Couple sitting at The Point in Pittsburgh PA

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 with special programming for Feb. 2023 and exhibits and locations you can visit all year long.

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.

During Black History Month in 2023, visitors to the AWAACC can explore The Hope of Radiance, an exhibit by Dr. Imo Nse Imeh that runs from Feb. 17 - April 2. And, don’t miss August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.

Vanisha Gould will perform a concert Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. at the AWAACC. Gould, a composer and band leader, will perform originals and music from the Great American Songbook. Gould’s performance is part of the monthly Uhuru Jazz Series at the AWAACC, which pays homage to jazz as the embodiment of freedom, improvisation, discovery, liberation and promise.

Heinz History Center

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

Special programs abound at the Heinz History Center for Black History Month, including two free public programs. First, join their From Slavery to Freedom Film Series on Feb. 15 for a virtual screening of "Torchbearers," a documentary that revisits Pittsburgh's struggles during the civil rights movement and those that lit the way for the city today.

The African American Program of the Heinz History Center presents the Ninth Annual Black History Month Lecture: “The Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era” on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, from 5:30 -7:30 p.m. Led by Claude Johnson, the founder of the Black Fives Foundation, the lecture explores the lesser-known history of Black basketball’s trailblazing teams, players and coaches.

While you're at the Heinz History Center, there are also multiple long-term 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. 
  • Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum showcases Pittsburgh’s unmatched Negro league baseball legacy. Special guided tours of the Sports Museum and through the two exhibitions are offered on Feb. 11 and Feb. 25.

Kelly Strayhorn Theater

Neighbor to Neighbor, a visual art exhibition featuring the works of six artists, opens at Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty on Feb. 11. Presented in collaboration with BOOM Concepts, the exhibit, which brings together a diverse range of visual strategies, considers the impacts and possibilities around active neighboring. And, don’t miss R.E.S.P.E.C.T. an Aretha Franklin Tribute Concert on Saturday, Feb. 11 with Dwayne Fulton and featured vocalist Anita Levels.

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Brew House Association

Running Feb. 2-April 1, 2023, Lay Bare is an exhibition which explores the Black experience through the perspectives of Black women exploring their most authentic selves. Exhibiting artists at this South Side gallery include Black Girl Absolute, Karlissia Council, Ivory Eddins, Juliandra Jones (PBJ Customs), Evangeline Mensah-Agyekum, Bekezela Mguni, Jameelah Platt, and Rell Rushin. 

New Horizon Theater

American Menu runs at the New Horizon Theater Feb. 3-19. Written by Don Wilson Glenn and directed by Dr. Lundeana M. Thomas, the show, set in May 1968, tells the story of five Black kitchen workers in a segregated lunch counter who are forced to engage in painful self-examination brought about by the senseless death of a young boy. Tickets are still available, with senior, student and group rates available.

Trust Arts Education Center

A part of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop celebration, the Trust Arts Education Center will host The Collaboration Festival: A Celebration of the African Diaspora on Feb. 18. This special public performance, featuring professional African American artists from around Pittsburgh, presents a journey of a solo artist discovering collaboration and community and includes audience interaction.

City-County Building

Highlights from the August Wilson Archive

All during the month of February, the City-County Building's grand lobby will display Highlights from the August Wilson Archive which includes photos, playbills, notes, memorabilia and interactive activities for visitors. Additional interviews with those that knew the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, photos and additional highlights will be released online, as well.

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.

Carnegie Science Center

Black Railroad Workers Feature at Carnegie Science Center Miniature Railroad & Village®

The Miniature Railroad & Village® at Carnegie Science Center features several models that represent Black Pittsburghers with an influence on American history prior to 1945. Each model includes its own story - from the birthplace of Jazz greats at Crawford Grill to the Hill District Home of Daisy Lampkin, a dynamic Pittsburgh woman who was the leader in the civil rights and women's suffrage movements. There are a total of seven featured models including Ebenezer Baptist Church, Daisy Lampkin House, Pittsburgh Courier Building, The LeMoyne House, Crawford Grill, Black railroad workers and Pullman Porters. 

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.

Pittsburgh Cultural Treasures

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, BOOM Concepts, August Wilson African American Cultural Center and New Horizon Theater are four of the 16 Black-led culture organizations designated in the Pittsburgh’s Cultural Treasures Initiative. Learn more about this initiative.