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The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh

The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh

edited by Laurence A. Glasco
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh
    Book Description:

    The monumentalAmerican Guide Series, published by the Federal Writers' Project, provided work to thousands of unemployed writers, editors, and researchers in the midst of the Great Depression. Featuring books on states, cities, rivers, and ethnic groups, it also opened an unprecedented view into the lives of the American people during this time. Untold numbers of projects in progress were lost when the program was abruptly shut down by a hostile Congress in 1939.

    One of those, "The Negro in Pittsburgh," lay dormant in the Pennsylvania State Library until it was microfilmed in 1970.The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburghmarks the first publication of this rich body of information. This unique historical study of the city's black population features articles on civil rights, social class, lifestyle, culture, folklore, and institutions from colonial times through the 1930s.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7084-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction to the Published Volume
    (pp. 1-18)

    “The Negro in Pittsburgh” has had a long and curious career. The Federal Writers’ Project, which produced the manuscript, was terminated in 1939 before work was completed. The manuscript languished in the Pennsylvania State Library in Harrisburg, largely forgotten and neglected, until it was rediscovered and microfilmed in 1970. Even then, the manuscript failed to attract the attention it deserved. One scholar, Clarence Rollo Turner, a professor in the Black Studies department at the University of Pittsburgh, realized its value and very much wanted to have the manuscript published. Like the original project, however, Turner’s plans never came to fruition;...

    (pp. 19-20)
  3. CHAPTER 1 The Shadow of the Plantation
    (pp. 21-34)

    Pittsburgh lies fifty miles north of the Mason Dixon line, the accepted dividing line between those two great districts of the nation known as the North and the South. Below this line lies Dixie, the Old South, the Deep South, the once Solid South, dominated by the plantation with its one-crop system of agriculture. Here lies the Kingdom of Jim Crow, with its Black Belt, sharecroppers, backdoor movies, Jim Crow streetcars and trains, disenfranchised citizens, and lynch law.

    North of this line are the chief industrial centers of the country, a dozen cities in which the Negro people have developed...

  4. CHAPTER 2 The Negro on the Frontier
    (pp. 35-52)

    Almost as early as the English and the Scotch-Irish, the Negro arrived on the western Pennsylvania frontier to claim it for the English and to settle it. With the first military expeditions, Negroes came as officers’ men, as workers about the forts, and as soldiers. Legend says that at General Braddock’s defeat in 1755, his Negro servant Will helped carry the General from the field and that Will later became the property of General Washington. This story lacks verification. Of the early frontiersmen—the buckskinned fellers-of-trees, the moccasined fur-capped trappers and hunters, the scouts and the rangers between the log...

  5. CHAPTER 3 The Early Community, 1804–1860
    (pp. 53-99)

    In 1800, twenty years after the Abolition Act of 1780 had set free the slaves in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh was a town of 400 houses, many of which were still built from log, though some were of frame, and a few of brick. It was still a frontier town in spite of its two printing offices, the log university in Ewalt’s field near the site of the present court house, its two glass factories, tin plate factory, rail splitting establishment, smith’s shops and several shipbuilding enterprises. The town had but recently—1794—been incorporated as a borough. The first fire company...

  6. CHAPTER 4 Abolition Years
    (pp. 100-167)

    As the frontier passed to Kentucky and Illinois, it left behind a town rapidly becoming big, dirty, recognized, and industrialized. The next fifty years were dramatic with the growth of industry and the problems attending it. In the history of the Negro in Pittsburgh, these years were the heroic age, an age in which democracy-loving citizens joined to protect individual freedom against the growing paternalism of industry, to maintain the democratic traditions of the frontier against the encroachment of financial and manufacturing interests, and finally to maintain the unity of the Republic itself that was threatened by the insurrection of...

  7. CHAPTER 5 Civil Rights
    (pp. 168-215)

    When the runaway slaves, in their Pittsburgh hideouts, anticipated with every breath an assured freedom, they were merely emerging, had they but known it, upon a northern battlefield whose dimensions and action they could not guess. They envied the freedom of the Pittsburgh Negro, but they did not realize the constantly shifting basis of that freedom in social attitudes and legal sanctions. The historical panorama of the Pittsburgh battleground exhibits a neat paradox: whereas in the earlier years the Negro, denied by law the privilege of equal citizenship, was aided surreptitiously to a greater freedom than his legal status permitted,...

