Pittsburgh’s Black Community lost one of its stalwarts in 2010 with the passing of Robert R. Lavelle on July 4, at age 94. As founder of Lavelle Real Estate and chairman of Dwelling House Savings and Loan, Lavelle made buying a home a reality for thousands of Pittsburgh’s African-Americans when racism and redlining made getting loans from traditional banks and mortgage lenders impossible.


His grandson, city Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle said, “I will remember that he was a servant of the Lord and of the community. He always fought the good fight, and was always talking and sharing. He was a very hard-working man who advocated for his community every day.”

Tim Stevens called Lavelle a “builder of men.”

The community also another beloved builder of men last year when Bishop Eugene Thorpe, founder of North Side Institutional COGIC died Aug. 7. Thorpe led his congregation for more than 40 years before stepping down in 2006 due to failing health.

His son-in-law James Vaughn said Thorpe’s 6 years of preaching was about “presenting Jesus to others so that their lives could be changed.”

Fellow North-Sider and long-time civil rights and housing advocate Betty Jane Ralph, passed away Nov. 6. As head of the Manchester Citizens Corp. from 1970 to 1993, Ralph was one of the architects behind Manchester’s housing revitalization and renewal in the 1970s.

Her daughter Denise Marcel Dockett, of Maryland, remembered her as stickler for education and a fighter for her neighborhood.

“She faced off with the best of them and she is one of the group…way back when that helped shape Manchester to what it is today…her and my Dad.”

Though not a Pittsburgher, Evelyn Cunningham helped shape the civil rights movement and the fight for women’s rights as a writer for the Pittsburgh Courier for 20 years before retiring in 1962. She passed away at 94 in New York City, April 28.

Bill Nunn Jr. who worked with her for more than 10 years said she was “just one of the guys.” at the paper.

New Pittsburgh Courier Editor and Publisher Rod Doss who last saw her in 1998, remembered her as still very proud of her time at the Courier.

“She was a gracious lady, still vibrant and talkative. She had a tremendous smile that flashed across her face with the kind of enthusiasm you feel,” he said.

Another former Pittsburgher who created enthusiasm every time he stepped on the basketball court was Maurice Lucas, who left us at 58. Lucas, a star at Schenley High School and who earned the nickname “The Enforcer” for his physical play with the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, passed away at home in Oregon on Halloween after a long battle with bladder cancer.

A month later, about 200 friends and classmates held a memorial service at Calvary Baptist Church, where Robert Burly, Lucas’ former Schenley history teacher said, “God doesn’t like to lose, so he called for ‘The Enforcer,’ “

(Compiled by Christian Morrow)

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