Pittsburgh Celebrates African-American History

For over 200 years, Southwestern Pennsylvania has been impacted by the achievements and influence of African Americans.

There is extensive significance in the role that African-Americans have played throughout the history of Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania. With this blog we are attempting to draw attention to just three of note: Pittsburgh's jazz legacy, The Pittsburgh Courier, and some local historic sites that you should know.

Pittsburgh Jazz Live International

Pittsburgh's Jazz Legacy

Because Pittsburgh is located between New York and Chicago, it has had a unique history as a stopover location for jazz greats back in the day. From 1920s to 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 the Hill District's jazz venues. Many jazz artists have called Pittsburgh home, such as Walt Harper, George Benson and Roger Humphries, among others. Many of today's performers have jazz genes passed from father to son and daughter, brother to sister, brother to brother, uncle to nephew, grandfather to grandson. That's how jazz is in Pittsburgh, family, a way of life. And, there are plenty of ways to enjoy jazz in Pittsburgh today!

Related: Jazz in Pittsburgh

Photo Credit: Chuckman

The Pittsburgh Courier 

The Pittsburgh Courier was an African-American 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 ten 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 African-Americans in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh-Area African American Historic Sites

Pittsburgh Post Gazette partnered with VisitPITTSBURGH to develop an interactive map of African-American historic sites in 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 African-American history throughout the Southwestern Pa area.

Original hardware of slavery dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. Photo Credit: Senator John Heinz History Center

Heinz History Center

While you're at the Heinz History Center, there are a few African American history exhibitions on display. From Slavery to Freedom details more than 250 years of African American 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. 

August Wilson African American Cultural Center

A downtown institution, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center (AACC) is a consistent destination for art and culture. The center is a multi-purpose venue featuring three art galleries, live performance space, meeting areas, and unique educational opportunities. Its mission is to honor and support the important cultural contributions of African Americans from a local, national and international perspective, and illuminate artists from every inventive genre. 

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

Frick Environmental Center

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.

Teenie Harris Archive

Charles "Teenie" Harris, a Pittsburgh-born photographer, documented the lives of African Americans from 1935 to 1975. An archive of almost 80,000 photos lives permanently at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Visitors can explore Pittsburgh's past through the haunting photos of Teenie Harris.