Pittsburgh Celebrates Black History

Pittsburgh Celebrates Black History

For more than 200 years, Southwestern Pennsylvania has been impacted by the achievements and influence of the Black community.

There is extensive significance in the role that Black communities have played throughout the history of Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania. Join us as we celebrate these achievements during Black History Month. 

Pittsburgh's Jazz Legacy

Pittsburgh Jazz Live International

Located between New York and Chicago, Pittsburgh has had a unique history as a stopover location for jazz greats back in the day. From 1920s through the 1960s, Pittsburgh’s Hill District was known as the "Crossroads of the World." Jazz artists from around the country would perform with Pittsburgh's many acclaimed musicians in many of the Hill District's acclaimed venues, such as the Crawford Grille. 

An early contributor to the success of Pittsburgh's jazz legacy was star athlete, sportsman and businessman Sellers McKee Hall, Pittsburgh’s first Black music promoter. He was responsible for bringing the biggest names in jazz to Pittsburgh for his popular dances that drew crowds of 1,500 to 2,000 to the Pythian Temple and other venues.  


Related: Jazz in Pittsburgh


Today, jazz can still be enjoyed throughout Pittsburgh's bars and clubs. The annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, hosted each summer by the August Wilson African American Cultural Center brings local and world renowned musicians to celebrate Pittsburgh's jazz history and legacy. 

The Pittsburgh Courier 

Photo Credit: Chuckman

The Pittsburgh Courier was a Black newspaper published in Pittsburgh from 1907 until 1966. The paper was begun by Edwin Nathaniel Harleston, a guard at the H. J. Heinz Company food packing plant in Pittsburgh. Harleston, a self-published poet, started printing the paper at his own expense in 1907. Generally about two pages, it was primarily a vehicle for Harleston's work, and he printed around 10 copies which he sold for five cents apiece. In 1909, Edward Penman, Hepburn Carter, Scott Wood, Jr., and Harvey Tanner joined Harleston to run the paper, and they named it Pittsburgh Courier after the Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, Harleston's hometown. The five men sold most of the copies throughout the Hill District. On May 10, 1910, the Pittsburgh Courier was formally incorporated. By the 1930s, the Courier was one of the top Black newspapers in the United States. The tradition continues with the advent of the New Pittsburgh Courier, a weekly newspaper catering to the Black communities in Pittsburgh.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, was the preeminent photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, documenting the daily lives of Pittsburgh's Black community from 1935 to 1975. The Teenie Harris Archive of more than 70,000 images is now permanently housed at the Carnegie Museum of Art and is considered one of the most detailed and intimate records of Black urban experience known. Today, more than 60,000 of Harris' negatives have been digitized and are available online!

August Wilson African American Cultural Center

August Wilson African American Cultural Center Galleries (c) Joey Kennedy

A Downtown institution, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center is dedicated to generating artistic, educational and community initiatives that advance August Wilson's legacy and celebrate Black culture and the African diaspora. The center, named for the late Pittsburgh playwright, is a multi-purpose venue featuring three art galleries, live performance space, meeting areas and unique educational opportunities.

The Center curates and programs exhibitions and performances and collaborates with guest curators to bring together artists whose work reflects Black experiences and the universal issues of identity that August Wilson tackled through his body of work, which still resonate today. 

Take a virtual tour through the galleries and enjoy a wide range of virtual programming; including AW Studio Sessions, an intimate music experience with the most talented musicians on the scene, LIVE in studio and Lit Fridays, a literary-focused, virtual salon featuring conversations and guest performances.

Heinz History Center

1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords Team Photo and Bus (c) Heinz History Center

While you're at the Heinz History Center, there are a few Black history exhibitions on display. From Slavery to Freedom details more than 250 years of Black history. Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation exhibit lets you step inside Pittsburgh's premier jazz club, the Crawford Grill, and listen to music from some of history's most prominent jazz musicians, such as George Benson, Billy Strayhorn, Stanley Turrentine and Mary Lou Williams. Did you know that Pittsburgh was once the center of Negro League baseball? The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum has an excellent collection of Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords artifacts. 

Freedom Corner

Located at the intersection of Centre Ave. and Crawford St. in Pittsburgh's historic Hill District neighborhood, this monument marks a critical point in Pittsburgh’s extensive Civil Rights history. 

In the late 1950s, urban renewal ripped through Pittsburgh’s vibrant, and predominantly Black, Hill District neighborhood. In 1960, residents posted a simple sign: "Attention City Hall and U.R.A: No Development beyond This Point! We Demand Low Income Housing for the Lower Hill!" The intersection was deemed Freedom Corner and would become a launching point for demonstrations seeking social justice. 

The Freedom Corner monument was dedicated on April 22, 2001. The site continues to serve as an important gathering spot for individuals who advocate for peace, justice and equality.

From Slavery to Freedom Garden

Sam Black of the the Heinz History Center talks about the garden space with park visitors.

The From Slavery to Freedom Garden at the Frick Environmental Center displays plants used for food and medical purposes by freedom seekers during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Garden is a launching point for learning about the history of our lands, and the generations of people who lived off of and cared for them.

Explore Historical Sites

Pittsburgh Post Gazette partnered with VisitPITTSBURGH to develop an interactive map of historic sites that tell the Black history of Pittsburgh. This interactive map was created to highlight local, regional and national sites of significance. It can be used as a tour guide for exploring Black history throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania.