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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)

Letty Garner, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Resident Dies at the Almshouse


An aged African American woman sits next to a stove.

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.

News Item, June 14, 1913

1913 News article about the death at age 106 of former slave Letty Garner


Text of news article:
Former Slave Dies at Almshouse, Aged 106

Aunt Letty Garner, aged 106 years, 3 months and 16 days, believed to be the oldest woman in Dauphin county, died at the Almshouse yesterday.

She came to Harrisburg in 1863, after she was liberated from a plantation at Shepherdstown, Va. Her friends have alwasy been able to know her exact age, because the owner of the plantation on which she worked always kept a record of the birth on his properties.

Funeral services will be held to-morrow afternoon, at 4 o'clock, in the Harris Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The Rev. W. H. Marshall and the Rev. J. J. Turner will officiate. Burial will be made in the Lincoln Cemetery.


Harrisburg Telegraph, 14 June 1913.

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