Communities in Common

Early this year, PHMC announced its 2010 Annual Theme—Black History in Pennsylvania: Communities in Common. For several years now, we have used themes to focus agency-wide attention on historical eras or topics that cut across our various program areas. Staff begin planning for the themes during the previous year (I went to a meeting this week for the 2011 theme, which will explore issues of religious freedom and toleration in Pennsylvania from William Penn’s time to the present). In addition to using themes to inform our own work, we also hope the annual themes help shed light on the work of other organizations and individuals and encourage people to explore these significant areas of history.

So for this week, Trailheads features info that highlights Pennsylvania’s fascinating and divergent stories of freedom and slavery, cooperation and conflict, dislocation and community building—you know, the stuff that makes history worth studying. I’ve probably missed some things and hope folks will comment (click on the number next to the word “comment” at the top of this post) to add to what is included below.

Resources for researching African American history in Pennsylvania—including a detailed bibliography and historic preservation surveys of eight communities—are available here. This history study, a wide-ranging examination of black history topics, also can serve as a framework for anyone who wants to document and learn more about the history of his or her community and its connections to the theme. Teachers looking for support in sharing Pennsylvania’s black history with their students will find relevant lesson plans on the website.

Interested researchers and readers of history can also find information on the Trails of History at the click of a mouse. Read about African Americans who served on Niagara or other ships in the Battle of Lake Erie or find out about the service of free and enslaved African Americans during the American Revolution from Joseph Becton and Noah Lewis (both of whom have participated in reenactments of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware). Ongoing research into the free and enslaved workers at Graeme Park and Cornwall Iron Furnace may provide avenues for further exploration. On the website of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the significant contributions of African Americans to railroading are explored in the context of Railroads in Society.

Pennsylvania Heritage magazine, Spring 2010 cover

The editors of Pennsylvania Heritage magazine devoted almost all of the spring 2010 issue to exploring the theme. The summer 2010 issue includes articles on National Historic Landmarks and state historical markers related to African American history in Pennsylvania; a profile (part of the Trailblazers series) of Scranton businesswoman Louise Tanner Brown; an overview of the theme (condensed from the history study I mentioned above); and a documentary heritage feature highlighting the Civil War muster rolls (and announcing the November 2010 reenactment of the 1865 Grand Review of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in Harrisburg). In addition, developed a program of talks this year related to the theme; video of those that have already taken place is available here.

PHMC/Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum

A Pennsylvania member of the USCT, John Worfel (those are his personal belongings in the photo above), is featured in a new exhibit at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. “A Soldier, Three Blacksmiths, and an Inventor: Profiles of Individuals from Three Historic African-American Families in the Pennsylvania-German Region” introduces visitors to Worfel, a private in Company C, 32nd Regiment of the USCT; John, Benjamin, and Edward Sebastian, who were blacksmiths in rural Berks County during the mid 1800s; and William Chester Ruth, who designed, patented, and manufactured a bale feeder and a self-raising conveyor-elevator (among others) in the early 1900s. The exhibit runs through Dec. 31.

Other exhibits and programming include the works of artist C. Edgar Patience, whose coal sculptures are featured at the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton. The State Museum will feature the exhibit (opening Aug. 7), “Voices of the Revolution,” woodcuts by artist Edith Jaffy Kaplan commemorating the Civil Rights Movement. There will also be a presentation on civil rights by Dr. Leslie Patrick of Bucknell University on Sept. 12. At Pennsbury Manor, visitors learn about the complex issues of slavery and freedom in the new permanent exhibit, “Seed of a Nation,” as well as during tours and programs on the site (classroom and distance learning programs are also available).

As always, it’s impossible to cover a broad and detailed topic in this short space (or not so short this week). Please explore and see where you end up!


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