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Herbert P. Douglas Jr., the oldest living U.S. Olympic medalist — and a University of Pittsburgh alumnus who served on its Board of Trustees and was later named an emeritus trustee — died Saturday, April 22, 2023. He was 101.
“In every role that he filled, as an aspiring athlete from Hazelwood, as a student-athlete and University trustee, and as an esteemed businessman, Olympian and community leader, Herb Douglas excelled,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said. “He was both a champion himself and a champion of others, never hesitating to open doors of opportunity and help people pursue their own success. Unsurprisingly, Herb left an indelible mark on this world, while leaving an incomprehensible hole in the hearts of so many. I am proud to have called him my friend, and Karen and I will be keeping his family and circle of loved ones close in thought as we begin to honor his remarkable life and legacy.”
In 1948, Douglas graduated from the University with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and placed second in the Olympic trials in the long jump.
A few months later, he won a bronze medal in London’s 1948 Summer Olympics.
“Herb Douglas led a remarkable life that inspired people the world over. Whether it was as an Olympic medalist, accomplished business executive or personal mentor, Herb impacted and was loved by so many. That is certainly the case at the University of Pittsburgh, where his life and legacy are truly enduring,” said Heather Lyke, director of athletics at Pitt. “On a personal note, one of the greatest blessings for me here has been getting to know Herb and listening to the stories he shared and lessons he taught me. His incredible intellect and determination were only surpassed by his personal kindness. Pitt Athletics is forever indebted to his passion and support. It is so fitting that our future indoor track will be named in Herb’s honor, ensuring his name and legacy live on to inspire future Pitt student-athletes.”
Douglas received a standing ovation when he was inducted into the inaugural Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame class in 2018. Four years later, at a celebration for Douglas’ 100th birthday, Gallagher announced an even greater recognition: the 300-meter indoor track planned for Pitt’s future Victory Heights facility would be named for one of the Panthers’ all-time greatest athletes: Herbert P. Douglas Jr.
“Herb Douglas meant so much to so many. He was a friend and mentor to me for more than two decades,” said Alonzo Webb, head coach of Pitt's men's and women's track and field and cross-country teams. “Herb had an unwavering commitment to our University and athletics department. Through the Herbert P. Douglas Scholarship, he helped many track and field student-athletes attain a Pitt degree, and he always encouraged them to pursue graduate studies. Herb was a true Pitt ambassador who kept company with Presidents and world leaders. I’ll always treasure our conversations and his wisdom.”
Born March 9, 1922, Douglas grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood, where he showed off his remarkable athletic ability, running and playing basketball and competing in other sports at Taylor Allderdice High School.
At just 14, Douglas met Jesse Owens, the legendary Black Olympian who won four gold medals at the 1936 Games in Berlin. Owens placed his arms around the young man and asked Douglas about himself.
“I run the 100-meter dash and do the long jump,” Douglas said.
“That’s more than what I did at your age,” Owens responded, encouraging the teenage Douglas to go to college.
If not for the early discovery of his athleticism, Douglas likely would have followed his father into entrepreneurship rather than going to college. Herbert Paul Douglas Sr. ran a Shadyside parking garage and presided over a close-knit family. As the younger Douglas told Pitt Magazine in summer 2008, his father taught him service, integrity and commitment.
Those values aided a young Douglas as he won city championships in tumbling, sprinting and basketball and state titles in track and field. In 1940, he set a broad jump record at Allderdice that stood for decades.
But breaking sports records and racial barriers wasn’t always easy. Douglas, the first Black basketball player at his high school, quit the squad in 1940 after teammates refused to pass him the ball. Segregation and Jim Crow were the order of the day, yet he continued to excel, winning an athletic scholarship to Xavier University of Louisiana, the country’s only Catholic historically Black college or university.
Ralph Metcalfe, the Xavier coach who recruited Douglas, won four track medals in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. Under his tutelage in 1942, Douglas’ 440-relay team made Xavier the first Black college to win a national title.
During Douglas’ sophomore year, he returned to Pittsburgh to help manage the family business started by his father, who had lost his sight to a stroke when Douglas was in the first grade. Working with and observing his disciplined father helped Douglas learn to “analyze, organize, initiate and follow through,” he told Pitt Magazine in 2008. “Anyone who follows those four steps can succeed.”
Douglas transferred to Pitt in 1945 and starred on the University’s football and track teams from 1945 to 1948. He won four intercollegiate championships in the long jump and one in the 100-yard dash. He additionally captured three national Amateur Athletic Union championships in the long jump.
During his time at Pitt, he became close friends with Jimmy Joe Robinson, another pioneering Black student-athlete. Along with Allen Carter, they became the first Black football players at Pitt.
Then in 1948, he won a bronze medal in London’s Summer Olympics, with a 24-foot, 8.75-inch long jump.
Radio talk show host Bev Smith was born March 4, 1943 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Smith is the eldest of six children born to Isabel and John Sloan. She was raised in the Homewood neighborhood of Pennsylvania, and graduated from Westinghouse High School. In 1961, Smith entered beautician school, to raise money for college, and a year later enrolled in Clark’s Business School. In 1963, she took classes at Robert Morris Junior College.
Bev Smith began her television and radio career in 1971 when she was named Pittsburgh’s first African-American Consumer Affairs Investigative Reporter for WPXI Television. In 1975, she was named News and Public Affairs Director for Sheridan Broadcasting and hosted a lively talk show on Sheridan's flagship station, WAMO. Since then, Bev Smith has taken her “fire brand” style of talk shows to KDKA and WTAE Radio in Pittsburgh, WNWS in Miami, WKIS in Orlando and WRC in Washington DC. Bev also worked at Black Entertainment Television for over thirteen years, as the host of the popular national television talk show "Our Voices."
Bev hosted "The Bev Smith Show" heard on the American Urban Radio Networks, where she was fondly known as "The Queen of Late Night Talk." She has hosted the show since 1998, and at one time was the only African American woman radio talk show host who has a nationally syndicated show in the country.
Never afraid to tackle issues, she has lived with the homeless, walked the streets investigating prostitutes, raised money for babies with AIDS and talked with inmates on death row. She has interviewed personalities such as Bill Cosby, Vice President Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Al Sharpton and a host of guests, many of whom she now refers to as her “special 20 friends. ”The Bev Smith Show" offers a "Unique Community Connection," African-Americans know and trust her to deliver critical information and entertainment news.
Smith is especially passionate and devoted to educating the public about literacy, she has worked with a number of organizations focused on improving literacy in the nation, including "Reading is Fundamental" and "Head Start." Frequently on "The Bev Smith Show" Bev chats with a number of experts, educators and guests to find solutions to help improve literacy in America. Additionally, Bev has been honored for her work fighting AIDS, The Black Aids Institute has awarded her on numerous occasions for her contributions to educate the public about this disease.
Over the years, Bev has received nearly 300 awards, citations and trophies for her contributions in radio and television. Among them the 1990 Radio Air Crystal Award for her live radio town meeting, “Children Killing Children Over Drugs.” Mayors from Pittsburgh, PA; Jacksonville, NC; Cincinnati and Columbus, OH have declared special Bev Smith Days. For the past four years, Bev Smith has been selected by Talkers Magazine as one of the “Talkers 250, Featuring the Heavy Hundred” – and is recognized nationally as one of the most important radio talk show hosts in America
CATCHING UP WITH PITTSBURGH'S OWN MS. BEV LIVING HER LIFE AT 80 LIKE IT IS GOLDEN
PUM: MS. BEV WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO SINCE YOU LEFT PITTSBURGH IN 2017.
BEV: I have been taking care of my 101 year old mom, in October 2017 I left radio and moved to Harrisburg, PA to join my siblings to help out with the care of my mom so she would not have to move into a nursing home. In terms of my broadcast and journalism career, every Wednesday I host a show with Reverend Joe Williams, of the Mount Airy, United Fellowship Church located in Philadelphia. Rev. Joe Williams, is the last surviving member of the iconic Gospel group, The Dixie Hummingbirds. During COVID a lot of folks stopped going to church, so ministers started to buy toll free phone lines so people could call in and listen to church. Rev. Joe called me about two years ago to be a guest on his show, and later I became an interviewer. You know interviewing is what I do best. I am also working on writing two books. On the show we discuss everything, recently we tackled the question “Do Black people really want to be free?” I donate my time to be a part of this show because I so missed having a voice. I like the fact that we are free to discuss anything we want and not be censored by white ownership. We have open phone lines and this is a great way the churches can get to the public and have a captive audience.
PUM: MS. BEV YOU JUST TURNED 80, ON MARCH 4, WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
MS. BEV: My family is the most important thing to me. My daughter, granddaughter, my mama, mama Sloan, to be able to take care of my mom is very cathartic. This has been the best way that I have been able to deal with anger and get rid of it, to see pure love and get rid of pain of people who have hurt me in the past, this is true mercy of God and how God is forgiven. Every situation God has healed me, I just had a surgery where I fractured a bone under my eye after falling, and God has healed me, there’s no lost of sight or bruising, God has healed me.
PUM: TAKING CARE OF YOUR 101 YEAR OLD MOM YOU HAVE LEARNED A GREAT DEAL ABOUT HOW WE TREAT OUR ELDERLY IN THIS COUNTRY.
