Harrisburg’s history of racial injustice

Harrisburg_capitol_building

Two of my colleagues in the Messiah University history department, Bernardo Michael and David Pettegrew, have an op-ed at PennLive today on their work on the African American communities of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Pettegrew is the director of the university’s Digital Harrisburg Initiative. He and my colleague Jim LaGrand edited the most recent issue of Pennsylvania History journal, a volume which focuses on the work of Digital Harrisburg and includes short essays by several of our students.

Here is a taste:

One of the long-lasting outcomes of the racial protest movements this summer should be a broader recognition among the American public about how unjust historical policies perpetuated by systemic racism ended up dividing our nation’s communities.

In the mid-state, we are gradually gaining a clearer historical picture of the processes that segregated our own region in the later 19th and 20th centuries. African Americans were placed under constant surveillance while being denied equal access to social services, education, employment, housing, worship, transportation and entertainment. There are many episodes in this history that are coming to light.

Consider the location of recent protests in Harrisburg around the State Capitol Park, which, historians have shown, occupies the site of the vanished neighborhood of the Old Eighth Ward, the heart of the city’s African American and immigrant communities from 1850-1913. The Old Eighth was vital to abolitionist work in the Commonwealth before the Civil War—here Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison met an angry crowd of revelers in 1847—and was significant in the fight for suffrage after the war.

Although the neighborhood was the heart of Black political organizations, societies, businesses, and churches, legislators felt it an eyesore to the new state capitol building dedicated in 1906 and campaigned successfully to replace it with green spaces and state buildings in the subsequent decade.

Read the rest here.