Hagen Historical past Middle archives chronicle African-American heritage in Erie County.

Erie native Howard R. Horton was a humble man who careworn typically to his 11 kids that there’s dignity in work, and that schooling, studying and productiveness are cornerstones of a greater life.

Horton was a civil rights activist all through the 1960s and past. He tackled points involving hire for the poor, housing entry, employment discrimination, variety, gentrification, extreme police drive, and hiring of minority public security officers and lecturers.

He mentored youth as a Boy Scout chief, served as president of Erie Central Labor Native 603, was president of the Erie chapter of the NAACP, labored for town of Erie as a housing inspector and was a longtime laborer, specializing in bricklaying.

A lifelong metropolis resident, he was 87 when he died in 2011.

His son, Gary Horton, 68, president of the Erie chapter of the NAACP, donated containers of his father’s civil rights assortment of letters and newspaper clippings to the then-Erie County Historic Society about 20 years in the past.

As Gary Horton sifted by way of his father’s papers lately on the heart – renamed the Hagen Historical past Middle in late 2019 – he mirrored on reminiscences of his father’s political activism.

A number of the clippings and letters his father saved and chronicled are 50 to 60 years previous.

“A number of the points I’m in my father’s assortment are the identical – simply the paper is pale,” Horton mentioned. “Should you look again at a few of these articles, whether or not they’re from the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, you may see Erie has been wrestling with a few of these points for too lengthy.”

Howard Horton’s three-box assortment of fabric is archived and gives students, college students, lecturers and the general public a glimpse right into a small slice of the civil rights motion from an Erie perspective.

“This assortment piques my curiosity and curiosity, and it does carry again numerous reminiscences,” Erie County Councilman Andre Horton, 60, mentioned of his father’s assortment. “To see the precise paperwork that my father has his signature on and the work that he did all through our beloved neighborhood provides me a way of pleasure and provides to my sense of goal in what I’m doing in the present day.”

Hagen Historical past Middle archives include artifacts and paperwork that extensively chronicle Erie County’s African-American heritage.

“We now have a very good assortment of civil rights historical past in Erie County by way of the Horton assortment, and the significance of getting that is for individuals to analysis,” Hagen Historical past Middle Govt Director George Deutsch mentioned.

“Whether or not they’re highschool youngsters or faculty college students, it is a nice level to start and, maybe, conclude your analysis on the historical past of civil rights in Erie and Erie County,” Deutsch mentioned. “A variety of the identical points are nonetheless with us in the present day. This can be a nice alternative for us to share them with the neighborhood.”

Hagen Historical past Middle guests also can study Erie native Harry Burleigh, one of many metropolis’s most notable and largely forgotten historic figures.

Thought-about by many as the daddy of gospel and spirituals, Burleigh earned worldwide acclaim as an African-American classical composer, singer, arranger and music editor.

Books and paperwork on the heart additionally recount the tales of New Jerusalem, a west bayfront Erie neighborhood that, within the a long time earlier than the Civil Struggle, was populated by free blacks, runaway slaves and poor whites.

The Horton assortment gives perception into Erie civil rights-era points, lots of which stay on the core of present social justice reform efforts.

Gary Horton mentioned his father and mom, Mildred Horton, who died in 2003 at 75, had been each activists whose core values had been rooted within the teachings of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and Martin Luther King Jr.

“My father was an advocate of peaceable, non-violent, direct motion,” Gary Horton mentioned. “He and my mom felt they may present you higher than they may let you know. Their actions did converse louder than their phrases.”

Horton mentioned his dad and mom served for greater than 25 years as home dad and mom in Gannon College’s Upward Sure program.

“They used that to mentor and encourage younger individuals, encourage younger individuals in regards to the selections they make and the worth of schooling,” he mentioned.

Horton mentioned he and his siblings had been at all times concerned within the motion by way of their dad and mom’ actions.

“In 1960, I used to be 8, and that was the 12 months John F. Kennedy ran for president,” Horton mentioned. “My dad had us knocking on doorways and distributing literature.”

