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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)

Jane Lewis, 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, September 27, 1892

Death notice of Jane Lewis, Harrisburg, PA 1892.


Text of news article:
Death of an Old Slave.
Jane Lewis, aged 74 years, who, previous to her admission to the almshouse Aug. 12th, 1892, had lived with a daughter in Oberlin, died at the former place this morning, after a long illness with cancer. Deceased knew something of slave life, having been a slave during the days of slavery. Her remains will be interred at the almshouse to-morrow.


Harrisburg Telegraph, 27 September 1892.

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