Category: Blacks

Blacks in Our Past

Pittsburgh Got Schenley Wrong

Originally posted 2016-02-17 15:34:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Sleazy Seducer or Slave Savior?

Mary Croghan

Mary Croghan

Pittsburgh likes to tell a romantic, shocking tale about one of its wealthy young heiresses. It’s been telling the story for 174 years. The story is mostly wrong.

Lurid speculation in newspaper accounts of 1842 get passed off as accurate history.

I refer to the elopement of Mary Croghan and Edward W.H. Schenley.

You know the name from Schenley Park, the former Schenley High School, etc.

In the story,  Mary is only 14 years old at a Staten Island boarding school. Sometimes she is 13 or perhaps 15. What happens?

Edward W.H. Schenley, an image printed many times in Pittsburgh where he was perceived as a sleazy gold digger.

Edward W.H. Schenley, an image printed many times in Pittsburgh where he was perceived as a sleazy gold digger.

Schenley, a dashing English captain, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, a relative of the school owners, lurks about because he is AWOL.

Despite being called dashing, he is 43 years old. So that makes him creepy.  He preys on innocent rich girls.

Mary agrees to secretly marry him and run off to England.

Wealthy dad in Pittsburgh gets upset and local reporters cover it.

In reality, Mary was nearly 16. She was known throughout her adult life as a clear-minded woman of good judgment. It seems, even at 16 she knew what she was doing.

How so?

 Schenley was not a cad. Anything but.

In fact,  British  documents now online reveal a different Schenley. He was a tireless hero to thousands of kidnapped Africans enslaved in the Caribbean. His voice comes through in hundreds of dispatches:

” With reference to the barbarous state of the criminal law in Surinam, alluded to in my Despatch of June 13, 1843, I beg leave to state, that at this moment there is passing my windows a most frightful spectacle, confirmatory of its severity. Seven negroes, who were detected in some paltry theft of sugar from on board a punt (boat), have been taken, by sentence of the Court, to the public gallows, and there “Spanish bucked,” or flogged on their naked posteriors and thighs, with freshly cut tamarind rods, until not a vestige of whole flesh can be discovered; one mass of clotted blood presenting itself to view, as they lie chained in a mule cart upon their faces, and proceeding to the prison in the fort, for the purpose of being heavily ironed, as soon as they revive from the inanition (exhaustion) caused by the severity of the flogging.”

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Originally posted 2017-05-16 00:52:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

When Racism Greeted

A Black Musical Genius

In Pittsburgh



Perhaps the most significant black artist ever to perform in Pittsburgh was pelted with stones, rotten eggs and curses of “Nigger!”

You haven’t heard of this?

Well, community shame tends to have a short shelf life. And, it did happen a long time ago.

It was May 16, 1843. The protagonist of this story was the most important name in American music you never heard of: Francis (Frank) Johnson.

People who know the evolution of American music know about him.

Johnson, we’re told, had uncanny skills with a new instrument — the keyed bugle. That was a bugle with keys like a flute. Later, valves replaced the keys, leading to the cornet and trumpet.

A keyed silver bugle like the one Frank Johnson used to delight audiences.

He also was a whiz on violin. He combined those skills with genius-level composition talents. That fueled a cultural force that started the Brass Band Era.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of brass bands and marches, but for a long time, it was THE  music of America; roughly between the mid 1800s and early part of the 20th Century.

A Divided Nation

Johnson, probably born in Philadelphia, was a free black traveling a divided nation. Much of it kept imported Africans and their offspring as slaves.

In nonslave states and territories, free blacks were seen by poor native-born whites and Irish immigrants as taking jobs away from them.

Then, as now, America was quite polarized. People had points they wanted to make to the stupid people on the other side.

There were those who thought slavery was wrong. Often, the same people favored restrictions on alcohol, and thought women should be allowed to vote.

Others — probably more — thought women could not vote responsibly, alcohol was a daily staple that should not be taken from free men, and black slaves were personal property that no American should have to give up to do-gooders.

It was into that rift that Frank Johnson and his bands played.

Not that he didn’t escape occasionally. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Johnson achieved great fame when he played for an 18-year-old woman in London.

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Black Waiters, Soldiers of Self-Emancipation

Originally posted 2016-02-10 11:33:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

black, black

Ready to Swoop to the Rescue

You probably don’t know this. Squads of black men and women in uniform routinely patrolled Pittsburgh and other key points of the Underground Railroad, often rescuing runaway slaves as they were about to be apprehended. They are overlooked because they  wore uniforms of waiters and porters, chambermaids and laundresses. In fact, that’s what they were. Their heroics appear in anecdotes all along the emancipation route between Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls, The goal of people fleeing the South was to get to the falls and go more than half way across the bridge to Canada. If they did that, they would be something they had never been before — free. No one could claim them as property in Canada. Martha didn’t get the chance to cross the bridge. According to newspaper accounts, she safely made the tense, secretive journey to Niagara Falls and was talking to her husband in front of one of the main hotels. A carriage pulled up and a man got out. He looked at the young African-American and she at him. “How do you do, Martha?” he asked, reaching out to shake her hand. She backed away, turned and ran faster than witnesses had ever seen a woman run. Martha ran through Prospect Park toward the ferry dock at the base of the falls. “Stop! Stop her! $100 to he who catches her,” the man bellowed with a Southern accent. He was her owner. Several men took up the challenge, but found themselves unexpectedly confronted by black men in hotel uniforms. They placed themselves between Martha and her pursuers. black waiterShe “outran them all, even the husband,” wrote one eyewitness, and “plunged down the ferry steps by hops instead of steps.” The ferry was gone. A lone boat at the dock was too big for her to push off. But, she leaped into it, followed by her husband. The hotel waiters pushed it off with a handspike and it glided just out of reach of the pursuers. Martha and her husband “sent up a glad and defiant hurrah,” loud enough to be heard over the roar of the falls. They rowed through the dense mist and over the roiling river toward Canada. Fifteen minutes later, they reached the Canadian shore. The waiters went back to folding napkins. But, they would have kept a wary eye scanning doorways. Most were escaped slaves. Continue reading