If you do anything for Black History Month make sure you visit the Senator John Heinz History Center and view the exhibit “From Slavery to Freedom, Pittsburgh and the Underground Railroad” on the fourth floor. This is going to be a long term exhibit so you can see it more than once.
At this time, the exhibit is about 85 percent complete. Please take in the life-like figures and read the documents in the exhibits that tell the story of Blacks coming to Pittsburgh seeking freedom. This exhibition, which illuminated the little known history of slavery throughout the Western Pennsylvania region in the 18th and 19th centuries, includes 53 slave related records, profiles of famous Pittsburgh slaveholders and abolitionists, depictions of daring escapes from slavery and other historical material.
Every February for many years now the University of Pittsburgh has sponsored a Black History Month program and according to Sam Black, Heinz History Center director of African American programs, has one of best Black History Month programs that he has seen. A beautifully done publication allowed guests to review the programs that the University of Pittsburgh has done since 2004. The first program and the only one that I have missed due to a winter storm was “K. Leroy Irvis: The Lion of Pennsylvania.” This was the world premiere of a documentary by the Pitt office of Public Affairs illuminating the life and legacy of K. Leroy Irvis.
In 2006, the 125 year history of Three Rivers Youth was featured, also in 2006 was “Torchbearers: The Story of Pittsburgh’s Freedom Fighters.” In 2007 another world premiere, “Freedom House,” a documentary by Gene Starzenski recognizing the history of the Hill District based ambulance service that revolutionized emergency medical care nationwide and paved the way for a new medical professional-the paramedic. “Fly Boys: Western Pennsylvania’s Tuskegee Airman” was the 2008 feature. By this year guests were looking forward to the life like and life size décor that accompanied these yearly soirees. The staff of the University of Pittsburgh never failed to amaze.
In 2009 it was “Blue Gold & Black From Doorway to Distinction,” a world premiere of a documentary saluting African-Americans that broke down barriers and took their rightful place in Pitt history. The Pittsburgh Courier was featured in 2010 and 2011. The world premiere in 2010 by Pitt alumnus Kenneth Love revealed how a publication that originated as a small local newssheet became the leading Black newspaper of the 20th century. In 2011 “America’s Best Weekly: A Century of the Pittsburgh Courier” was unveiled commemorating its 100th anniversary.
There were two programs in 2012 as well, “Thaddeus Mosley, Sculptor” chronicled the life and career of renowned Pitt alumnus Thaddeus Mosley, and “Teenie Harris, Photographer: Image, Memory, History,” the University of Pittsburgh Press book launch and program honoring 100 years of photography by legendary Pittsburgh photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris; book coauthored by Pitt faculty member Larry Glasco.
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