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  • 222 Thornton Ave.
    Brownsville, PA 15417
  • Category: Landmarks
  • Sub-Category: African American History Guide
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Charles Wilbur Florence House (1890-1974)

Known as Pittsburgh's "Great Debater” while a student at the University of Pittsburgh in 1918, Charles Wilbur Florence was born in Brownsville, Pa., on May 5, 1890, and grew up in this house on Thornton Avenue. His life was chronicled in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Ervin Dyer on Oct. 19, 2008. Long before the film "The Great Debaters"—the Denzel Washington-produced movie (from 2007) that chronicles the all-black Wiley College debate team that won a national championship against all-white schools in the 1930s—Charles Florence was Pitt"s debate team captain and champion three years in a row, between 1916 and 1918. At age 24, he arrived at Pitt's Oakland campus, having already worked as a principal in a two-room all-black West Virginia school and having achieved one degree from Storer College. While at Pitt, he became a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, president of the Pitt Lyceum, which he founded and presided over, and was secretary of the International Polity Club. While he went to Pitt, he lived at 2225 Centre Ave. in the Hill District. Florence earned a master's degree in education in 1923. In 1929, he begins study for a doctorate in education at Harvard. In 1931, he was appointed as president at Lincoln University in Missouri before taking another position as dean of education at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va., where he taught for 17 years. Charles Florence died of stomach cancer in 1974 in Richmond. He was 84.