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Central Pennsylvania's journey
from enslavement to freedom

Link to Enslavement in Pennsylvania section. Link to the Anti-Slavery and Abolition Section.

Link to the Free Persons of Color -- 19th Century History Section.

Link to the Underground Railroad Section.
link to The Violent Decade Section Link to the US Colored Troops Section
Link to Harrisburg's Civil War Section Link to Century of Change -- the 20th Century Section
Link to the Letters Archive Link to Read The Year of Jubilee

Local Interest

Read Joyce M. Davis' PennLive article about Hodges Heights, a historic African American development in Lower Paxton Township.

Site News

Baseball season is here. Harrisburg has a wonderful legacy of Negro Leagues baseball teams. Read "Blackball," the detailed article by Ted Knorr and Calobe Jackson, Jr. here: Blackball in Harrisburg.

Just uploaded--"1700 and 1726 Acts for the Regulation of Negroes." Full text of the harsh "Black Codes" passed in colonial Pennsylvania to regulate free Blacks and enslaved persons. Check it all out here: 1700 and 1726 Acts for the Regulation of Negroes.

New Section--"Former Slaves." News items about formerly enslaved African American residents. Check it out here:
News headline of death of formerly enslaved person.

Newly restored: Photos and video from Harrisburg's 2010 "Grand Review of Colored Troops." Check it out here:
African American Civil War re-enactors parade on Front Street.  USCT Re-enactor at the Harris-Cameron mansion.


On This Date

May events important to local African American history (see the whole year)

May 1, 1837: The Friends of the Union Convention, also called the Integrity of the Union State Convention, opened at the Dauphin County Courthouse with about one hundred delegates. The purpose of the state convention appears to have been to ease the fears of slaveholders in the Southern states regarding the purpose and beliefs of Pennsylvania’s citizens. (Read about how this state convention came about)

May 2, 1837: Anti-slavery activist Thaddeus Stevens attends the statewide anti-abolition Integrity of the Union Convention in Harrisburg with the intent to disrupt and mock the proceedings, which he does. (Read about how Stevens disrupted the convention here)

May 6, 1861:
The Confederacy formally recognizes that a state of war exists with the United States of America. Arkansas becomes the ninth state to secede from the Union to join the Confederacy.

May 7, 1878: African American inventor Joseph Winters patents the wagon mounted fire escape ladder for the fire department of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, significantly enhancing the ability of firefighters to rapidly reach people in tall buildings.

May 9, 1800: John Brown is born at Torrington, Connecticut, the son of Owen and Ruth Mills Brown.

May 9, 1846: New England Abolitionist Charles T. Torrey dies in the Maryland Penitentiary of tuberculosis, just hours before a pardon from Maryland Governor Thomas G. Pratt reached the prison warden. In December 1844, Torrey had been convicted in Baltimore of aiding the slaves of Bushrod Taylor of Virginia and the slaves of William Heckrotte, of Baltimore, escape into Pennsylvania.

May 11, 1829: Patty Cannon, notorious kidnapper and leader of the Johnson-Cannon Gang, dies in a Delaware prison while awaiting trial for the murder of three people. (Read a detailed account of her gang's kidnapping operations here)

May 11, 1834: Thomas Morris Chester is born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the fourth child of George and Marie Chester. (More about the Chester Family here)
(In 2002, the cleaned tombstone of T. Morris Chester was unveiled in Lincoln Cemetery.)
May 14, 1838: Pennsylvania Hall opens in Philadelphia as a grand auditorium for anti-slavery and other social reform groups. It would be burned by a mob three days later.

May 17, 1838: Pennsylvania Hall, built by the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society as a meeting place for abolitionists, is burned by a mob incensed about whites and blacks meeting together at a female anti-slavery convention being held there.

May 17, 1954: U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education declares that the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public education is unconstitutional, setting the stage for the desegregation of American schools.

May 18, 1896: U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessey vs. Ferguson establishes the doctrine of “separate but equal” public facilities for African Americans.

May 19, 1925: Malcolm X is born in Omaha, Nebraska.

May 20, 1861: North Carolina secedes, becoming the tenth state to join the Confederacy.

May 24, 1852: James Phillips, a longtime Harrisburg resident, is remanded south by U.S. Slave Commissioner Richard McAllister, causing an uproar not only in Harrisburg's African American community, but with local whites as well. Attorney Charles C. Rawn is dispatched to Richmond with $800 to buy Phillips' freedom. (Read a detailed version of this event here)

May 26, 1926: Jazz musician Miles Davis is born in St. Louis, Missouri.

May 28, 1866: William Justin Carter is born at Richmond, Virginia. A successful and prominent African American attorney in Harrisburg, W. Justin Carter was denied admission to the Dauphin County Bar on June 10, 1904 because of his race. Ninety-seven years later the Dauphin County Bar voted to admit him posthumously to correct an “egregious mistake.” (Read more about W. Justin Carter here)

May 31, 1921: Beginning of a two-day race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma that kills eighty-one people.


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