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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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Year of Jubilee (1863)

Mary Lee, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Woman, Dies in York, Pennsylvania


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, January 1, 1929

Death notice of Mary Lee, age 83, former slave dies in York.


Text of news articles:
Former Slave Dies in York in 83d Year

York, Jan. 1. -- Mrs. Mary Lee, who died here yesterday in her eighty-third year, had been a slave in Frederick, Md., until the Civil War. She came to this place several years following the war.

Death was due to infirmities of age, after she was bedfast for two weeks. She had suffered from blindness for years. The body will be taken to Frederick for burial on Thursday.

Had Been Owned At Frederick, Md., Until Civil War Time

Mrs. Mary Lee, wife of William Lee, a negress who during the early years of her life was a slave at Frederick, Md., died at 12:17 o'clock yesterday at her home, 210 South Cherry avenue. She was about 82 years old.

The early childhood of the woman, before and during the Civil war, was marred by the curse of slavery until President Lincoln issued his proclamation of emancipation. Mrs. Lee often told her listeners of the burden that those held in the bonds of slavery had to bear. It was a source of great delight to her to laud the great emancipator.

The death of the woman was caused by infirmities indicent to advance years. Although she had been bedfast only for the past several weeks, she had been in impaired health for some time. Mrs. Lee was blind.

She leaves two sons, Fairfax Countee, 143 West Princess street, and Winfield Countee, New York city.

Funeral services will be conducted in Bethel A.M.E. church at 8 o'clock Wednesday night. Rev. W. A. Flamer will officiate. The body will be sent on Thursday morning to Hagerstown, Md., where services will be conducted Thursday afternoon and interment made.

Excerpt from the Frederick Daily News:

The body will be sent on Thursday morning to Frederick where services will be conducted Thursday afternoon in Quinn A.M.E. church, at 3 o'clock. Interment in the colored cemetery, East Church street. C. C. Carty, funeral director.


Mary Lee is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Frederick, Maryland. Her "Find-A-Grave" page is here: date of birth is given as March 1854, making her 74 years old when she died. It also notes "She may have been Mary Moberly, daughter of James Moberly." She was married twice, first to Hilleary Countee, who died in 1909, and second to William E. Lee.


Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 01 January 1929.
York Daily Record, 31 December 1928
The Daily News (Frederick, MD), 31 December 1928

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