MS. Bev: I moved to Harrisburg in 2017, when I got off the air as the host of a radio show in Pittsburgh. What I learned is the fact that caretakers do not get enough credit for their hard work. I am working on the aging project because of the way we treat our elderly in this country is horrendous. Other countries honor their elderly, but here we as black people turn them away, and we need to do better when it comes to our elderly.
I have learned through everything to trust God, if you decide to quit it is over. It is not over for me, I still want to be involved in my community, God blessed me to be able to use my voice on this show, which has been wonderfully received with our audience. We have good guests, and there is not the pressure of having white management scrutinizing and criticizing. I know something about being a Black woman working in this industry where they want to pay you less than your white counterparts and not open up opportunities for you.
PUM: THE RADIO AND TELEVISION INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED GREATLY SINCE YOUR DAYS OF REPORTING AND HOSTNG TOP NATIONAL SHOWS.
Ms. Bev: I don’t feel the pressure I use to have working in the radio and television business. I am humbled from my experience. Our business was about stardom, how do you keep it, you are only as good as your last show. The show I am hosting now once a week, has humbled me, it is not about stardom now, every minute, hour, day, month and year I hold on to and thank God for the opportunity to connect with my community. In this business you can be very busy chasing stardom, I was dedicated to getting information that could change black people’s lives. I didn’t announce that I was gone from my long radio and television career, because the industry left me. It has humbled me, and as a result I am satisfied with a freeing spirit. If you don’t watch it the industry makes you competitive, creates enemies especially if you don't fall into line.
Black radio has failed us, you to have no gospel shows, we need better news shows. Give me the name of a national talk show host talking to me, as a black woman. White media is back to where they use to be, especially thanks to Donald Trump. Back in our day, if advertisers didn't spend money with us, we would boycott them. There is no Ebony or Jet, the way it used to be, black newspapers are gone.
We are just seeing images, black person hosting a show, are they really connecting to US? Are they really for Black people? I am not suggesting that many of the new talent is not doing a good job, but what is the real impact they are having with their black audiences? We are big consumers, we buy more products than any other ethnic group, we need shows like the one I hosted 30 years ago, “Our Voices,” because the information resonates with our communities. I hosted that show on BET and people are still pulling up old tapes for the information and that kind of show really meant something to our communities.
PUM: OUR BLACK COMMUNITY HAS SOME SERIOUS CHALLENGES, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
MS. BEV: Right now is a golden opportunity to organize politically, but do we want to be free? I am not sure black people are free. We like to buy all the designer labels, shoes with red soles, names on the purses, we are advertising for folks who care less about us and yet we continue to try and mimic white people. We have run away from our communities, we do not have drug stores or grocery stores in our neighborhoods, the doctors have moved out. We don’t live in our communities any more, do we want to be free? We don’t have strong communities where people care like when I was growing up in the Hill district and Homewood, we are still fighting some of the same battles with crime and drugs. We got black police killing us, we don’t have the anger in 2023 to say not in our communities. We need to stand up be counted and Get Involved!
In 2023, many black people still can’t read, when black folks were taking books out of the library back in the day it made white people feel bad.
In 1952, my family left the Hill District and moved to Homewood, this was a different time for black people and their families, we seemed to care about each other. I don’t know what happened to Homewood, I can’t believe young black men and older ones are running through our communities killing babies, killing each other. There is no respect for each other, these are colored folks not black people of African descent or they would have a better appreciation of their history. When you tap into your African American spirit, you can appreciate the history and the fact that our people built this country. Young black kids need to understand their history. I say to our new Black Mayor Ed Gainey in Pittsburgh, pray. He needs the democrats to show their support for him, pray for him and his beautiful wife. You are in a city that cares more for football than these black kids going to bed hungry. Stay on your knees, pray for our first Black mayor, support him. Where is the black family? Back in our day it was not just about your biological family as black people, we understood the importance of representing the family of Africans in America.
PUM: AS A TRAILBLAZER IN THE RADIO AND TELEVISON BUSINESS WHAT IS YOUR LEGACY?
MS. BEV: My legacy. I don’t think of it as a legacy. I am reminded of using my voice to get black people out of prison, help them get housing. When Katrina hit, how do we help save a community? Black people living in slave quarters in Mississippi, because the foundations to their houses not constructed right. My goal was to use the eye of the microphone and turn it on. Shine brightly the light on the plight of black people and let America know what is really happening to us. I have been shot at, marching against the Klan, slept with the homeless, but I had special moments to meet important people like the my late mentor Dick Gregory. My experiences have allowed me not to concentrate on the haters but think about all those people who have been kind to me. If there is a legacy I would want it to be one of leaving kindness. Bev Smith was kind to me. Bev Smith donated 3,000 books to a library in Garfield. My legacy would be “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is also known as the "Golden Rule”.
PUM: CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH FOR YOU.
I think the contributions of black women in America is significant, and more attention needs to be paid to every day hard working black women who are often forgotten. We appreciate the hard work of Harriet Tubman, and she should be celebrated but there are so many hard working women we need to acknowledge. You use to see so many black women in movies and now they are gone, how are they making a living, ask me I know what it is like to not get a phone call when you are black. During my time, as a black advocate, it was hard to make Oprah money. I say this Women's History Month, thanks to all the black women who dared to open up opportunities for others because they were not satisfied with the status quo and they appreciated their blackness every step of the way.
You can catch Ms. Bev dial in on here Wednesday show hosted with Rev. Joe Williams:
11AM-12 NOON Phone: 945-218-0120
ACCESS CODE: 865218 (POUND.)
Bev Smith with her 101 year old mom, Isabel Sloan.
In a moment when women outpace men in college applications and enrollments, and more women are holding high-profile leadership positions, one could be forgiven for thinking the battle for gender parity in academe is won. Yet there are many more barriers left to break, research shows.
This Women’s History Month, learn about the lives of just a few of the incredible Pitt women whose path-forging work changed our past — and is shaping our tomorrow.
Jean Hamilton Walls, the first Black woman to receive a bachelor's degree at Pitt (1910), was also the first here to receive a PhD (1938). She graduated from Allegheny High School in 1904 and majored in mathematics and physics at Pitt before getting her master's degree at Howard University. She then returned to complete her PhD in Pittsburgh. It’s almost impossible to overstate the structural limitations Walls overcame to do what she accomplished. Her enduring strength paved a path for thousands of Black women at Pitt and beyond, over the course of the last century.
At age 7, musical prodigy and famed jazz pianist Geri Allen sat down at her instrument for the first time, and music changed forever. She was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2008, the same year she won a Distinguished Alumni Award from her alma mater, Howard University. Already a world-renowned musician, Allen (A&S ’85) became director of Pitt’s Jazz Studies program in 2013. She was the department’s head until her death in 2017. She has been described by more than one of her peers as “the female Herbie Hancock on the piano” and is remembered by the University community as much for her compassion and humanity as for her musical genius.
After earning her master’s degree in biological sciences in 1966, Kenyan-born Wangari Maathai became the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate. She then founded the Green Belt Movement, which mobilizes Kenyans, many of them women, to plant trees — providing employment for them and renewable resources for their villages. Though Maathai was attacked and even imprisoned when her work ran afoul of powerful developers, she persevered and ultimately became Kenya’s assistant minister for environment and natural resources. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004, the first African woman to be awarded the prize.
When Kathryn Reed (MED ’14, SHRS ’16) was an undergraduate studying emergency medicine, she was introduced to people working as physician assistants (PA) for the first time. She also realized that not many PAs looked like her. This led Reed to found the National Society of Black Physician Assistants, an organization focused on diversifying the physician assistant student body by increasing the number of Black students, providing mentorship and support and improving health outcomes and disparities in Black communities. In 2020, Reed shared her experience of being a biracial person in medicine as a part of People magazine’s Voices from the Fight Against Racism. Reed is currently an assistant professor and vice chair for equity, inclusion and community engagement in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies.
In addition to her scholarly work and leadership in the field of mental health counseling, in particular in African American communities, Assistant Professor Quiana M. Golphin investigates the role of the spiritual in wellness. Golphin is an ordained minister at Deliverance Baptist Church in Pittsburgh’s Wilkinsburg neighborhood. She’s also a leader of the Training Religious Leaders In Bereavement Counseling to Upskill Treatment Experiences program, which expands mental health services to reduce racial health disparities by training clergy and health care paraprofessionals in communities of color.
In her time as chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Pitt’s School of Medicine, Jeannette South-Paul made clear her commitment to minority patients. Disparities in health care for people of color and of minority genders "are immense and not narrowing, unfortunately," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2011. "And they tend to concentrate in cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health, though they [also] exist in other areas." Widely recognized as a speaker on sociocultural issues in health care, when she was chair of family medicine, South-Paul was one of only a few African American department chairs at medical schools nationwide.
In her writing, best-selling author Bebe Moore Campbell (EDUC ’71) explored racial justice, childhood obesity and the tensions in friendships between Black and white people with fearless clarity. She shared the stigma of mental illness and memories of childhood, in particular those spent in North Carolina with her father. Campbell came to Pitt from her hometown of Philadelphia in 1967 and graduated in 1971 with a degree in elementary education. She would later serve on the Board of Trustees and donated her archives to Pitt. Campbell died in 2006.
Jean Hamilton Walls was the first African American woman to enroll in Pitt in 1906.
Summer Lee wins 12th Congressional District, and becomes Pa.’s first Black congresswoman. “Our communities have been waiting far, far too long for this,” Lee said of her historic win. “This is victory, not just for me but for each and every one of us.”
