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.
8. Ida Ella Ruth Jones
Dedicated: Oct. 23, 2004
Location: Doe Run Road at Rokeby Road, East Fallowfield Township
Marker text: African American self-taught artist who depicted life in rural Chester County in the first half of the 20th century. The daughter of a former slave, Jones completed more than 300 works in her 70s and 80s. She worked in watercolor, oil, and pencil in a style typical of folk art. Her works illustrated personal observations of family and farm life, nature, landscapes, early technologies, human interaction, and slavery. Jones resided on a nearby farm.
9. The Lynching of Zachariah Walker
Dedicated: Dec. 9, 2006
Location: Doe Run Road at Philadelphia Power Plant access gate
Marker text: An African American steelworker, Walker was burned to death by a mob near here on August 13, 1911. He was accused of killing Edgar Rice, a white security guard and former borough policeman. Fifteen local men and teenage boys were indicted for their involvement in Walker's death but were acquitted of all charges. Nationwide outrage led to the NAACP's national anti-lynching campaign and inspired Pennsylvania's 1923 anti-lynching law.
10. Whittier C. Atkinson
Dedicated: April 14, 2007
Location: 824 E. Chestnut St., Coatesville
Marker text: Founded Clement Atkinson Memorial Hospital here, 1936, offering quality health care to all despite inability to pay. First African American president of Chester County Medical Society; Pa. Practitioner of the year, 1960. A 1924 graduate of Howard University, he began his Coatesville practice in 1927.
11. William Chester Ruth
Dedicated: Oct. 2, 2006
Location: 5369 Lincoln Hwy., Gap
Marker text: African American inventor who opened a blacksmith and machine shop here in 1923. He did metal work and repairs, primarily for Pennsylvania German farmers. Ruth designed and patented many agricultural devices, most notably his 1928 baler feeder. He also applied his talents to designing and building military devices. An esteemed community member, he was spiritual leader at the Church of Christ in Ercildoun, where he lived.
12. The Christiana Riot
Dedicated: April 25, 1998
Location: South side of Lower Valley Road, Christiana
Marker text: The 1850 federal Fugitive Slave Act strengthened the position of slaveowners seeking to capture runaways. Pursuing four escaped slaves, Maryland farmer Edward Gorsuch arrived Sept. 11, 1851, at the Christiana home of William Parker, an African American who was giving them refuge. Neighbors gathered, fighting ensued, and Gorsuch was killed. This incident did much to polarize the national debate over the slavery issue.
13. Thaddeus Stevens
Dedicated: March 24, 1950
Location: West Chestnut and North Mulberry streets, Lancaster
Marker text: Lawyer, congressman, defender of free public schools, abolitionist, lies buried in the rear of this cemetery. He believed in the "Equality of man before his Creator." Resided in Lancaster from 1842 until his death, 1868.
14. Henry Norwood Ewell
Dedicated: Oct. 17, 2018
Location: 445 N. Reservoir St., Lancaster
Marker text: A graduate of McCaskey High School and Penn State Univ., Ewell was one of the world's leading sprinters and long jumpers in the late 1930s and 40s. Cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics during WWII prevented Ewell from competing in his prime. He maintained his conditioning and at age 30 matched the world record in the 100-meter dash at the Olympic Trials. He competed in the 1948 Olympics in London and won a gold and two silver medals.
15. Transportation Corps Unit Training Center
Dedicated: Oct. 16, 2008
Location: Fisher Avenue near Quartermaster Road, Annville
Marker text: A stevedore training program was established in 1942 at Fort Indiantown Gap. Soldiers were trained to load and unload cargo using three wood and concrete dry land ships. Many recruits were African Americans whose companies were segregated from their parent port battalions during instruction but not in WWII combat locales such as Italy and Normandy Beach on D-Day. Training provided here enabled efficient operations instrumental in Allied victory.