One of the cornerstones of Black History education is Slavery. It’s the one thing you can pretty much guarantee that will make it in a history book. However even with almost universal coverage in education what is taught is still skewed and tremendously lacking. If you ask someone about slavery the most likely answer will reference the south and the civil war. But slaves were bought and sold throughout the United States and yes even here in Pittsburgh PA.
In 1780 Pennsylvania became one of the first states in the country to abolish slavery. The state passed the The Gradual Abolition Act. Essentially the law stated that after that time no one born in Pennsylvania could be a slave. There were loopholes. A master could take pregnant slaves to other states to give birth and those children could still legally be slaves in PA. This prompted an amendment in 1788 prohibiting that practice. The law also provided a rule that allowed children to enter into contracts for servitude. In exchange for room and board, children to young to even write their names agreed to work for their owner for 28 years before they would be allowed to be free. This practice continued well into the 1800’s.
Slavery was a preferred practice among religious elites and wealthy citizens. It was practiced in the open by city leaders and influential members of society. Pittsburgh has a tumultuous history when it comes to race relations. While our region was on the forefront of many progressive movements, Pittsburgh has been complicit in what we see happening in our neighborhoods today. We can not rightly move forward without acknowledging and understanding our past. The Heinz History Center had an exhibit on the this very subject a few years back. Here is a link to photos and a discussion the exhibit. http://exhibit.library.pitt.edu/freeatlast/intro.html