Born and raised in the Mon Valley, Summer Lee is a dedicated organizer, attorney, and progressive state legislator. A proud alum of Woodland Hills public schools, Summer grew up in North Braddock and Swissvale before graduating from Penn State and Howard University School of Law, where she focused on civil rights and social justice advocacy. She worked as labor organizer, joining the Fight for $15 to increase the minimum wage, and lead voter mobilization efforts for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. In 2017, after repeated incidents of violence from police and school administrators against local students, Summer spearheaded a successful write-in initiative that transformed the local school board.
In 2018, at the urging of her neighbors, Summer threw her hat in the ring for State House – taking on a 20-year incumbent, doubling voter turnout, and winning with over 67%of the vote. She also made history, becoming the first Black woman from Western Pennsylvania ever elected to the legislature.
Throughout her time in office, Summer has been a voice for working families, and a champion for sustainable jobs, environmental justice, police accountability, reproductive rights, immigration rights, and gender and racial equity. She is a tireless advocate for workers’ rights, unions, the right to organize, and the fight for a livable wage. Summer has also brought millions back to her community for infrastructure upgrades and community revitalization.
She has also continued to lead efforts to build a more reflective democracy. When corporate polluters pushed a dangerous fracking proposal in her home district, she organized in deep partnership with community leaders and frontline organizations – and won, stopping the proposal in its tracks. In 2019, she co-founded UNITE, a member-driven grassroots organization dedicated to building progressive electoral power up and down the ballot. Since its founding, UNITE has transformed regional politics, helping to expand the electorate, welcome emerging Democratic voters at scale, and elect slates of progressives – judges, magistrates, county councilors, school board members, and more, including Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, Ed Gainey.
On Sunday, February 19, Kelly Strayhorn Theater hosted our presenting partner, Rep. Summer Lee, for her ceremonial swearing-in. Community members, friends, and family joined together to celebrate Lee and her achievements - becoming Pittsburgh’s first Black member of Congress and the first Black woman to represent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in U.S. House of Representatives - before sending her to Congress to represent us all.
Today state Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware, was elected the first woman to serve as speaker of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives in the chamber’s near 250-year history.
During remarks in the House chamber, McClinton acknowledged the history being made and her commitment to bipartisanship. She thanked her colleagues for their support.
“In my career, I’ve been blessed to achieve other ‘firsts’ in this chamber, and I am equally honored to serve as this historic body’s first woman speaker,” McClinton said. “I stand before you today, humbled and honored to be elected your speaker, and most importantly, my election today makes me more hopeful about the future of our commonwealth and our communities.
“I’m confident if we collaborate rather than criticize, debate rather than disparage and replace shortsighted political gain with sincere cooperation - this body can do better - and will do better. Today can be our fresh start. Each of us is here because our neighbors have placed their trust in us. And that collective trust is what empowers us to act in the interest of our communities and to advance Pennsylvania for the common good.”
McClinton, who was first elected in 2015, represents communities in west and southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon and Darby boroughs in Delaware County. Before being elected, she served as assistant public defender for seven years and became assistant chief of the East Zone during her last year.
In 2013, McClinton combined her passion for public service and law by becoming chief counsel to state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, where she developed policy and legislation, organized expungement fairs and public policy forums, and assisted constituents.
McClinton made history in 2018 when she was elected the first woman and first African American to be elected as House Democratic Caucus chair, and again in 2020, when she was the first woman elected House Democratic leader. Most recently, McClinton became the first woman to serve as majority leader.
Richard L. Thornburgh, Pennsylvania governor during the Three Mile Island crisis; the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the oldest appellate court in North America; Keith Haring, the internationally recognized and socially engaged Pop artist; Piper Aircraft, manufacturer of the J-3 Cubs and World War II L-4 Grasshoppers; and Ford Station Underground Railroad, operated by Erie's first freedwoman Emma Howell and her escaped husband James Ford are among the subjects of the 37 new Pennsylvania Historical Markers approved by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC).
The new markers, selected from 91 applications, will be added to the more than 2,500 familiar blue signs with gold lettering along roads throughout Pennsylvania.
Since 1946 PHMC’s Historical Markers have chronicled the people, places and events that have affected the lives of Pennsylvanians over the centuries. The signs feature subjects such as Native Americans and early settlers, government and politics, athletes, entertainers, artists, struggles for freedom and equality, factories and businesses, and a multitude of other noteworthy topics.
More information on the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program is available online at www.PAHistoricalMarkers.comOpens In A New Window.
Pennsylvanians continue to have great interest in the Historical Marker Program, and last year the number of marker nominations submitted nearly doubled. PHMC is committed to ensuring that any markers approved can be manufactured and installed prior to considering new nominations.
The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Learn more by visiting PHMC onlineOpens In A New Window or following us on FacebookOpens In A New Window, TwitterOpens In A New Window, InstagramOpens In A New Window or LinkedInOpens In A New Window.
The following is a list of the newly approved Pennsylvania Historical Markers with the name of the marker, its location, and a brief description:
Allan P. Jaffe (1935–1987), Pottsville, Schuylkill County
An internationally renowned musician and entrepreneur, Jaffe is credited with revitalizing early American jazz. He was born in Pottsville and received his musical education there before attending Valley Forge Military Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1961, he established Preservation Hall in New Orleans, LA, and played sousaphone for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Allentown State Hospital (1912–2010), Allentown, Lehigh County
It was Pennsylvania’s first state hospital to treat mental illness through homeopathy. Dr. Solomon C. Fuller, among the first African American psychiatrists, served as a consulting pathologist at the hospital. In 1930 the Children’s Institute, one of the first of its kind, opened under the direction of Dr. Henry Klopp. In 1999 ASH became the first state hospital to end the use of patient seclusion, gaining international importance for its Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams.
Battle of Edge Hill, Abington Township, Montgomery County
On December 7, 1777, it was the final major engagement prior to the Valley Forge encampment. Gen. Sir William Howe marched British and Hessian forces from Philadelphia to strike entrenched Continental troops on the surrounding Edge Hill Heights. The Continentals used "hit and run" tactics that deluded British officers into thinking they were retreating, causing Howe to withdraw his soldiers back to the city.
Bob Babbitt (1937–2012), Pittsburgh. Allegheny County
Musicians Hall of Fame inductee Babbitt is best known for his bass guitar work with the legendary Motown session musicians, the Funk Brothers, and the group of studio musicians based in Philadelphia at Sigma Sound Studios and Philadelphia International Records, MFSB. Babbitt appeared on more than 200 top 40 records and was a three-time Grammy Award winner.
Caroline Burnhman Kilgore (1838–1909), Springfield Township, Delaware County
Kilgore was the first woman admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania. In 1883 she was the first woman to practice in a Pennsylvania court in the Orphans' Courts and later became the fourth woman to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. She fought for 16 years to become a licensed attorney in Pennsylvania and was an active suffragist.
Charles "Teenie" Harris (1908–1998), Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Harris was a photojournalist who extensively chronicled Pittsburgh’s Black community and the jazz and cultural scene through his photography studio and four-decade career with the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s most influential Black newspapers.
Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810), Philadelphia
Brown was an influential early American novelist, editor and historian. Born into a Philadelphia Quaker family, his novels are all set in or around Philadelphia and are the first literary descriptions of the city’s yellow fever plagues of the 1790s and Pennsylvania frontier violence against the Lenape. Brown’s tales of madness, social injustice, and mercantile deceit were a major inspiration for later Philadelphia gothic writers like George Lippard and Edgar Allan Poe. Brown supported the abolition of slavery, and in 1798 he published a defense of women’s equality.
Dr. Chevalier Jackson (1865–1958), Schwenksville Borough, Montgomery County
Born in Pittsburgh in 1865, Jackson graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1886. During his career, he became an expert in laryngology, bronchology, and the removal of accidentally swallowed objects, saving thousands of lives through his innovative procedures. He lobbied Congress to pass the Federal Caustic Poison Act of 1927, requiring warning labels for poisonous products.
Edward Lee Morgan (1938–1972), Philadelphia
Lee Morgan was a jazz trumpeter, composer and activist. While a student at Jules E. Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical High School in Philadelphia, he attended workshops and jam sessions at Music City. He joined the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and later collaborated with John Coltrane and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He went on to become a major figure in the hardbop subgenre of the 1960s and recorded one of Blue Note Records’ best-selling albums, The Sidewinder.
Edward Piszek (1916–2004), Springfield Township, Montgomery County
Piszek, cofounder of Mrs. Paul's Kitchens, was a pioneer businessman and innovator in producing and marketing frozen "heat-and-eat" convenience seafoods. A strong advocate of Polish American heritage, his philanthropic efforts supported the establishment of the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia and a major antituberculosis campaign in Poland in the late 1960s.
First All-Minority Lineup in Major League Baseball, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
On September 1, 1971, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Philadelphia Phillies 10–7 in Three Rivers Stadium. Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh started nine African American and Latino players in the game. This marked the first time an all-minority lineup took the field in Major League Baseball history.
Ford Station Underground Railroad, Erie, Erie County
Erie was a significant stopping point along the Underground Railroad for enslaved people escaping to Canada and was unique in that it was operated by Erie's first freedwoman, Emma Howell, and her husband James Ford, who escaped enslavement. The station was established in 1811 and operated until 1836.