  8. CHAPTER 6 The Negro Wage Worker
    (pp. 216-229)

    It hardly needs to be said that the Negro wage worker constitutes the largest group of the Negro population in Pittsburgh, as it does anywhere else. That the wage worker is also the basic group and the barometer of the Negro’s welfare may not be so readily admitted. Yet as the fortunes of the Negro worker rise and fall, so rise and fall the well being of the people—not the Negro people alone, but the whole people. The prosperity and security of a people is as great as that of the least of its people. If the greater number...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Church, School and Press
    (pp. 230-249)

    The devotion of the Negro people to the church is grace returned by a child to a beneficent mother. The church, from the days of Richard Allen’s and Absalom Jones’ Free African Society of 1787 to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, ministered to every need of the people. The early church led a people from bondage. In the early years of freedom, it fed them their portion of the milk and honey in the Canaan of the northern cities of the early 19th century. It shed and clothed them with skill and knowledge, teaching them to read and write so...

  10. CHAPTER 8 The Later Community
    (pp. 250-258)

    The snow that fell over a murky city on New Year’s Day 1863, fell on a city rejoicing over the proclamation which, in accordance with President Lincoln’s promise of the preceding October, declared free all slaves of those men still in rebellion against the Union.

    Beginning at dark, from the hills above the monongahela, a salute of a hundred guns was fired, continuing into the night. Parades with bands made jubilee in the streets. A half century of passionate, vehement effort had found its reward. As thePostsaid, defeat of the Rebellion was assured, the Union would be saved,...

  11. CHAPTER 12 Folkways
    (pp. 259-292)

    There exists in Pittsburgh a Negro way of life as individual as the Italian, the Jewish, the Polish, or native-white way of living. It has become traditional, integrated, and it colors the larger community. It shapes the religion and politics, the press, the sociabilities, the arts, the method of livelihood. It is a unique body of folkways and racial lore.

    It appears most sturdily and articulately where people live most densely and are most free of superimposed and restrictive elements from other folkways, where it is spontaneous and unselfconscious. Out of it the future culture of a people will emerge....

  12. CHAPTER 13 Arts and Culture
    (pp. 293-333)

    From the days of the Theban Literary Society of the 1830’s, organized by the Vashons, Pecks, Delanys, Woodsons, and others of the earliest Pittsburgh Negro families, to the Aurora Reading Club and the Saturday Night Club of present-day Pittsburgh, a current of interest in ideas, books, music, drama and, to a lesser degree, painting and sculpture has animated Negro life in the city. And to American Negro culture Pittsburgh has made definite contributions. Henry Ossawa Tanner is usually cited as the outstanding example. But J. B. Vashon, his son George Vashon, Rev. Abraham D. Lewis, Rev. Lewis Woodson, Mrs. Susan...

  13. CHAPTER 14 The People Speak
    (pp. 334-360)

    In this chapter the Pittsburgh Negro speaks for himself. Here is what he has to say about living in Pittsburgh, about his problems, his achievements. Here are a dozen different attitudes toward his community, toward his fellow Pittsburghers, Negro and white. With varying degrees of articulateness, men and women from a dozen walks of life have put together their words and sentences to write this chapter. The housewife of moderate circumstances, the paperhanger and his wife, the trained social worker, the minister, the college student. The unemployed worker with no particular training for a job; the young woman who is...

  14. APPENDIX 1. Memorial of Pittsburgh’s Free Citizens of Color, 1837
    (pp. 361-367)
  15. APPENDIX 2. Lewis Woodson’s “Birthday Memorandum” of 1856
    (pp. 368-368)
  16. APPENDIX 3. Two Poems by George B. Vashon: “Vincent Ogé” and “A Life Day”
    (pp. 369-382)
    (pp. 383-397)
    (pp. 398-406)
    (pp. 407-408)