“We sort of grew up round these points,” he mentioned. “I keep in mind my dad and mom getting threats. Folks referred to as my mother militant Millie for simply being a spokesperson for the rights of others. There weren’t numerous paperwork to see. We had been really residing in it in actual time.”

Harry T. Burleigh

Born in Erie on Dec. 2, 1866, Burleigh realized spirituals as a toddler from his grandfather, Hamilton Waters, a former slave who labored as a lamplighter in Erie.

An achieved baritone, Burleigh, who died in 1949 at age 82, performed a big position in creating American artwork songs. He composed greater than 200 works in that style and was the primary African-American composer acclaimed for his adaptation of African-American spirituals.

“When Burleigh left Erie for New York, he turned a top-notch arranger, composer and singer,” mentioned Johnny Johnson, president of the Erie-based Burleigh Legacy Society.

“A variety of instances, individuals are likely to neglect how the previous influenced the long run,” Johnson mentioned. “He was a shining star who tended to be forgotten in Erie.”

Johnson, a historian and retired Erie College District trainer, has executed intensive analysis on the contributions of African Individuals to Erie historical past.

“So far as saving the music of the spirituals and different African-American music that was sung on plantations, none of it was written down,” Deutsch mentioned. “Burleigh, the son of a sailor within the Union Navy throughout the Civil Struggle, developed an actual curiosity on this music and saved lots of these spirituals that might have disappeared.”

A brand new historic marker honoring Burleigh was unveiled in early December at East Sixth and French streets at Perry Sq. in downtown Erie on the website of a former Burleigh historic marker.

That authentic marker omitted the truth that Burleigh was African-American.

“We thought that was one thing that ought to by no means be omitted,” Johnson mentioned. “Once you pass over the nationality, you don’t painting the true historical past.”

Johnson mentioned Erie will rejoice Harry Burleigh Day yearly on Dec. 2, the date of his start.

“He organized the spirituals, he wrote some very well-known music,” Deutsch mentioned. “He’s, I feel, maybe a very powerful particular person within the early musical interval for African Individuals as a result of he was so accountable for retaining that nice physique of music from disappearing by simply dying-out generations. For being such an necessary determine, it’s actually unhappy that he’s not notably well-known in Erie.”

New Jerusalem

A big phase of Erie’s African-American heritage advanced in New Jerusalem starting within the late 1820s and early 1830s.

“It was the primary important cluster of African Individuals in Erie,” mentioned Chris Magoc, a historical past professor at Mercyhurst College. “It was a spot of refuge, a spot to construct and begin a life.”

New Jerusalem prolonged from West Sixth Road north to Presque Isle Bay and was bounded by what in the present day are Cherry Road on the west and Sassafras Road on the east.

Abolitionist and entrepreneur William Himrod within the 1820s started buying tons west of town and made them out there at low price to African Individuals and poor whites who wished to construct properties there.

That meant alternative in a various neighborhood that supplied free blacks and runaway slaves an opportunity at a brand new starting in life.

“Himrod wished everybody to be on equal footing and he gave individuals a possibility to turn into the perfect they may turn into,” Johnson mentioned.

Historians additionally consider Himrod helped runaway slaves with protected passage to Canada as a part of the Underground Railroad.

Himrod was a contractor and industrial innovator who turned a big determine in Erie’s iron works business.

“He had a benevolent sense of obligation and an ethical aware to do good, to take assets and apply it to these much less well-off,” Magoc mentioned.

New Jerusalem within the 1800s was situated in a distant space. A big ravine separated it from the remainder of Erie.

“It was troublesome to get to,” Magoc mentioned. “It was a rugged passage by way of that ravine, which made for a great and fairly sheltered area for its residents.”

Starting within the mid-1930s and persevering with for a few a long time, New Jerusalem was generally known as house to Erie’s African-American baseball crew, the Erie Pontiacs, who drew massive crowds to Bayview Park.

The Pontiacs’ most outstanding participant was former main leaguer Sam Jethroe, who performed in Erie within the 1950s.

Contact Ron Leonardi at rleonardi@timesnews.com. Comply with him on Twitter @ETNleonardi.

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