History Center Looks at Slavery in W.Pa.,History Center Takes a Long Look at Slavery in W.Pa

By Karlovits, Bob Karlovits;Bob | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

History Center Looks at Slavery in W.Pa.,History Center Takes a Long Look at Slavery in W.Pa


Karlovits, Bob Karlovits;Bob, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


When Samuel W. Black looks at the road from slavery to freedom that went through Pittsburgh, he sees a route filled with many paths.

While, he says, an active abolitionist movement here provided stops on the Underground Railroad, he points out that some of the richest and best-known figures in the city's past participated in a form of slavery politely called "indentured servitude" that created human property as late as 1857.

The incongruity of such behavior is at the heart of "From Slavery to Freedom," a long-term exhibit opening Friday at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District.

"We want to use new research to put Pittsburgh in the center of a global experience," says Black, director of African-American programs at the center. He has spent four years curating this exhibit, which also is using the work of historians from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and other institutions.

The 3,200-square-foot exhibit will depict the route from Africa to slavery and the impact on American culture.

Andy Masich, CEO and president of the history center, says the exhibit is more about the journey to freedom rather than simply slavery itself.

"Sometimes, slavery seems frozen in time, and we deal with it as if the slaves were freed and became Americans the next day," Masich says. "But it was followed by a great deal of time: the Jim Crow era, the era of the great migration to the north, the Civil Rights era, and it is important not to forget any of those."

He says the story is such an important part of the nation's history, "From Slavery to Freedom" has been put together as a part of the museum's core displays. It will be as much a part of the museum experience as "Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation," the center's central display since 2008. Masich says it probably will be on display for 10 years, and, of course, could be changed as more historical research emerges.

"From Slavery to Freedom" was funded in part through a $414,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and will feature:

- A replica of the hold of a slave ship, where visitors will see the inhumanely cramped quarters of the trip from Africa to the New World

- Artifacts, some on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, such as shackles, a violin made from a gourd and animal skin, and pottery and coins used to help the abolitionist movement

- A life-size model of abolitionist firebrand Martin R. Delany and a recorded version of an impassioned speech he gave on the North Side

- A look at the success of Cumberland Posey Sr., who established the Diamond Coal & Coke Co., and Mary Peck Bond, who founded a community to care for former slaves

- A review of the great migration of free, black workers who made their way to the work force of northern states in the 20th century. …

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