Frances Tipton Hunter (1896–1957), Williamsport, Lycoming County
An American illustrator of the mid-20th century, Hunter contributed 18 covers to The Saturday Evening Post and was published in Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and others. A proficient watercolorist, skillful at depicting children in art, she was also a popular calendar, paper doll and puzzle artist.
Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651–1720), Philadelphia
Pastorius was a German-born educator, lawyer, poet and public official, who was the founder of Germantown, the first permanent German American settlement in America. In 1688 he drafted the first protest against slavery in America. He served in town office on several occasions.
Haines Shoe House, Hellam Township, York County
The Shoe House was built in 1948 along the iconic Lincoln Highway, the nation's first improved road for automobiles from New York City to San Francisco. The building is an exceptional example of programmatic architecture and was designed by York architect Frederick Rempp. The shoe-shaped structure was built by self-made millionaire Mahlon N. Haines, the “Shoe Wizard,” to advertise his shoe business in York.
Hakim's Bookstore, Philadelphia
Founded in the 1950s, Hakim's Bookstore represents a center for Black activism, advocating the power of knowledge in the fight for racial justice. Since the 1960s, people have gathered here to access titles by Black authors. During the Civil Rights Movement it served as an alternative education center for the Black community.
Highlands, Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County
The Highlands is a late-Georgian-style country estate commissioned by wealthy Quaker lawyer and politician Anthony Morris. The property was recently transferred from PHMC to a local organization.
Hillary Koprowski, M.D. (1916–2013), Philadelphia
Koprowski was a Polish American virologist, immunologist and director of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, 1957–1991. A pioneer in the use of monoclonal antibodies, he developed the rabies vaccine and an early polio vaccine. His work is recognized by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and domestic and foreign medical organizations.
Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia
Holy Trinity Catholic Church was the first parish church in the United States established specifically to serve a national group, and became the prototype of this movement to provide a parish that recognized native language and customs. It was built in 1789 to serve Philadelphia's German Catholic community, which accounted for more than half the Catholic population of Philadelphia and PA.
John G. Johnson (1841–1917), Philadelphia
Hailed as "America's Greatest Lawyer," Johnson practiced law from 1862 to 1884 and represented U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, DuPont, JP Morgan and other corporations. He donated his personal art collection to the City of Philadelphia, which became one of the founding collections for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Keith Allen Haring (1958–1990), Kutztown, Berks County
Raised in Kutztown, Haring was an internationally recognized artist known for his contributions to Pop art as well as his socially engaged works that addressed the AIDS epidemic and public health, racism, homophobia and environmentalism. He believed in the power of art to promote inclusivity, address social issues, and promote a healthy democracy.
Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson (1900–1948), Ellwood City, Lawrence
Hack Wilson was born in Ellwood City and was one of baseball's greatest power hitters in the 1920s and 1930s. He played for the New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
Local 8, Industrial Workers of the World, Philadelphia
From 1913 to 1923, Local 8 of the Industrial Workers of the World represented dockworkers in Philadelphia’s bustling port. Led by Philadelphia-born Ben Fletcher, Local 8 was among the country’s most powerful, Black-led, multiracial organizations, whose membership included African Americans, Irish Americans and European immigrants. Local 8 fought for racial and ethnic equality on the docks and better working conditions, doubled workers' pay, and ended the “shape-up” as a hiring process on the dock.
Major Andrew Gardner Happer (1839–1915), Washington, Washington County
Happer accompanied Gov. Andrew Gregg Curtin on Lincoln's funeral train through Pennsylvania and served as a judge for the Fishing Creek Confederacy trial. He was a civic leader and businessman in Washington County.
Marshalls Creek Explosion, Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe
On June 26, 1964, the Marshalls Creek Fire Company responded to a tractor-trailer fire, which exploded shortly after their arrival, killing six people, including three firefighters, and injuring 13. It was later discovered that the trailer contained explosives and had no identifying placards. This incident contributed to the enactment of the Transportation Safety Act of 1974 and stricter regulations regarding the transport of hazardous materials.
Mount Pleasant, Philadelphia
Mount Pleasant was built between 1762 and 1765 and is recognized as one of the finest examples of Georgian-style architecture. Under its first owner, John Macpherson, a privateer, the estate was a plantation where enslaved African Americans worked.
PA Logging Railroad, Heath Township, Jefferson County
One of the earliest logging locomotive railroads in Pennsylvania, it was built by the Wright & Pier Company in 1864 on the west branch of Callen Run in Jefferson County. This and other major innovations in early logging railroads significantly contributed to the expansion of the timber industry across the commonwealth.
Piper Aircraft, Lock Haven, Clinton County
William T. Piper Sr. moved his light airplane company from Bradford to Lock Haven in 1937. J-3 Cubs, Piper's most recognizable and popular planes, were constructed here. Thousands of L-4 Grasshoppers, modified Cubs, served with distinction in Europe and Asia during the Second World War. At its peak, Piper employed more than 2,000 people and accounted for almost 50 percent of Clinton County's economic output. The Lock Haven plant closed in 1984.
President Pumping Engine (1872–1900), Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County
The massive engine attracted worldwide interest as the largest and most powerful single-cylinder rotative steam engine ever constructed. Said to be named for President Ulysses. S. Grant, the engine lowered the water level in the Friedensville zinc mines so that mining could continue. Lehigh Zinc Company’s Cornish-born engineer, John West, designed the engine and pumps, which were manufactured in Philadelphia foundries.
Richard L. Thornburgh (1932–2020), Rosslyn Farms Borough, Allegheny County
Dick Thornburgh was the 41st governor of Pennsylvania and 76th attorney general of the United States. As governor, he oversaw emergency response efforts during the Three Mile Island nuclear accident weeks after his inauguration in 1979. As attorney general, he played a leading role in the enactment of the Americans with Disability Act as well as the investigations in the Pan Am Flight 102 bombing, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the Rodney King beating. He served in the U.S. Department of Justice under five presidents.
Rosedale Banishment, Johnstown, Cambria County
In 1923 Johnstown mayor Joseph Cauffiel banished 2,000 African Americans and Mexicans who had lived in the city for less than seven years after a Black man killed four police officers. They were forced out at gunpoint and threat of imprisonment. It became an international scandal, forcing Gov. Gifford Pinchot to launch an investigation. The event was part of similar deportations occurring in other cities during the Great Migration period.
Samuel V. Merrick (1801–1870), Philadelphia
Merrick was a notable industrialist in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. He built the Southwark Foundry in Philadelphia, cofounded the Franklin Institute, and was the first president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1847–1849.
Sheep Rock Shelter Archaeological Site, Penn Township, Huntingdon County
Beneath Lake Raystown lies the Sheep Rock Shelter archaeological site. Excavations in the late 1960s by archaeologists from the Pennsylvania State University and Juniata College revealed evidence and artifacts representing one of the longest periods of successive and continuous Native American occupation. Evidence traces major changes in Native life from small mobile groups exploiting wild plants and animals for food and shelter to later farmers living in nearby villages and hamlets.
Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Baden Borough, Beaver County
Founded in Ebensburg in 1869, the congregation relocated their motherhouse to Baden in 1901. Known for their efforts in human relations and civics education, they became the first western Pennsylvania Catholic sisters to minister in a foreign country—China in 1926. The sisters have served in education, healthcare, social service, social justice and other ministries in Pennsylvania, 32 other states, and five other nations.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Created by William Penn in 1684 and operating independently since 1722, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in Pennsylvania and the oldest appellate court in North America.
The Trial of Hester Vaughn, Philadelphia
The case of Hester Vaughn set a legal precedent in allowing women a right to a jury of one's peers, foreshadowing suffrage and a woman's right to fully participate in the justice system. Hester Vaughn, accused of infanticide, was sentenced by an all-male jury but was later pardoned after the efforts of Susan B. Anthony and the Workingwoman's Association.
Women of Idenlea, Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County
The first woman physician in Pennsylvania, Dr. Hannah E. Longshore, her sister and successful early woman physician Dr. Jane V. Myers, and her daughter, prominent women’s advocate Lucretia Mott Longshore Blankenburg lived at the Idenlea estate in Philadelphia. These women were most notable for their leadership in advancing the causes of women’s rights and suffrage, women in medicine, abolition of slavery, and civic and municipal reform in Philadelphia.
Charles "Teenie" Harris, First All-Minority Lineup in Major League Baseball in Pittsburgh
Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Franco Harris has died. He was 72.
Harris’ death comes just days before the 50th anniversary of the Steelers’ 50th anniversary celebration of the “Immaculate Reception.” Harris made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history on Dec. 23, 1972 against the Raiders when he swooped in and grabbed a pass from Terry Bradshaw intended for John Fuqua before it hit the ground.
After grabbing the ball, Harris ran it in for a game-winning touchdown with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Steelers won that divisional playoff game 13-7 before losing the AFC title game to the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
Harris’ son Dok told the Associated Press that his father had passed away overnight and that a cause of death was not immediately known.
With the Raiders visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the Steelers are having a ceremony to honor Harris’ play at halftime of the game. Harris’ iconic No. 32 is also set to be retired by the team.
With the news of Franco Harris' passing, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has released a statement, you can read the full statement below.
"The entire team at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is immensely saddened today.
We have lost an incredible football player, an incredible ambassador to the Hall and most importantly, we have lost one of the finest gentlemen anyone will ever meet. Franco not only impacted the game of football, but he also affected the lives of many, many people in profoundly positive ways.
