Treasure trove of local Black history found

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historicmomentWhen real estate agent Cordelia Carter went to inventory the late Ruby Gould’s home prior to selling it, she expected nothing out of the ordinary. Gould, who died in February at the age of 94, however, was anything but ordinary.

“It was like a little museum in there. There’s 100 years of history in this house,” she said. “The furnishings, clothes, the books-I spent seven hours just reading here one day-and of course, the music.”

Music filled Gould’s home and, along with her devotion to God. A musical prodigy, specializing in piano and organ, in 1930-at 16-she toured the country as an accompanist for gospel singer Mary Johnson Davis Small.

She married 10 years later and became the organist and choir director for Jerusalem Baptist Church in the West End. In the early 1950s she moved to Macedonia Baptist Church in the Hill District and in 1954, she and other 21 women formed a nonprofit charitable singing group-the Gould Singers. They toured the Pittsburgh area performing gospel music for several years.

Though basically settled in Pittsburgh, Gould’s talent and reputation were such that she was frequently asked to play with other artists. Recordings of her work with Andre Crouch and the Hampton University Gospel Choir are among those still in her home, along with original gospel recordings by Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles and even opera star Marian Anderson.

Also kept in pristine condition are the books and magazines that reflect African-American life in Pittsburgh throughout the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, including a 1937 copy of “Flash,” a Black photo journal akin to Look Magazine.

HISTORIC MOMENT—Real Estate agent Cordelia Carter, front, holds historic 78 records, and some of the original writings from the late Ruby Gould.

In 1970, Gould became the minister of music and organist at Sixth Mount Zion Church in East Liberty, where she continued as organist until retiring in 1991 at 86.

“The organ and piano were her tools for teaching and spreading God’s word,” said long-time friend Frances Young. “She was a special, Christian woman. She called everybody ‘baby’ or ‘darling.’ They even loved her at the nursing home and made sure she stayed there at the end rather than go to a hospice.”

Young, who was the secretary at Sixth Mt. Zion for more than 42 years, said she had known Gould before but they became much closer when Gould came to the church.

“When her husband died in 1997, we sort of adopted her,” said. “She didn’t drive, so I would take her shopping or to the hair dresser, the bank, or to doctor appointments. And when she would get ill, I’d stay with her here. She was godmother to our daughters.”

Carter said she still has to complete her inventory, but she has already contacted the Heinz History Center about cataloging and preserving some of the materials in the house.

“I called the August Wilson Center, too, but they aren’t set up for that kind of thing,” she said. “But the History Center wants to see some of it. I mean, I really wanted to tell someone, just in case the place is vandalized. Someone has to know what’s here.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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