street), Tunkhannock, Springville Township
Susquehanna County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 41.69523 LONGITUDE -75.91872

The son of runaway slaves, African American jurist, educator, and politician Jonathan Jasper Wright (1840–1885) was the first Black lawyer in Pennsylvania. He supported Frederick Douglass in advocating suffrage and legal equality for Blacks. During Reconstruction in 1870, he was appointed South Carolina Supreme Court Justice, the first Black United States Appellate Judge.

Born in Luzerne County, he moved with his family to Susquehanna County when he was six years old. After working on nearby farms, he attended the Lancasterian Seminary in Ithaca, New York, and returned home and read law for two years. He eventually applied for admission to the bar, but prejudice against African Americans allowed the committee to refuse to examine him.

In April 1865, the American Missionary Society sent Wright to Beaufort, South Carolina, where he taught and worked among the freed slaves. After the civil rights act passed, he returned to Susquehanna County and demanded an examination. The committee found him acceptable and he was admitted to practice on August 13, 1865. The following year, he was appointed legal adviser to the freedmen in Beaufort, and in July 1868 was elected to the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina. On February 1, 1870, he was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court, a position he held for seven years, until he opened a private practice in Charleston. Dedicated September 13, 2001.


Willie Thrower (1930–2002)

703 Stevenson Boulevard,
New Kensington, Westmoreland County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 40.563293 LONGITUDE -79.755131

The first African American to play quarterback in the modern National Football League (NFL), and in the big Ten Conference, Willie Thrower (1930– 2002) was a member of Michigan State University’s national championship team in 1952. On October 18, 1953, he became the first post-World War II African American quarterback when he played for the Chicago Bears. It would be fifteen years before another Black quarterback would play in a professional game. He was cut by the Bears the following year.

Thrower played with one of the many semi-professional teams in the Toronto and central Canada region. These teams were considered farm leagues for the NFL and the Canadian Football League. He retired at the age of twenty-seven after injuring his shoulder. Following his retirement, he became a social worker in New York City and in the late 1960s worked as a child care counselor at the Hawthorne Cedar Knolls School, a residential treatment center, in Westchester County, New York. He died of a heart attack in New Kensington on February 20, 2002, at the age of seventy-one.

Thrower first played football for New Kensington’s Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League champion teams in 1946–1948. Dedicated October 24, 2003.


William C. Goodridge

123 East Philadelphia Street, York, York County
Coordinates: LATITUDE 39.964729 LONGITUDE -76.725823

William C. Goodridge (1805–1873) was a former slave who became a prominent York businessman and entrepreneur. He was apprenticed at a very young age to the Reverend William Dunn, a tanner in York, who gave him food and shelter, as well as a limited education. Although he was to be granted his freedom at the age of twenty-one, he was freed five years earlier, at the age of sixteen. He left York about 1822 and learned the barber trade, probably in Marietta, Lancaster County, and returned to York in 1823. He opened a barbershop on Centre Square, now known as Continental Square, in 1825.

Goodridge established a good rapport with his customers, several of whom are believed to have guided him in investments, including real estate. As his barbershop prospered, he diversified and began retailing candles, toys, fruits, jewelry, and a variety of sundries. In 1847, he built a five-story building, Centre Hall, the tallest building in York at the time.

From the early 1840s to at least 1851, he operated the Goodridge Reliance Line, a rail service that linked York and Philadelphia and reached twenty other markets. He used his thirteen rail cars to transport fugitive African Americans in his work on the Underground Railroad.

When it appeared that Confederate troops might invade York in 1863, Goodridge fled to the Midwest, where he died ten years later. Dedicated December 17, 1987.


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Michael J. O’Malley III has served as editor of Pennsylvania Heritage since 1984.