The Hall of Fame and historians everywhere will tell Franco's football story forever. His life story can never be told fully, however, without including his greatness off the field.
My heart and prayers go out to his wife, Dana, an equally incredible person, a special friend to the Hall and someone who cares so deeply for Franco's Hall of Fame teammates."
Harris was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
The Hall of Fame also said that the flags at the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be flown at half-staff today in memory of Franco.
Celeste M. Scott passed to the spirit world on All Souls Day, November 2, 2022. She leaves behind a legacy of activism, organizing, justice, and family. She was a family-oriented, humble, innovative woman and her tireless efforts to improve the lives of the people in her community must not be forgotten or diminished. Just as Celeste loved uplifting others, our Legacy Circle asks that you help us lift up her name and work by contributing to the memorial fundraiser to benefit her family at $50,000. The Legacy Circle is raising funds to provide for her funeral, wake and burial costs, a community memorial, as well as to provide additional financial support to her family in this difficult time.
Celeste Scott's legacy includes:
“CommUnity. Join me in celebrating the life and legacy of a Champion for Housing Justice, Celeste Scott. Celeste was not only a tireless advocate for affordable housing – resulting in the creation of Pittsburgh’s Housing Opportunity Fund – but a celebrated community leader known for her kindness and generosity. She was a fierce champion for racial justice, housing justice, and queer liberation. The City of Pittsburgh is a better place because of Celeste. May her memory be a blessing, now and always.
— Mayor Ed Gainey
SisTers PGH is a BLACK and TRANS-led non-profit organization which serves POC, trans, and nonbinary people within Southwestern PA.
SisTers PGH provides opportunities for our trans communities to thrive through our affirming programming, leadership roles, and initiatives that are created by trans people for trans people. SisTers PGH is led by Founder/Director Ciora Thomas and directed by a majority of black, brown, and TGN people geared to servicing and centering our QTBIPOC.
On March 25, 2022, Kathy W. Humphrey, Ph.D., was inaugurated as Carlow University’s 11th President. Her inauguration was not only a major moment in Pittsburgh’s history but also a national milestone in terms of the “stony road trod” by women, Blacks, and other underrepresented group members seeking to access and achieve at the highest levels of higher education. Dr. Humphrey’s appointment is a significant national signpost in terms of how far we have travelled from 1963 when, to support desegregation, President John F. Kennedy sent troops to the University of Alabama. Her cumulative achievements in higher education causes one to reflect on the substance of “my soul looks back and wonder, how I got over.” With the foregoing in mind, Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor Jack L. Daniel conducted the following interview with President Humphrey.
JLD: Often when people reflect on their background preparation for a new leadership position, they focus on steps in their professional careers. If I asked you to, instead, discuss aspects of your early childhood, your family background, and your experiences before entering college, what would you say helped prepare you to become President of Carlow University.
KWH: My family is vitally important to me. I have 11 siblings and 107 nieces and nephews, and to this day we remain extremely close. My parents were committed to the education of their children and moved their family from the deep South during the Jim Crow era to the Midwest so that all their children would have better educational opportunities. They instilled in me a strong work ethic, as well as the values of social justice, community service, and generosity.
I was also extremely active in my church at an early age, and this provided me with early leadership opportunities and the ability to interact with many well-educated people. I began to work at age 12, in the Parks and Recreation Department, teaching the Arts to children. I also worked as a babysitter for a family who would pick me up from the inner-city and take me to their suburban home, and there I realized the advantages that came with a good education.
I was also a Girl Scout, and selling cookies was my first experience as a fundraiser, and where I began to understand how to persuade people to do what I asked them to do. My childhood had a powerful impact on my ability to serve as Carlow’s President and, when I was offered the opportunity to lead the University, I seized it because the mission and vision of the Mercy Heritage were perfectly aligned with my core values.
JLD: I appreciate very much the solid foundation your parents and others provided for you. As you know well, ours is a complex and conflicted society. Your University’s Mission and Vision Statement indicates, “Carlow University’s vision is to be a preeminent, innovative Catholic University renowned for providing transformational learning experiences in which students realize their full potential and become career-ready ethical leaders committed to a just and merciful world.” To fulfill this mission, what are some of the critical aspects of a Carlow undergraduate education?
KWH: We take great pride in our commitment to both the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the mission and values of the Sisters of Mercy. Our students leave here with an understanding of human dignity, the plight of the poor and vulnerable, and the importance of arriving at a more just and merciful world. At the same time, we understand that it is essential for our graduates to get a return on the investment they make in Carlow.
Forty percent of our students are PELL eligible, and 27% of our students are non-White. Accordingly, the socioeconomic challenges that many Carlow students face mean that we often must work in more individualized and customized ways to ensure that they succeed. Therefore, we try to provide all students with a nurturing environment and close personal guidance to ensure that they earn their degrees as well as become the people they want to become. Our faculty members understand the profile of our students and they are committed to meeting their needs.
I am happy to report that 98% of our graduates are either employed or attending graduate school within six months of graduation. We are also third in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in our Social Mobility ranking which measures our success in advancing social mobility by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students.
JLD: That is quite an achievement! Understandably, many have commented on you being the first Black President of Carlow University. However, in her book, The Truth We Hold: An American Journey, Vice President Kamala Harris indicated that her mother advised, "You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last." With that admonition in mind, what are the kinds of things people in a position such as yours can do to make sure they are not the last?
KWH: My job is always to encourage those who are from under-represented groups to aspire to new heights and to open as many doors for them as possible, much like you did for me, Jack, as you recruited me to Pittsburgh. And persistence is required, especially when those you are encouraging can’t always see a bigger picture or what you see in them.
Mentoring is very much a part of my life. I have been so fortunate over the course of my career to have benefitted from the personal, professional, and spiritual guidance of so many men and women, and I believe it is only right that I do my part in helping others achieve their dreams. I am a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority that helps women achieve their dreams through networking and professional development, and I regularly speak to church groups and women’s groups about affecting change in their lives so that they can achieve what they want to achieve.
In addition, I am committed to community leadership and serve on the Boards of the International Women’s Fund, Urban League of Pittsburgh, and Gwen’s Girl, among others. I have been blessed that my career has brought opportunities for me to serve the greater Pittsburgh community, in hopes of making it a better place for the underserved. I believe that if I can inspire others to give back to their communities, then I will have made a difference.
I am a strong believer that one must “lift as one climbs.” Everywhere I have worked, I have aspired to prepare the people working for me to rise to fill my place when I left. Finally, I believe deeply that “To whom much is given, much is required,” and I feel the pressure every day to live up to this standard, and to instill this value in those whose lives I touch.
JLD: Kathy, I and many others can bear witness to those you helped rise at the University of Pittsburgh. Thanks very much for taking time from your demanding schedule for this interview. For those of us who have been “doing the work” related to equity and social justice in higher education, you are truly motivational in that you serve as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
May 5, 2022
Alma Speed Fox, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement in Pittsburgh, and a resident of the city, has died at the age of 98. Known as the mother of the civil rights movement locally, in October of 2018, she was presented with the key to the city. She became involved with the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP in the 1950s and participated in nearly every march held at Freedom Corner. She also served on the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission, among several other Pittsburgh-based organizations like Freedom Unlimited and Gwen’s Girls.
STATEMENT ON PASSING OF CIVIL RIGHTS ICON ALMA SPEED FOX
The Pittsburgh Branch NAACP mourns the passing of Alma Speed Fox at the age of 98. After moving to Pittsburgh from Cleveland, Ohio, Alma was a tireless advocate for civil and women's rights. In the 1950s she was an integral part of our branch and from 1966 until 1971 Alma was the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh NAACP branch.
"She was an extremely giving person who was never afraid to fight for equality and justice for everyone," said Johnnie Miott, President of the Pittsburgh Branch NAACP. "The Black community has lost a true matriarch."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's first and largest grassroots-based civil rights organization. Over 2,000 volunteer-run branches nationwide.
From: Tim Stevens and Celeste Taylor
Date: January 25, 2022
Re: Announcement of the Passing of Civil Right’s Leader and Activists, Alma Speed Fox
In our lives, there have been few people as special as our Pittsburgh Civil Rights Mother, Alma Speed Fox. She was someone that we felt deeply connected to, and even though she is gone now (1/24/22), we still feel her beautiful and powerful presence. A big hole has been left in our hearts and in our civil rights community. There is so much more we would like to share with you all about our beloved Alma Speed Fox, plus any arrangements to celebrate her magnificent life. We are in consultation with the family and will share more information when we are able. Please lift this dear family up with love and compassion during this difficult time. Muriel Fox Alim Alma Speed Fox
State Rep. Ed Gainey declared victory in the Pittsburgh mayoral election Tuesday night, capping off a year of campaigning during which he defeated incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto in the Democratic primary and turned away an outsider Republican candidate in the general election. Gainey will be Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor.
He had 70% of the vote just after 11 p.m. Tuesday, with almost all mail-in ballots and 91% of in-person precincts reported.
"Let me tell you why this is beautiful. Because you proved that we could have a city for all," Gainey said during his victory speech at the Benedum Center. "You proved that everybody can change."
In conceding, Republican candidate Tony Moreno said his turnout underscores the success of his campaign. “All those people from the outskirts who came and were fired up because they wanted change…" Moreno said during a speech Tuesday night. "We started building something that I think is going to make a huge difference in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh.”
