Historian Pens Role of Blacks in Civil War Book Coincides with 150th Anniversary

Article excerpt

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Historian Samuel W. Black has found that it can twist backward as well.

Mr. Black, the longtime director of African-American programs at the Heinz History Center, is the editor and a contributor to a new book that looks at the role of black Pennsylvanians before and during the War Between the States. The history center published "The Civil War in Pennsylvania: The African American Experience" as part of the state's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the conflict. Other contributors to the book include Pittsburgh lawyer Eric W. Springer and Michael Kraus, curator of collections at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum.

The 240-page work includes stories about victories and defeats both on and away from the battlefield, Mr. Black said. The eight essays in the book cover topics that include abolition, emigration and military service by black soldiers and sailors.

Pittsburgh played a major role in many critical events in the decades leading up to the Civil War, Mr. Black said. He was interviewed recently at the history center, where he also gave a tour of an updated long-term exhibit at the museum called "From Slavery to Freedom."

When African-Americans gathered in a Pittsburgh church in 1843, their meeting was part of an effort to restore voting rights to the state's black citizens, he said. That conference came a few years after Pennsylvania voters approved a regressive 1838 state constitution that limited the franchise to "white freeman." Blacks previously had been able to vote in many parts of Pennsylvania.

"That document was an intentional effort to undermine freedom for African-Americans in Pennsylvania," Mr. …