Erie has plenty to celebrate year-round and in February, we and the rest of the nation take time to recognize Black History month. It’s a coming together to appreciate the many accomplishments, struggles and journeys of African Americans and their contributions to the American story. We invite and encourage you to read our list of various places, events, mural art and tours. Gather up the family or a few friends, take the journey and discover for yourself how important African American achievements were in forming our area.
- A Trail of Shared Heritage – African Americans in Erie County. African Americans in Erie County: A Trail of Shared Heritage, is a community history project that invites local residents and visitors to discover key people, places, and events associated with the history of African Americans in Erie County. Learn how they contributed to the economic, political and cultural history of the region. Sites included along the tour include both existing structures as well as locations where physical evidence of the past is gone. The Trail is an inspiring tour of the early pioneers, community leaders and freedom fighters who helped forge our shared American story. The Shared Heritage website, along with the driving and walking tour brochure (available at the Hagen History Center), features 29 points of interest located throughout Erie County. A map is included to help guide you. Some of the features sites include:
- Harry T. Burleigh Homestead 137 East 3rd Street Erie. Harry T. Burleigh was an American classical composer, arranger, and professional singer known for his baritone voice. He played a significant role in the development of American art song, having composed over two hundred works in the genre. He was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals.
- Erie Cemetery 21st & Chestnut Streets Erie. Established in 1851, this cemetery is the final resting place for many of the most notable figures associated with Erie County African American history including William Bladen, Harry T. Burleigh, William Himrod and many Black military veterans. The Cemetery Association provides assistance with locating the gravesites.
- McKean “Crossroads” Community Church 11160 Oliver Road McKean PA. Formerly the McKean Baptist Church, this building is known to locals as the “Crossroads Church”. It began as a small gathering at nearby schoolhouses, led by a Black pastor, Elder Devan, during the Civil War. In 1866, land was donated for building a church. Archaeological and other evidence suggests its possible role as a station on the Underground Railroad.
- African Americans in the Battle of Lake Erie State Historical Marker, Erie Maritime Museum 150 East Front Street Erie. Outside the Museum near the Brig Niagara is a marker dedicated to African American Sailors who fought alongside Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Museum exhibits offer a history of the Battle and Perry’s crew, 20% of whom were black. Note: The Maritime Museum is currently closed due to COVID 19, however the marker itself is located outside.
- Franklin’s Gem City Ice Cream Company 118 East 10th Street Erie. At 15, James Franklin escaped enslavement from a Maryland plantation and fled to Canada. He arrived in Erie in 1866 and eventually founded the Gem City Ice Cream Company. Located at this address for most of its almost 40-year existence, Franklin’s business sold popular confections throughout the city until around 1920.
For more information on the print and online version of the brochure visit: www.sharedheritage.org. The Historical Society also offers a long out-of-print book on the black experience in Erie County, Journey From Jerusalem. It is available for research on the shared heritage link.
Murals of Erie w African American themes/artists/references can be found throughout the Erie area. Here are just a few notable murals:
- “The Pontiacs”: Bayview Park 500 West 2nd Street Erie. Here, Erie’s Black baseball team, the Pontiacs, drew large crowds from 1936-1956. Originally the Saint James A.M.E. Sunday School team, sponsorship from Longnecker Pontiac gave the team their name. Featuring former Negro League players and MLB’s 1950 Rookie of the Year Sam Jethroe, the Pontiacs became the most celebrated African American team in Erie sports history.
- “Let the Children Sing”: 312 Chestnut Street Erie. Facilitated by The Looking Glass Art Project, artist Tom Ferraro & Edward Grout worked with students of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in 2017. Together with the teaching artists and the MLK staff, the students explored the history of important figures in Erie’s African American culture and their influence on the development of Erie. Music emerged as a theme, including the spirituals written by Erie native and prominent classical composer Harry T. Burleigh. Look closely and you may see a bar of notes in the mural, which are from Burleigh’s song “Let the Children Sing".
- “Rudy”: 160 West 8th Street Erie. Self-taught artist Evoca1 created "Rudy" in 2019 which covers the west side of Methodist Towers. As an artist, he observes human behaviors and social struggles and translates that into emotionally provocative murals and sculptures. For every mural he creates, Evoca1 focuses on a person local to the community where he is painting. For his Erie mural, Evoca1 selected Rudy Daniels, a resident of Methodist Towers.
BONUS! Enjoy both Erie County history and art that reflect African American culture with VisitErie’s new African American History Tour that includes historic sites, contemporary murals, and African American owned businesses. You can find this tour on the free ‘Hello Erie’ app and coming soon to VisitErie.com.
- Blasco Library - Recognize and celebrate Black History Month with an interactive family book box. Each kit includes a book for your family to own and read together, four activities, and additional information from local organizations who are also excited to celebrate Black History Month! Supplies are limited! One box per household. Please sign up for the box that reflects the interests of your family. IMPORTANT! The library is offering curbside service at this time. Boxes are not available for immediate pickup. Please wait for a delivery notification before calling your branch to make your curbside appointment. Registration for this program opens Thursday, February 4 at 10 am. Boxes will be available to pick up later next week. Supplies are limited and spots fill quickly, so we suggest setting an alarm!
Registration for Brave.Black.First Box - https://events.erielibrary.org/event/7527843
Registration for The Undefeated Box - https://events.erielibrary.org/event/7527868
Erie’s Blasco Library also has books on the history of African Americans in Erie, including books on the overall history, The Pontiacs Baseball Team, Harry T. Burleigh and others. The Heritage Room at Blasco library also features 7 volumes of clips about Erie from African American owned newspapers in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Please contact the library directly to learn more.
- Underground Railroad Erie PA
Not an actual railroad at all, the Underground Railroad was a series of complex secret routes, churches, institutions and privately owned homes that aided runaway slaves on the dangerous journey north. Pennsylvania, the first free state north of the Mason-Dixon line, provided many entry points to freedom. From around 1830, until the end of the Civil War, an influx of runaway slaves came through Erie seeking their freedom, not in Erie, but across of Lake Erie, in Canada where they would be legally freed from bondage. The city of Erie was one of many sanctuaries throughout the county, which included Girard, Wesleyville, Waterford and Meadville, in Crawford County. These sanctuaries were mainly the homes of abolitionists and churches. For complete information on the Underground Railroad and Erie County’s role, click here.
- The Erie County Historical Society is presenting several virtual events during the month of February to celebrate Black History. For a list of their events click here.
- There are many African American owned businesses in Erie County including our VisitErie partner Pineapple Eddie Southern Bistro. Southern regional/Caribbean fusion cuisine never tasted so good! Featuring savory dishes like Creole Shrimp & Andouille Sausage over Grits, Fried Chicken & Waffles, Fried or Pan-Seared Catfish served with Rice & Beans and so much more! Don’t forget the homemade desserts especially our personal favorite; pound cake served with caramelized pineapple & rum sauce, yum! Pineapple Eddie has just opened for dine-in service at 50% (Wednesday and Thursday 4 pm – 8 pm, Friday - Saturday 4 pm - 9 pm). Call in, carry-out or order online is also available with delivery for online orders only (limited service area).
For a full list of Erie County African American owned businesses, click here.
All of our partner businesses are following the necessary safety and cleaning protocols to keep you and their employees safe. As always stay safe, practice social distancing and wear your mask.