Gainey launched his candidacy last January as a challenge to Peduto, who sought a third term. Progressive figures like state Reps. Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato joined Gainey in saying the city needed new leadership, and financial support from a healthcare worker union PAC helped him win a shocking upset.
On November 22, 2021, the City of Pittsburgh dedicated a new $29. 3 million park as the Frankie Pace Park. The naming was in honor of Ms. Pace’s unwavering work as a community advocate for the Hill District as well as the larger City of Pittsburgh. While I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, I got to know Ms. Pace not only as a grassroots community organizer and business woman who operated a store that supplied products for Black churches, but also as a sturdy Black woman steeped in extended family traditions.
When I first met Ms. Pace, she lived with her daughter, Francis, on Center Avenue, just a few blocks from her store. Her daughter was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and, as such, was connected with her Sorority Sisters at Pitt, one of whom became my wife, Jerlean E. Colley Daniel. For members of the “Pitt extended family,” Ms. Pace’s home often became a “home away from home.” This was especially important during the 1960s when housing segregation was rampant in Pittsburgh and out-of-town Pitt Black students needed a place to stay when they could not afford to go home on holiday breaks or, for other reasons, needed temporary housing. For example, at the time, Pitt had a curfew for women students and Ms. Pace’s home became a late Saturday night “safe zone” for some Black Pitt women students. For me, Ms. Pace’s home became my “community-based office” during the latter part of my graduate studies at Pitt.
During the conduct of my doctoral dissertation, I chose to study the differential effectiveness of indigenous non-professional Blacks communicating with predominantly Black and poor Hill District citizens as compared with the communication success of White professionals, e.g., social workers. I focused on who could more effectively persuade Black citizens to make use of the “War on Poverty” services offered in the Hill District. In many ways, the issues were similar to today’s matter of encouraging poor, urban Blacks to make use of services related to the Coronavirus.
To conduct my dissertation, I had to spend a considerable time in the Hill District meeting local grassroots leaders as well as citizens, many of whom became participants in my research. Ms. Pace was indispensable when it came to not only connecting me with the local citizens but also in establishing my credibility to the point that the citizens permitted me to interview them. During the spring and summer of 1967, I often worked out of Ms. Pace’s home.
As I got to know Ms. Pace over time, she fondly referenced me as “son,” especially when she was giving me advice, e.g., “Son, I’m telling you. These folks have got to be organized when they go downtown. Son, when you get that degree from Pitt, don’t you get a big head on your shoulders because when success goes to a young boy’s head such as yourself, it leaves him looking in the wrong direction. And I’ll say it again --that education you’re getting over at Pitt can’t replace what you’re getting right here in the Hill. So, son, after you finish your Pitt work, don’t you ever stop working in the community.” While listening to her, Ms. Pace seemed to be the type of woman Langston Hughes had in mind when he wrote “Mother to Son:”
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Watching the dynamic Ms. Pace function, I observed a woman steeped in a Christian-based commitment to improving the lives of those around her. She lived the Biblical verse “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). She knew the reference was not to how much money/material things she might receive, but rather the extent to which her disposition was that of being supportive of the poor, the downtrodden. Her deep and abiding respect for the dispossessed was steeped in “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45).
The 1960s were some of the worst race-related times, capped by the 1968 looting and burning in the Hill District, Homewood and Manchester districts. However, because she so loved those around her, Ms. Pace’s was not a store that anyone broke into. Ms. Pace could walk home during the late evenings of that long hot summer, knowing that she would not be harmed by those in open rebellion. Even a junkie respected her when he moved off her store steps after she politely said, “Son, you have to move on. These are steps for those seeking the Holy Ghost, not drugs.”
Some of my fondest memories of Ms. Pace were when I went by her house to “drop off” the fresh fish I had just caught and cleaned for her. I was never able to just “drop off” the fish and leave in minutes. “Dropping off” the fish meant spending at least a half hour to an hour listening to Ms. Pace talk about things such as how to get the Mayor to improve housing in the Hill; the “goings ons” at her church; how well a local activist spoke at a rally regarding rent controls; who was really responsible for the dope in the Black community; and who were and were not legitimate Black community leaders. She made it clear that “all skin ain’t kin” as well as the fact that “empty barrels make the most noise.”
Long before there were conceptual frameworks such as “Critical Race Theory,” “Systemic Racism,” and “Social Determinants of Health,” Ms. Pace was steeped in the awareness she expressed as “these devilish folks been hunting and hounding us in every which a way ever since they had us as slaves, but with God on our side we will change the whole way of doing things.” For the life she lived, Ms. Frankie Pace should not only have a Park named for her but, going forward, she should also be known as Queen Mother Frankie Pace. Indeed, since she helped so many Black students succeed at Pitt and, as a way of expressing its commitment to equity and social justice, the University of Pittsburgh would do well to posthumously grant her an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy Degree and, we the people, must “march on, till victory is won.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Black Panther
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
December 6, 2021
Retired Judge Justin Morris Johnson, who served on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, has died. He was 88.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto confirmed the death in a statement.
Johnson, of Pittsburgh, had a storied law career and was the second Black judge appointed to the state’s Superior Court in 27 years.
“I had the privilege of getting to know Judge Justin Johnson through his leadership at East Liberty Presbyterian Church while I was a city councilman,” Peduto said. “Together we worked on issues of equity, peace and gun violence with his wife, Florence. I already knew him as a brilliant legal scholar and then got to experience his passion, heart and commitment for the city of Pittsburgh and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Johnson was born Aug. 19, 1933 in Wilkinsburg to Irene and Oliver Johnson.
In 1954, Johnson in received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Chicago. From 1956-59, he served in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft commander and as major from 1963-73. In 1962, he received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago, according to a biography posted on The History Makers, an online African American oral history project that interviewed Johnson in 2008.
After graduating from law school, Johnson worked for the firm Johnson, Johnson & Johnson, where he eventually became a partner and sole proprietor. After working with the firm for 15 years, Johnson became the assistant solicitor and assistant secretary for the Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh-Mt. Oliver board of education.
He then became a partner at Berkman, Ruslander, Pohl, Liber & Engel from 1978-80.
In 1980, Johnson was appointed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court where eventually served as a senior judge.
While on the bench, Johnson worked as an adjunct professor at Duquesne University Law School.
Johnson previously served on the board of trustees for Mercy Hospital, Southside Hospital, United Way of Allegheny Company and Princeton Theological Seminary. He was also a life trustee of Carnegie Mellon University and was chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Examiners from 1983-89.
He received several awards including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Citizen’s Award; the Top Hat Award for distinguished judicial services: the Homer S. Brown Service Award, the Presidents Award by the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association; the Award of Merit by the Pittsburgh Young Adult Club and the Man of the Year Award from Bethesda Presbyterian Church.
Johnson had three children and lived in Pittsburgh with his wife, Florence.
Source: Tribune Review
The Pittsburgh Black Media Federation mourns the loss of trailblazing broadcast journalist and gospel radio pioneer Bishop Loran E. Mann and sends condolences to his family and friends.
Mann passed away Sunday, May 2, 2021. He was a former anchor/reporter for WPXI-TV Channel 11. In 1968, Mann was hired by AM 1020 KDKA as a newscaster. He was also owner of WGBN-AM 1150 (now 1360-AM), the first 24-hour radio station dedicated to gospel music in Pittsburgh.
Mann worked with WPXI for 21 years and won numerous journalism honors – including being the recipient of the Robert L. Vann award of excellence from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation (PBMF), of which he was a longtime member.
Two of Pastor Mann’s radio programs, “Daily Bread” and “Sunday with Christ” were among the most popular in Christian programming in the Pittsburgh area.
In March 2005, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell appointed Mann as a member of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission. The commission sets policy for all public television stations in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Dee Thompson, a founding member of PBMF and a colleague of Mann’s at WPXI, reflected on his impact.
“Loran was a pioneer in journalism, not only in Pittsburgh’s Black community but also the community at-large; and not only in Pittsburgh but nationally. In fact, he was one of the first Black journalists in radio and television in Pittsburgh and because of his outstanding work in the church as a pastor and as a bishop, he was very well known throughout the country and the world.”
Bishop Mann inspired many journalists of color to join the media industry but he retired from broadcast journalism and dedicated himself to the growth of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, which he founded in 1969.
PBMF President Brian Cook says, “The loss of Loran Mann is not only a loss for the church community but for those who enjoyed his television and radio reports. He was a trusted newsperson and will be missed for his pioneering inspiration and his dedication to community coverage.”
A life worth living and a man willing to share his wisdom, PUM sends our condolences and prayers to the family and friends of Josifani M. Moyo, 79, who died December 9, 2020. A mathematics professor who taught at the Bidwell Training Center on the North Side of Pittsburgh, he began as a math instructor at the career training institution in 1972, according to Post-Gazette archives. He also served as the director at the academic support center at Bidwell. A true King of all Kings...
PUM had the honor of saluting and interviewing Mr. Moyo in the past, and respectfully share his words of encouragement to our audience:
“My arrival to the U.S.A. was in August 1963. That happened to be the time of
the March in Washington. Civil rights was the topic of the day. I was invited by
Pittsburgh organizers but my college had an early start in August and I was
focused on the task at hand. I did follow all the reports on the march and Dr. M
L King’s address. The civil rights movement relates my firm conviction that all
individuals can achieve their goals if they work hard and take advantage of
educational opportunities most states provide. As one who benefitted from
scholarship education at no cost to my family, I have made it my life goal to give
back by engaging adult students to make improvements in their academic abilities
and take advantage of the vocational programs our school provides.
