📆 Black history is Pittsburgh history
Plus, help us find a new director.
Welcome to Thursday — and the fourth day of Black History Month.
TIL: Jackie Robinson once wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier (sort of).
The year was 1947, and Robinson had just desegregated professional baseball. His inaugural season was predictably fraught.
Believing the success of Robinson's "Great Experiment" would influence the broader push for desegregation in America, the nation's burgeoning Black press set out to improve the odds any way it could.
Todd Steven Burroughs explains in The Root:
"So the press collectively decided in April 1947, the time of Robinson’s Dodgers debut, that if they could not control how whites responded to Robinson, they could try to control how Negroes responded. The fate of Jackie Robinson rests in the hands of the Negro people, editorialized the nation's top Negro newspapers. This was because the prevailing fear at the time was that overexcited Negro fans would wind up causing race riots in the stands over Robinson's performance and treatment."
The solution? Op-ed columns by Robinson himself (actually ghost written by Pittsburgh Courier sports writer and columnist Wendell Smith), that smoothed over the very real mistreatment Robinson endured from angry white people. The columns appeared in Black-owned papers, including the Courier, nationwide.
Read Burroughs' full report here.
And keep scrolling for more on the Pittsburgh Courier's pivotal role in Black history, virtual BHM commemorations, a Black historian at the crossroads of Black history, and more.
But first, a quick programming note: The Incline is hiring a new director! I’m heading to a new job, and we’re looking for the next voice of The Incline. Learn more here. If you are currently underrepresented in media and technology, we encourage you to apply.
Black history is Pittsburgh history
A worker transports sheets of cut glass for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass company, known today as PPG. (📸: Courtesy of the Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center)
🗞 The Pittsburgh Courier was a center of Black life in 20th-century America. Established in 1907 by a H.J. Heinz packing plant guard named Edwin Harleston, the paper would grow into a socially conscious publication with immense influence, drawing Black luminaries like W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Joe Louis, and others to Steel City. Here's more background from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
➡️ Pittsburgh was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Samuel Black, director of African American Programs at the Heinz History Center, told 90.5 WESA about local safe houses like Bigham House near Bigham Street on Mount Washington. Black also discussed Pittsburgh's "rather militant abolitionist community." Learn the history here.
🏠 Speaking of Bigham House ... it's one of many physical symbols of Pittsburgh’s Black history still standing. But some of those spaces have fallen into disrepair. Pittsburgh Magazine published a list last year — and tips for how to help.
📺 Pittsburgh was home to the longest-running Black public affairs show in the country. "Black Horizons" was taken off the air in 2010 after decades covering often-overlooked issues and communities on WQED. City Paper has an appreciation here.
📆 February is Black History Month, but Black-owned businesses need support year-round. We compiled a list of local options, covering everything from food and drink to marketing. Here it is.
📻 The Incline Real Talk
This is like our version of a public radio pledge drive.
But seriously, we don’t receive federal grants. We don’t have a billionaire owner. What we do have is all of you, being a part of this wild experiment to make our city feel more and more like home.
We’re a small startup with big goals. And we’re asking you to support our work with an Incline membership.
At the crossroads
Sam Black, director of African American Programs at the Senator John Heinz History Center, pictured at the Fulbright Germany Transatlantic Seminar in Washington, D.C. (📸: Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center)
Samuel Black was living history and recording it.
The protests against police violence and racism that swept cities like Pittsburgh last year quickly became a focus of his work as director of African American Programs at the Heinz History Center.
Black archived the movement as it was happening. At the same time he grappled with his own experiences as a Black man and Black father in America. He also confronted existential questions about how historic narratives are shaped and who they serve.
“If we call ourselves a people’s museum, what people are we talking about?” Black explained.
Here’s an interview with Black from our archives. It's part of a larger piece about the work that was done by local historians and archivists in 2020.
Things to do
Submit your events to our calendar.
🗞 Celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh and the accomplishments of pioneering journalist Nellie Bly (Online)
🤖 Learn about 3D printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutters, and other digital fabrication tools with this Carnegie Science Center workshop for kids — multiple dates (Online)
🖼 Tour The Louvre Museum in Paris without leaving home (Online)
🎭 Get a closer look at “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” with things you may have missed and insider information (Online)
📆 The Heinz History Center is hosting regionally focused, virtual Black History Month events throughout February — multiple dates (Online)
➡️ The National Museum of African American History and Culture has its own lineup of virtual events and conversations for Black History Month — multiple dates (Online)
One more thing ....
Photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris produced an intimate record of the Black urban experience in Pittsburgh, focusing his lens on notable figures but also ordinary citizens in their everyday lives.
Tens of thousands of Harris' photos have been digitized and archived by The Carnegie Museum of Art. You can browse the collection here — it is well worth your time.
Thanks for reading to the bottom. We'll see you back here tomorrow.