How African-American voices shaped Harrisburg.
My dad taught me about Harrisburg history as long as I can remember.
I remember my dad showing me old ratty newspapers from “the flood,” and I can’t tell you how many hours were spent at the Pennsylvania State Museum.
Harrisburg and history are a part of me as much as anything. When I saw One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 at Midtown Scholar, I had dive in.
One Hundred Voices is part of an effort to reflect on Harrisburg’s historic 8th Ward, which was wiped from the map a century ago. This effort also encompassed several other projects including a bronze monument of the 8th Ward on the capitol grounds.
Our friends at TheBurg, in partnership with GK Visual, featured the restoration and education efforts as part of their Burg in Focus series in 2019.
African American History in Harrisburg
One Hundred Voices is a collection of 100 stories from African-Americans who called Harrisburg home in the late 19th-century to early 20th-century.
The book is a project of three different authors and researchers: Calobe Jackson Jr., a historian of Harrisburg African American Studies; Katie Wingert McArdle, a writer and researcher; and David Pettegrew, a history professor at Messiah University.
Each page is a new story. Voices range from influential pastors to participants in the underground railroad.
The stories detail who the person was, their impact on Harrisburg and the 8th Ward, and includes a testimonial from peers or family members.
What I loved about the book was that it didn’t just highlight the most-notable accomplishments. It demonstrates how every contribution, no matter the size, was meaningful in some way.
Tip: Read the fine print!
Below each story, there is a block of “fine print” that tells you where the person lived, connections they had to the 8th Ward, and other notes and achievements.
Admittedly, I moved past it when I first started reading the book. Once I realized it was much more than source-citing, the “fine print” quickly became one of my favorite parts of each story.
Stories of Harrisburg in History
Stories range from a few sentences to a few paragraphs. Sometimes they stand alone, but many intertwine with another story.
There were so many connections to the Underground Railroad. You meet the people who were integral to helping bring about activism for black voters and women voters. One Hundred Voices demonstrates the diversity of the African Americans in Harrisburg and how they worked together to build an influential community.
Reading these stories also sent me down some other rabbit holes.
Have you ever heard of the baseball player Oscar Charleston?
He’s a Hall of Famer and considered to be one of the best players of all time. He had a stint playing and managing for the Harrisburg Giants.
His wife, Janie Charleston, was a Harrisburg native who was an educator and worked in government offices. Her work is said to have paved the way for more African American women to acquire high-quality state jobs.
Does the address 44 Cameron Street ring a bell?
It’s the current location of Appalachian Brewing Company, but it was once a mechanical school owned by William McDonald Felton. His school was considered one of the best in the country.
The stories cover experiences from lawyers, teachers, doctors, activists, reverends, and so many more.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it spoke to me on many levels.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a history buff, the experiences in the book resonate with nearly everyone.
One Hundred Voices is an effortless read as well. I dedicated my time to it and put off other books, but the book’s short chapters and non-linear nature allow you to pick it up at your leisure.
You can find One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 at Midtown Scholar during Outdoor Sidewalk Sales on the weekend or anytime online.