Nothing comes easy. All progress in life requires our best effort and although
there are no guaranties we must continue to engage those who are short sighted.
A better tomorrow requires us to do our best to prepare now for whatever might
come in the future”
Josifani Munyika Moyo, affectionately referred to as Daddy, Pop-Pop, Uncle Joe and by most simply as “Joe Moyo”, was born on October 3, 1941 in Zishavane, Zimbabwe.
Joe is the eldest son of six children born to Jairos Munyika and Shoorayi Shumba Moyo of the Shona speaking Bantu Tribe. Joe was fiercely devoted to his family, particularly to his mother, to whom he often described as “the kindest person one could ever meet”.
By 1957, at the young age of 16, Joe was one of only four students in his primary class selected to attend Fletcher High School, a prominent government sponsored all male boarding school in Gweru, Zimbabwe. Upon graduation from Fletcher High School in 1963, Joe received a full scholarship to continue his academic pursuits in the United States at Waynesburg University, Waynesburg, PA, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and Chemistry. After graduation, Joe attended Purdue University in West LaFayette Indiana, where in 1970 he earned a Master of Science Degree in Chemical Physics.
During this period in 1967 Joe married Janet Lee Patterson of Pittsburgh, PA. Together they spent the next fifty-four years through life together, during which time they produced two daughters, who became the center of Joe’s and Janet’s life. Erita Munyika Moyo was born in 1967 and Selina Munyika Moyo followed in 1974.
From 1972 to 2020 Joe was the Academic Program Director and Mathematics Instructor at Bidwell Cultural Training Center-Manchester Craftman’s Guild, Pittsburgh, PA., where he was noted for his very successful and unique style of teaching, known as “Moyo’s Math”.
At the sacrifice of his own desires, wants, and needs, Joe’s complete humility, devotion to his family and his personal values based on giving, and giving , and giving has left an unreplicable imprint of giving on his family, both in the United States and in Zimbabwe, and the City of Pittsburgh.
Consequently, Joe leaves a legacy, which was truly ordained by GOD himself before the beginning of this world His deep affection and lifelong passion for golf, which he developed during his youth in Zimbabwe, continued to the end of his life. In fact one year Joe’s endless enjoyment of golf rewarded him with a remarkable hole-inone. Joe’s sudden and unexpected departure has left an enormous void filled with pain for his family and all of those who loved him. This is chiefly due to the one common denominator in Joe’s life, which was simple and quite clear, as his math lessons. It was “Love”.
Josifani Munyika Moyo is survived by his beloved wife and life partner for fifty-four years, Janet Lee Moyo; Daughters Erita Munyika Moyo, Plainfield, Illinois; Selina Munyika Moyo Anderson, Son-in-Law Charles Anderson, Esquire, and adored granddaughter Leah Erita Anderson, Fort Mill, SC. Joe is also survived by two direct siblings’ eldest sister Erita Tagwi and younger brother Zivai Mbrenego Moyo of Zimbabwe. Joe is loved and cherished by scores of students in the Pittsburgh area and an army of extended family both in the United States and worldwide, and a host of friends.
Joe’s only and last request is to have his remains returned to the soil and land of which he originated.
Honoring the legacy of Josifani Munyika Moyo
PUM Contributor Kam Williams, interviewed Chad Boseman in 2013 for PittsburghUrbanMedia.com.
Hailing from Anderson, South Carolina, Chadwick Boseman is an accomplished actor, scriptwriter and playwright who, until now, was probably best known for portraying the character Nate on the critically-acclaimed dramatic TV series Lincoln Heights. Prior to entering show business, Chad earned degrees at Howard University and the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford.
Here, he talks about playing Jackie Robinson opposite Harrison Ford and Nicole Beharie in 42, a biopic about the late Hall of Famer’s historic breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier back in 1947.
Kam Williams: Hi Chad, thanks for the interview.
Chad Boseman: Nice to talk to you, Kam.
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I appreciate the opportunity to ask you a question, especially because everything changed for Jackie Robinson in my hometown of Montreal. What did it mean to you to portray Jackie Robinson and how did you prepare for the role?
CB: It’s just a great honor to play him. In order to portray him, I basically paid attention to three different aspects of the role. First, the physical aspect of baseball, and his five-day-a-week workout regimen starting with Spring Training in the middle of January all the way to May. Secondly, I studied Hall of Fame footage of Jackie so that I could emulate his batting stance, how he took leads, how he ran bases, the arm slide he used in certain situations, and his fielding style. Thirdly, there was the question of how to attack the role. I didn’t want to just do an imitation. I wanted to interpret it while remaining faithful to the script and [director] Brian Helgeland’s vision.
The research also included reading, and talking to Jackie’s widow, Rachel, and his daughter, Sharon, in order to deliver the most authentic interpretation of him possible.
KW: Documentary filmmaker Kevin Williams asks: Was the role at all intimidating to you? Did you feel any pressure to get Jackie right, given his importance in history?
CB: Yes, because Jackie is a hero to people from so many walks of life whose reverence for him is often based on different interpretations of who he was. I also felt a certain amount of responsibility to give an accurate account of his life and the person that he was for the benefit of the youth who don’t know him. But I still felt a great responsibility to Rachel Robinson and his family. She has carried on his legacy for decades, and she’s carried the torch for this film. So, my main goal was to do right by her.
KW: Peter Brav says: You were absolutely awesome in the role. My 85 year-old mother, a concentration camp survivor, embraced the Brooklyn Dodgers when she came to this country in 1946. She saw 42 and hasn't stopped talking about how you ARE Jackie in the movie. Prior to auditioning, how much of the Jackie Robinson story did you know?
CB: I knew his story since I was a kid. My parents told me stories about him. And I learned about him, Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders at church. I didn’t know anything about Jackie’s personality, or the specifics about his family or where he came from. So, I went into the audition with very limited knowledge of the facts that you would need to play him.
KW: Kate Newell asks: In doing this film, what did you find out about Jackie Robinson that surprised you the most?
CB: I was surprised that he was considering quitting baseball just before he was signed by the Dodgers’ GM Branch Rickey [played by Harrison Ford]. He had become disenchanted with barnstorming across the country in the Negro League for several reasons: he often had to play several games a day; there were a lot of places where African-Americans couldn’t stop to eat, sleep, buy gas or even use the bathroom; and he wasn’t being paid enough at a time when the most important thing to him was taking care of his family. I was also surprised that baseball was only his fourth best sport. He had greatness in him already. He was an All-American football player, a great basketball player, and he could’ve gone to the Olympics in track and field. Jackie was a better athlete than his brother Mack who had been a silver medalist behind Jesse Owens in the 200 Meters at the ’36 Olympics in Berlin. So, Jackie was well aware of his talents but felt very frustrated by the fact that there was no place in the United States at that time where a black man could fully actualize himself. Fortunately, baseball became that place where he could reach his full potential, although he might have achieved it in other sports. But that frustration of his potentiality almost made Jackie quit.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: Jackie Robinson encountered extraordinary obstacles on account of the color of his skin pursuing his professional baseball career. Have you encountered similar obstacles in your acting career?
KB: Well, you don’t get the same opportunities as white actors. Every year, Hollywood is looking for that new, white leading man and new white starlet that audiences fall in love with. But they’re not looking for the next Denzel Washington, Will Smith or Sidney Poitier. Some of that is due to the fact that even in our educational process we’re taught history from a totally Eurocentric perspective. And so it’s no surprise that we grow up to value European literature. Since we don’t value our own history, African-American stories don’t get made into movies as much. Your being the protagonist or the hero is not a fundamental part of our culture. That’s what I run up against trying to get cast as an actor, and that’s what I feel needs to change. It’s very difficult to make strides to play big roles in big movies when our culture doesn’t support it and therefore the movies can’t.
KW: What did you major in at Howard, Acting or Black Studies?
CB: I majored in directing. However, I did spend some time at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, so I am somewhat well-versed in African Studies.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
CB: One wish instantly granted? Woo! I would love for my grandmother and my sister to have been able to see this movie. They both passed.
KW: My condolences Chad. Thanks again for the time, and best of luck with 42.
CB: Thank you, Kam.
(Kam Williams was a frequent contributor to PUM, as a film critic and literary writer, Kam caught up with many noted actors and celebrities. Kam, who enjoyed a nearly 22-year career as a writer, passed away May 30, 2019 from prostate cancer. He was 66 years old.)
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin
but by the content of their character."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.-
When it comes to Americans making one of their most important 2020 decisions, the election of a President and Vice President, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has not come true for the little child referenced when Kamala Harris said to Joe Biden, “You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day, and that little girl was me.” Instead of judging by the content of the 55-year-old’s meteoric career as it pertains to her becoming Vice President of the United States, naysayers and outright haters are judging Senator Harris by factors such as her race, gender, national origin, and choice of a spouse.
