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Celebrate Erie’s black history on heritage trail

Thursday, January 12, 2017

HARRY T. BURLEIGH

In recognition of the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 16) and Black History Month in February, the history department at Mercyhurst University would like to share “African Americans in Erie County: A Heritage Trail.”

A joint endeavor of the Mercyhurst University Public History Program and the Edinboro Area Historical Society, the project is designed to encourage local residents and visitors to northwest Pennsylvania to discover the rich and important history of African Americans in this region.

According to Dr. Chris Magoc, director of the public history program at Mercyhurst, the heritage trail, researched and developed by student Adriana Houseman a couple of years ago, includes both tangible, existing structures and places and those that have long disappeared to the ravages of time and demolition. Even in the case of those buildings that are no longer extant, the visitor will learn more about what took place there, or the persons linked to that site, and will — hopefully — feel the spirit and significance of that time and place in Erie and American history.

The places, persons and events featured on the tour are vital to understanding the larger economic, political and cultural history of northwest Pennsylvania and, in turn, its place in the overall history of the nation, Magoc said. “Over the last two centuries, Erie citizens have earned an important place in the nation’s ongoing struggle for freedom and opportunity for all, as well as the enrichment of our national culture. The sights, stories and individuals commemorated on this driving tour are important not only to African-American history but to our national story as freedom-loving Americans,” he said.

Among the 20 locations identified on the trail are the home of famous soloist and composer Harry T. Burleigh at 137 E. 3rd ; home of the one-time prominent Lawrence family at 221 Front St., until recently occupied by Ada Lawrence, the second black school teacher in the Erie School District (hired in 1946); and Bayview Park, 500 W. 2nd, one-time home to popular African-American sports teams like the Pontiacs (baseball) and the Monarchs (basketball).

Magoc said the document is a work in progress and that he is looking forward to refining, publishing and disseminating it throughout Erie County in the near future.