Central Pennsylvania African American History for Everyone
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Banner headline Former Slave Dies



the 20th Century

James Smith, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Resident


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 12, 1917

1917 Death notice for James Smith, a formerly enslaved resident of Harrisburg, PA.

Text of news article:
Former Slave, Long Resident of City Dies at Age of 92

  James Smith, colored, aged 92 years, died yesterday morning at his home, 334 Cherry street. He was born in Knoxville, Md., and was freed as a slave at the age of 26 years. He has been a resident of this city for nearly fifty years. Funeral will be held from his late residence at 2 p.m. Wednesday, with burial in the Lincoln Cemetery. The Rev. Ray D. D. Will, of the Wesley Union Church will officiate.

Telegraph (Harrisburg, PA), 12 March 1917, p. 1.

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