BLOG: Celebrating Black History Month in Pennsylvania

By: Obie Kernodle, Deputy Chief of Staff

February 03, 2016

February marks the nationwide celebration of Black History Month in the United States. The national theme for this year’s observance of Black History Month is “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.”

The origins of Black History Month began in 1926, when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History established “Negro History Week.”

We have much to celebrate in African American history in the ninety years that have passed since that inaugural year.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is home to nearly 1.5 million African Americans currently and, throughout history, many have played significant roles in Pennsylvania’s economic, cultural, spiritual, and political development.

For example, did you know that Bayard Rustin, a national civil rights advocate and associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Pennsylvania native? As was Richard Allen, the founder of the first national black church in the United States (who is being honored on a postage stamp, unveiled yesterday), and Guion Bluford, an astronaut who in 1983 became the first African American who visited outer space.

Pennsylvania was home to some of the best baseball players and teams prior to integration including the Hilldale Club, Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Harrisburg Giants, and Philadelphia Pythians – one of the earliest baseball clubs in the country.

Other acclaimed Pennsylvanians include athletes like Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Frazier, Reggie Jackson, Tony Dorsett, Lenny Moore, and Ernie Davis; entertainers like Kevin Hart, The Roots, Will Smith, and Patti LaBelle; and Oscar-winning director Lee Daniels.

These men and women have shaped the history of our state and our nation, and they join the other millions of African American Pennsylvanians who have worked tirelessly to maintain and promote their culture and history.

Many African American historical firsts happened in Pennsylvania. In 1787, prominent religious leaders Richard Allen and Absalom Jones organized the Free African Society, one of the first black mutual aid societies anywhere, the Philadelphia Colored Female Free Produce Society boycotted products produced by slave labor and exerted economic pressure on slave states, and, in 1838, William Whipper founded The National Reformer, the first black newspaper in the state.

African Americans in Pennsylvania have served as conductors on the Underground Railroad, fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and worked in the shipyards in Philadelphia, the coal and steel industries in Steelton and Pittsburgh, and the railroad industry in Erie and Harrisburg.

The Commonwealth is proud to honor the history and contributions of African Americans in our state and throughout the nation.

The Wolf Administration is encouraging all Pennsylvanians to celebrate this important observance and to continue to work toward the goal of liberty and justice for all.

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