The worst misogynists have publicly declared Senator Harris to be a “nasty,” “mean,” “horrible,” “phony” woman. Other would be detractors disregard the following facts:
· Following Harris’ graduation from Westmount High School in Quebec, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Howard University and, subsequently, a Law Degree from Hastings Law School;
· She became Deputy District Attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office;
· She served as managing Attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office; headed the San Francisco City Attorney's Division on Families and Children; and was elected as the San Francisco District Attorney;
· While serving as California Attorney General, she had a stellar victory by ending negotiations for a settlement from the country's five largest financial institutions for improper mortgage practices and, subsequently, obtained a $20 million settlement which was five times the original proposed figure for California; and
· After being elected to the Senate, she has served on the Senate Budget, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Judiciary, and Intelligence Committees.
Sadly, as was the case with President Barack Obama, some sickened by racism folks cast aspersions regarding whether Senator Harris is “Black enough,” both in terms of skin color as well as other misguided essentialist views regarding what it takes to be “Black,” e.g. “maybe she isn’t Black enough because her parents were highly educated bourgeois folks in Berkeley California.” Added to this counterproductive narrative regarding “Blackness” is the “Misogyny Litmus Test” for a “Black” electoral official. This view, held by some Blacks as well as Whites, maintains that the “ideal Black” is one who is a function of miscegenation and immigration, i.e.,  someone whose demeanor has been supposedly enhanced by a mix of “White,” “Caribbean,” “Asian,” or “African” blood;  someone with relatively recent geographic roots outside of the United States; and, in short,  any “Exotic Black” other than a “pure” descendant of African slaves in America.
Then there are those who ignore the biblical admonition not to “tear asunder” what “God has put together.” They, along with the racists who for centuries prevented interracial marriages, just can’t take Senator Harris at her word when she stated, "Look, I love my husband, and he happened to be the one that I chose to marry, because I love him… and he loves me.”
Before engaging in any of the foregoing foolishness regarding Senator Harris, people should at least read her book, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. Therein, for example, the reader will find Harris’ detailed analysis of how health disparities begin “in the delivery room;” the need for “every medical school in the country to require implicit bias training for their students…;” and why “… improving health outcomes across the board demands that we transform the health care system itself.”
Before offering irrelevant criticism, read carefully Harris’ analysis of how “The criminal justice system punishes people for their poverty. …Whether or not someone can get bailed out of jail shouldn’t be based on how much money he has in the bank. Or, the color of his skin.” Review her criticism of the fact that Blacks pay 35 percent higher bail than Whites for the same charge and how Latinos pay nearly 20 percent more. In response to this miscarriage of justice, Senator Harris introduced legislative actions to replace the bail bond system.
Now is not the time for petty presidential politics given that our nation is sinking into an abyss of lies, deceits, exploitation, manipulation according to race and ethnicity, misogyny, homophobia, and other deplorable acts similar to those during the time that Hitler desired to make Germany great again. With Americans dying by the second as a result of a grossly mismanaged health pandemic, now is not the time to engage in castigations regarding “birtherism.”
Now is the time to heed Senator Harris’ admonition to us, i.e., “Even as our democracy faces an assault unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, we have to remember that our system works when people who care about the Unite States stand up and participate. My daily challenge to myself is to be part of the solution, to be a joyful warrior in the battle for the soul of the country. My challenge to you is to join that effort. Let’s not throw up our hands when it’s time to roll up our sleeves.”
Jack L. Daniel
Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society
Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media
Author, Negotiating a Historically White University While Black
August 16, 2020
Senator Kamala Harris, is the Democratic vice presidential nominee in the 2020 election.
Oronde Sharif remembers meeting Vernell A. Lillie when he was 10. He and his brother were always in tow when his busy mother Shona, a choreographer, dancer and Pitt lecturer, was out and about at meetings and events. Lillie, a former associate professor of Africana Studies and founder of Pitt’s Kuntu Repertory Theatre, was a close friend of Shona’s.
Years later, when Sharif was an undergraduate student at Pitt, he found himself in Lillie’s office more often than his mother’s.
“I would go there just to talk,” said Sharif, who is now director of Pitt’s Shona Sharif African Drum and Dance Ensemble, part of Africana Studies. “And not about acting … we talked about student life. Dr. Lillie was like that mother, grandmother or mentor who had so much knowledge.”
Lillie, who retired from Pitt in 2006, died on May 11, her 89th birthday.
A poster from the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Records, housed at Pitt. (Kuntu Repertory Theatre Collection, c. 1970-2013, CTC.2015.01, Curtis Theatre Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System)
Born in 1931 in Hempstead, Texas, Lillie arrived in Pittsburgh in 1969 to pursue a doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1973, she began teaching in what was then Pitt’s Department of Black Community, Education, and Research and, along with prolific poet and playwright Rob Penny, founded Kuntu the following year. The new theater company exposed Pittsburgh audiences to cutting edge ideas, art, culture and the Black community’s social and political concerns. For nearly four decades, it featured works by Penny, Pulitzer Prize-winning Pittsburgh native August Wilson and other Black playwrights. The Black Arts Movement was thriving in cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh, and Lillie and her peers were in the forefront.
Kuntu was the first company to mount the August Wilson play “Homecoming” in 1976, which Lillie directed. Actors such as Sala Udin, Emmy-winner Esther Rolle and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company founder Mark Southers, performed on the Kuntu stage, located at Pitt’s Stephen Foster Memorial, and later at Alumni Hall. Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” fame also had a play staged by Kuntu and acted in it, under Lillie’s direction.
Sharif remembers Lillie, along with people like Shona, Penny and former department chair Barbara Sizemore as providing the depth, soul and energy to that corner of campus. Students would hang out in their offices, listening to advice and absorbing like sponges.
Many of Sharif’s friends were actors and some say that studying under Lillie was the highlight of their Pitt experience. Sharif enjoyed watching the Kuntu rehearsals and always stayed late after a final performance to help strike the set, just to be of help to Lillie.
“I just gravitated to her,” he said.
Sala Udin, who acted in Kuntu plays and eventually served on Pittsburgh City Council for 10 years, said Lillie was “a serious taskmaster” of a director, compared to others. And she was all about educating her audience.
“She integrated teaching into her directing,” he said. “She was always serious about people have an intellectual curiosity and an understanding of Black theatre.”
Lillie was known for opening up Kuntu to community members and non-theater majors. Even those who lacked acting experience were welcome to audition for one of the plays, which often used music and African themes to bring stories of Black life to its audiences.
Pitt Professor of History Laurence Glasco, whose career at Pitt started around the time Lillie arrived, says he was always impressed by the quality of the Kuntu performances, including many works by Penny, whom Lillie liked to showcase.
“I found a lot of human interest in the plays, though they had a political message,” he said. “Vernell had an orientation in Black consciousness and Black Power but it didn’t overwhelm the work or make it one-dimensional at all.”
Glasco also enjoyed the “talk-back sessions” Lillie offered at the end of a performance, in which the cast would return to the stage and engage with audience members.
Lillie and actor Lamman Rucker at a National Black Theater Festival. (Courtesy of Lamman Rucker)
While he was a Duquesne University student, actor Lamman Rucker was in the cast of Penny’s play “Nefertari Rising” and Lillie made an indelible impression on him. As she did often, Lillie brought in a guest director, this time Woodie King Jr., the founding director of the New Federal Theatre in the lower east side of Manhattan. The experience inspired Rucker to move to New York to work with King.
“There’s so much excellence that you see on stage, Broadway, screen and through regional theater, it leads back to Dr. Lillie’s leadership,” he said. “So much of what I say and do has come from her, especially while training artists now.”
Rucker, who has appeared in Tyler Perry films and on the popular “Law & Order” TV series, said Lillie inspired him to establish The Black Gents of Hollywood, a Black male artist’s collective.
“Now that she’s an ancestral spirit, she’ll continue to guide me,” he said.
Lillie’s robust career at Pitt garnered her many awards, including the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1986, a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania in 1998 and the Pennsylvania Creative Community Award in 2006. A scholarship in Lillie’s name was established at Dillard University in New Orleans, her alma mater. She kept Kuntu alive even after her retirement. The company’s final performances were at the Homewood Library in 2013. But Sharif, Udin and the others feel her presence will stay with them.
Said Rucker: “She breathed life into me and so many people. Her work, vigor and love for us will continue to pour through us forever.“
A treasure trove of items and correspondence related to Kuntu Repertory Theatre’s 40-year journey at Pitt is being catalogued at the University Library System. Donated in 2015 by the family of Vernell A. Lillie and facilitated by the Kuntu staff and board of directors, the items filled 500 boxes when they arrived at the University Library System’s Ford E. and Harriet R. Curtis Theatre Collection.
Project archivist Megan Massanelli said the archives are being separated into two collections—the Dr. Vernell A Lillie Papers and the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Records. She says the boxes contained several hundred audio and video recordings, and a special grant came through last fall to help the library preserve and digitize them, including recordings from the Bob Johnson Papers.
The Lillie Papers will include syllabi for classes, personal research materials, academic records, department correspondence and personal letters, photos and school yearbooks. Materials cover the years 1950 through 2013. The Kuntu Records will contain written, audio and photographic records documenting the history and activities of Kuntu Repertory Theatre.
“Kuntu was the predominant Black performing arts group in Pittsburgh for more than 35 years,” said Massanelli. “It provided a platform for Black artists and technicians and examined the Black experience with the goal of creating personal growth and social change.”
While there is no official finding aid available yet, information on the two collections can be found in the following places:
Source: University of Pittsburgh
The Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh was also the site of the National Negro Opera Company, which flourished from 1941 to 1962. It set the stage was set for the rise of Kuntu Black Theatre to reach international influence.