Carnegie Mellon honors African-American historians

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For the past 15 years, Carnegie Mellon University has hosted the Center for African American Urban Studies and the Economy Speaker Series. This year at the opening reception on Sept. 10, local historians received recognition for their dedication to uncovering the history of Black Pittsburgh.

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HISTORICAL HONOR—From left: Jared Day, Rob Ruch, John Brewer, Patricia Pew Mitchell, Larry Glasco, Ralph Proctor and Joe Trotter.

“The real reason we’re here tonight is to present awards of appreciation to historians of the African-American experience,” said Joe Trotter, director and Giant Eagle professor of history and social justice. “Today is a good time to come together in fellowship.”

The CAUSE Speaker Series introduces the public to African-American culture throughout history and as it relates to current events. Led by Carnegie Mellon professors and scholars as well as those from other universities across the country, the series tackles subjects related not only to the African-American experience in America, but also globally.

“We want to showcase some of the most recent research on African-Americans in Pittsburgh. It’s also a way for us to bridge the gap between the university and the community,” Trotter said. “We’re also looking at more global concepts. We built up on the work of a lot of people in Pittsburgh but we created a synthesis.”

Among those honored was John Brewer, founder of The Trolley Station Oral History Center in the Homewood–Brushton area. With lifelong roots in Pittsburgh, Brewer currently serves as a consultant for the New Pittsburgh Courier archives project and the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Charles Teenie Harris Photograph project.

“I never thought I’d get an award for doing something I enjoy,” Brewer said. “We have a lot of information we need to reveal and we can’t do it without the universities and the education centers.”

The work of many of those honored was used in the creation of the book, “Race and Renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II,” co-authored by Trotter and colleague Jared Day, an adjunct professor and research associate in the history department at CMU.

“This book is going to be the starting point,” said honoree Rob Ruch. “The creation of CAUSE has been one of the wonderful occurrences in Pittsburgh over the past 20 years.”

In keeping with CAUSE’s inclusive and collaborative nature, CMU recognized Ralph Proctor, chairman of the ethnic and diversity studies program at Community College of Allegheny County. As one of the early proponents for an African-American cultural center, Proctor served as a key player in the eventual creation of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

“I am honored to be here in the presence of the scholars who have walked the journey to tell what it was like to be an African-American in Pittsburgh in the early days,” said Proctor. “We have to continue to get that out to let people know what it was like to walk the picket lines.”

Extending praise to the University of Pittsburgh, CAUSE also honored Laurence Glasco, a professor and author, who has published books on African-Americans in western Pennsylvania. Though not originally from Pittsburgh, the city quickly gained a special place in Glasco’s heart, especially the Hill District where he works to preserve historical landmarks.

“I take it as a representative of a collective of people who have worked on Black history in Pittsburgh. It’s a deep history. There’s so much to be told,” said Glasco. “People are leaving us every day and there are so many treasures in their minds. The history of Pittsburgh is really one that has stuck with me longer than any other topic.”

Another honoree, Patricia Pew Mitchell talked about those who had influenced and inspired her passion for history.

“There are so many people in this room who under their tutelage I have learned,” Mitchell said. “I gained a love of history at a very young age at my mother’s knee.”

Also recognized were Edna McKenzie (posthumously) and Dennis Dickerson, who could not attend the reception.

The first lecture in the series, titled “Barack Obama and the Remaking of Black America” will be held Oct. 15.

(For more information visit http://www.hss.cmu.edu/cause.)

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