Pittsburgh Celebrates the African-American Experience

For over 200 years, Pittsburgh has been home to the African-American experience in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Pittsburgh is home to over 200 years of the African-American experience in Southwestern Pennsylvania. There is extensive history and significance in the role that Pittsburgh has played throughout time in the journey and experience of African Americans in this region. 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. To learn more about Pittsburgh's jazz history, check out our website and blog post

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 recently partnered with VisitPITTSBURGH to develop an interactive listing 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 Center

A downtown institution, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture (AWC) is a consistent destination for art and culture. The AWC is a multi-purpose venue featuring three art galleries, live performance space, meeting areas, and unique educational opportunities. The AWC 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 new 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.