The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg developed this one-hour presentation featuring the voices of African Americans from the American Civil War through Reconstruction to modern times. The video highlights the fascinating story of former slave and later United States Congressman Robert Smalls of South Carolina.
In addition to the national story of Robert Smalls, the film also brings to light the personal struggles and triumphs of many others in the African American community located in south central Pennsylvania.
For history buffs, Digital Harrisburg is a collaborative interactive resource of individuals and educators devoted to exploring the history, society, and culture of Pennsylvania’s state capital.
One project includes historic maps and exhibits exploring Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward – instrumental in the landscape of the Underground Railroad and a historically Black and immigrant neighborhood in Harrisburg that was razed as the Capitol grounds expanded - and the experiences of the Black community throughout Harrisburg’s history.
Harrisburg's prominent role in the advance of the Union cause leading to the Civil War was particularly evident by its sympathy in harboring former slaves who had escaped servitude from the South.
As early as 1836, the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Society was founded and in 1847 the group brought noted reformers William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas to hold a rally at the Dauphin County Courthouse.
During this period, Harrisburg became a key station in the "Underground Railroad" which stretched from Maryland northward to Canada. While many secretly opened their doors to provide haven to escapees who under federal law could be reclaimed by their "owners," sections of the old Eighth Ward neighborhood, which once stood behind the PA Capitol Building, and homes on Tanners Avenue in particular, became later known as a nucleus of this activity.
Born in Downtown Harrisburg, PA in 1834, Thomas Morris Chester lived an impactful life in many ways. After attending college in Pittsburgh, he traveled to Africa for more schooling and became a teacher in Liberia. He left Africa around the start of the American Civil War and recruited black troops who raised the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Chester led two Black emergency militia regiments to defend a potential attack of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign in summer 1863. Near the end of the war, Chester worked as a war correspondent for The Philadelphia Press.
Post-war, he toured Europe and studied law. Chester returned to the U.S. (Louisiana) in 1871 to practice law, served as a brigadier general, superintendent of schools, and president of a railroad. His final days were spent where they began back in Harrisburg. Chester passed away at his mother’s home and is buried at Harrisburg’s Lincoln Cemetery.
The Lincoln Cemetery was founded by the Wesley Union A.M.E. Zion Church in 1817 as an African American burial ground in the Harrisburg area. The land was purchased a year after the congregation was established and it was officially named Lincoln Cemetery in 1827.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, the congregation at Wesley Union was active in the Underground Railroad, which cut through the area. Many Civil War veterans are buried in Lincoln Cemetery, including Harrisburg’s last surviving veteran Ephraim Slaughter who died in 1943 after serving in both the 37th regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops and the 3rd N.C. Colored Infantry.
Lincoln Cemetery is also the burial ground for several notable members of the Harrisburg community including African-American war correspondent T. Morris Chester; abolitionist, educator, and newspaper publisher William Howard Day; and Harriett "Ma" McClintock Marshall who assisted with the care and education of the escaped slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad Stop located in the old Wesley Church, which was also a school for black children at the time.
A memorial garden dedicated to Dr. King is located along the Harrisburg Capital Area Greenbelt bike path between 19th and 28th Streets. The memorial garden features an 11-ft black granite obelisk and a kiosk featuring a copy of Dr. King's inspirational speech "I Have a Dream." which he delivered to a crowd of 250,000 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.
Five years later, the American civil rights leader would be assassinated at the age of 39 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
C. Delores Tucker was a civil rights leader and activist for women. She spent a great deal of time in Harrisburg serving as the first African American Secretary of State in the nation after being appointed by PA Governor Milton Shapp. Tucker championed the PA Equal Rights Amendment and policies on affirmative action, voter registration by mail, and lowering the voting age to 18.
Delores Tucker also spearheaded the creation of the Commission on the Status of Women and led a successful crusade critical of the music industry and lyrics demeaning to women, African Americans, and children.
More than 180,000 African Americans served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, including 11 regiments from Pennsylvania.
In November 1865, the city of Harrisburg hosted a Grand Review parade for the regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) who were not invited earlier that year to march in the Grand Review for Union armies along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. for President Andrew Johnson.
Thomas Morris Chester, Harrisburg's most distinguished African American at the time, served as grand marshal for the parade which formed at State and Filbert Streets, now Soldier's Grove. The procession traveled through Harrisburg to the home of U.S. Senator and President Lincoln's former secretary of war Simon Cameron.
This event marks Pennsylvania as the only state to officially honor black soldiers for their service immediately following the Civil War.
Wilt Chamberlain set the single-game scoring record in the NBA (National Basketball Assoc.) by scoring 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 169–147 win over the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962, at Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
It is widely considered one of the greatest records in basketball. Chamberlain set five other league records that game including most free throws made, a notable achievement, as he was regarded as a poor free throw shooter. The teams broke the record for most combined points in a game (316).
The game was not televised, and no video footage of the game has been recovered; there are only audio recordings of the game's fourth quarter. The NBA was not yet a major sports league and struggled to compete against college basketball. The attendance at this game was around half of capacity, and no members of the New York press were at the game.
The Harrisburg Giants were a U.S. professional Negro league baseball team based in Harrisburg. They joined the Eastern Colored League (ECL) for the 1924 season with notable players as Hall of Fame center fielder Oscar Charleston as playing manager, outfielder/first baseman Heavy Johnson who won the batting triple crown the previous year while playing with the Kansas City Monarchs, and the speedy outfielder Fats Jenkins who was also a well-known professional basketball player and member of the New York Rens.