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Female African American factory workers pose for a group portrait, circa 1920.



Harrisburg's African American Community Moves Through the Twentieth Century


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Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

Civil War

US Colored Troops

Year of Jubilee (1863)

Robert M. Fields, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Resident of Steelton


An aged man in working clothes sits on the porch of a modest house, facing the viewer.

Significant numbers of formerly enslaved African Americans made their homes in central Pennsylvania in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some escaped enslavement and traveled north via the Underground Railroad before 1865. Many more found themselves no longer enslaved by war's end and looked north for job opportunites or to escape the harsh poverty and crushing racism of southern Reconstruction. The first few decades of the 20th century saw large numbers of southern Blacks moving north to take advantage of the plentiful jobs in northern industries.

Their presence in northern cities enriched each African American community. Their shared first-hand stories of lives enslaved broadened the historical perspective and served to counter the "Lost Cause" myths. Knowing which citizens were formerly enslaved is invaluable for modern historians and persons researching their family histories. Small connections can often add up to bigger stories. The news items below represent snippets in the lives of these persons.

Death Notice, March 20, 1916

1916 Death notice for Steelton resident Robert M. Fields, an ex-slave.

Text of Death Notice:

Robert M. Fields, Ex-slave, Succumbs to Complications at Age of 82

Robert M. Fields, an ex-slave, for years a leader in Steelton's colored organizations, died Saturday afternoon at his home, 105 Adams street, from a complication of diseases incident to old age. He was 82 years old.

Mr. Fields is survived by one son, Perry Fields, Philadelphia; a daughter, Amdanda, wife of the Rev. Frank Bradley, of Philadelphia; and two sisters, Amanda and Annie, Steelton.

He was a member of Paxton Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, and of the Gallilean Fishermen. He was one of the founders of Monumental A.M.E. Church, Second and Adams streets, and until recent years, when prevented by age, he always took an active part in the church's activities. He was born in Shenandoah, Va., and for thirty years was a slave for various Virginia families.

Funeral services will be held tomorrow afternoon at 1 o'clock at the church with the Rev. Mr. King officiating. Burial will be made in Midland Cemetery.

Funeral for Robert Fields.


Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, 20 March 1916, p.3
Harrisburg Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, 22 March 1916, p. 6.

More Information

Read a letter from Harrisburg historian Calobe Jackson about Robert Fields and the founding of Monumental AME Church.

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