In 1619, a ship carrying more than 20 enslaved Africans arrived at a port in the British colony of Virginia. The people on board were sold to colonists — marking the beginning of an institution that would radically affect the future United States of America.
This month is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of that ship. To commemorate this historic moment and its legacy, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission will highlight the contributions, the achievements and the perseverance of African Americans by shining a light on the hundreds of Pennsylvania Historical Markers dedicated to African Americans and their contributions.
Commission officials announced last week that the organization will use the hashtag #400yearsPA to feature people, places and themes each week through February on social media that exhibit the multifaceted African American experience across the commonwealth. Officials said the markers will provide a brief snapshot of important histories and are intended to initiate conversations, further exploration and research and broaden our understanding.
For those interested in taking a road trip to see some of the historical markers that will be featured, here’s a list of markers in Berks and surrounding counties.
1. Bethel A.M.E. Church
Dedicated: May 11, 1996
Location: 119 N. 10th St., Reading
Marker text: Berks County’s oldest Black church building. Erected 1837 by free African Americans; became an Underground Railroad station for escaped slaves seeking freedom. Rebuilt 1867; remodeled 1889. Congregation, dating from 1822, moved to Windsor Street in 1974.
2. Thomas Rutter
Dedicated: Oct. 4, 1982
Location: Pine Forge Road at Pine Forge Academy, Pine Forge
Marker text: Pioneer ironmaster and opponent of slavery who died in 1730. Built Pennsylvania’s first ironworks nearby, 1716. In ensuing decade he erected Pine Forge and built this mansion; in 19th century it was an Underground Railroad stop. Academy was founded here, 1945.
3. Harriet A. Baker
Dedicated: May 4, 1990
Location: 410 Union St., Allentown
Marker text: This African-American evangelist opened a mission about 1900 at 738 North Penn Street, where she preached until her death. In 1914 her mission became the first home of St. James A.M.E. Zion Church, which was built at this location in 1936.
4. Graceanna Lewis
Dedicated: April 5, 2014
Location: 2123 Kimberton Road, Phoenixville
Marker text: An early female scientist considered one of the best educated female naturalists of her day, Lewis dedicated her life to the study of botany and zoology. She exhibited her Chart of the Animal Kingdom at the Centennial Exposition in 1876, and won awards for her natural science drawings at the Columbian and Louisiana Purchase Expositions. A Quaker abolitionist, she was active in Underground Railroad activities at her family’s farm nearby.
5. Bayard Rustin
Dedicated: Feb. 16, 1995
Location: Maple and Convent avenues, West Chester
Marker text: Born here, the civil rights leader and pacifist organized the 1963 March on Washington. Head of A. Phillip Randolph Institute, 1966-1979. Elected to Henderson High School Hall of Fame.
6. Star of the West, Tent No. Six
Dedicated: May 15, 1995
Location: 113 S. Adams St., West Chester
Marker text: An African American women’s community service organization, chartered 1865. A part of the United Order of Tents, J.R. Giddings and Jollifee Union, founded in 1847 and named for abolitionist Congressman Giddings and his law partner.
7. Frederick Douglass
Dedicated: Feb. 1, 2006
Location: West Chester University campus
Marker text: Champion of human freedom, African American abolitionist, newspaper editor, U.S. Colored Troops recruiter, U.S. ambassador to Haiti, and orator, Frederick Douglass gave his last public address “Against Lynch Law” here on February 1, 1895. A frequent visitor to West Chester, Douglass denounced lynching and bigotry and urged freedom, justice, and equality for all Americans. The Frederick Douglass Institute here maintains Douglass’ legacy.
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Source: Reading Eagle