Know Of An Historic African American Site In Pennsylvania? Tell This State Commission

Dec 26, 2017

The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office is undertaking a study of buildings and spaces that are significant to African American history in the state.

Preservationists will use the $30,000 in grant funding to document the histories of places like churches and fraternal organizations in mostly rural communities around Pennsylvania.

Howard Pollman, director of external affairs with the Historical and Museum Commission, said the project was built on an earlier study, which identified nine historic locations in Washington County, Pa.

“We didn’t eliminate or ignore Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, but we really focused on suburban and rural areas of Pennsylvania,” Pollman said. “A lot of history around African Americans in Pennsylvania centers around the underground railroad and there’s not a lot of evidence remaining. So we’re taking a look at those.”

Visit Pennsylvania and other travel organizations promote Underground Railroad tours around the state, with the majority of sites in major cities like Philadelphia, Gettysburg and Harrisburg. But the tours also mention sites in smaller communities, including the LeMoyne Community Center in Washington County. The center was 1 of the 9 sites mentioned in the 2009 Preserve America survey that Pollman said the new research grant relies on.

Pollman said locations like the LeMoyne center and some of the other churches, schools and neighborhoods represent significant times in history for many of the state’s African American communities, but they often aren’t documented.

“The idea is for us to go in and develop a context, maybe get a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, share information with more people,” Pollman said.

To start the documentation process, the Historic Preservation Office will meet with local historians and musuems, dig through archives and reach out to the community for any old papers or stories. He said he wants the project to be more than just a listing of historic locations.

“How do those pieces fit together? What stories do they tell? How can we share those stories for the good of all Pennsylvanians, so people understand that African American history is Pennsylvania history and that we’re all connected?”

Pollman said the project will kick off in late January, but encouraged anyone with stories to tell or historic documents or photographs to contact the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.  

Pennsylvania was 1 or 13 organizations in the U.S. to receive the grant, which was funded by the national Historic Preservation Fund.