Welcome to our special commemorative edition of Pennsylvania Heritage underscoring the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's annual theme for 2010, "Black History in Pennsylvania: Communities in Common." In this edition, you'll find informative, thought-provoking features on the Keystone State's African American experience, heritage, and culture over a period of more than three centuries.
Our cover story, "The World through the Eyes of Charles 'Teenie' Harris," presents a selection of striking images made by the well-known Pittsburgh photographer during his career of nearly four decades. In his introduction, educator and scholar Ralph Proctor contends that Harris "became an icon himself," and "the youths in Pittsburgh's Black neighborhoods came to recognize 'Mr. Harris' and realized that there was some magic link between this man, his camera, and fame." The majesty and dignity of Harris's portraits of a community between the mid-1930s and the mid-1970s are timeless.
John David Hoptak, author of several books and a National Park Service interpretive ranger at Maryland's Antietam National Battlefield, offers a riveting account of how Nicholas Biddle became the "first man to shed blood in the Civil War." An African American living in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Biddle was not, curiously enough, a member of a military unit nor was his wound inflicted during battle. Discover how Biddle earned a niche in American history in "A Forgotten Hero of the Civil War," beginning on page 6.
The struggle by African Americans against discrimination and oppression is a powerful story that spans several centuries in North America, and contributor Leslie Patrick analyzes the Commonwealth's role in "African Americans and Civil Rights in Pennsylvania." Her fascinating feature looks at the people, places, and events that shaped the fight for civil rights and introduces a number of lesser-known figures who played prominent parts in the unfolding saga. Readers will find many of the facts revealed and anecdotes to be highly surprising.
"Trailblazers" by Rachel Jones Williams looks at the life and career of Cumberland Willis Posey Sr., one of the wealthiest businessmen in the Pittsburgh area whose philanthropy greatly aided generations of African Americans. Willis L. Shirk Jr.'s installment of "Our Documentary Heritage," as well as "Lost and Found," "Marking Time," and "Sharing the Common Wealth," probes the Commonwealth's African American history and heritage.
As part of our 2010 theme observance, The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg is exhibiting, through Sunday, June 20, the exceedingly rare 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery. The act was the most consequential law passed in the northern states during a period of nearly twenty-five years, from 1780 to 1804, and was the first document of its kind in the nation. Although slavery was eliminated gradually, the sponsors of the bill had ultimately achieved their goal: by 1850, no one in Pennsylvania remained enslaved.
On behalf of the staff of Pennsylvania Heritage, I hope you enjoy this special edition.
Michael J. O'Malley III