The program chronicles 29 county sites commemorating significant people, places and events.
I had the pleasure last week of listening to three prominent community historians outline the genesis of an Erie County African-American driving/walking history tour.
“African Americans in Erie County: A Trail of Shared Heritage” was unveiled to the public during a Monday morning news conference at Erie Cemetery.
The program several years in the planning, researching and organizing chronicles 29 county sites commemorating significant people, places and events.
It covers more than 200 years of Erie County African-American heritage and examines sites and topics related to business, social issues, sports, the civil rights movement, military history and the Underground Railroad.
“We need to understand the profound connections that all of us, no matter our skin color, have to this history,” said Mercyhurst University history professor Chris Magoc, one of the community project’s three architects.
“I want to see it be a force for good, for changing this region for the better,” Magoc said.
Erie historian Johnny Johnson and Melinda Meyer, chair of Preservation Erie, have partnered with Magoc to help steer their vision for this project from concept to fruition.
Johnson said he hopes the heritage undertaking encourages social interaction and social communication that would enable county residents “to get to know each other better.”
Magoc and Mercyhurst’s Thomas B. Hagen Department of History and Public History Program have been involved with the heritage project since its inception in 2012.
The project sat dormant for about five years before interest in it was resurrected in 2017.
“This moment of national reckoning that white Americans are having with racism after the 8-minute and 40-second brutal, horrific, indelibly inscribed murder of George Floyd is an unprecedented moment for us to confront some of the reasons why, in this region, it’s a difficult place, to put it mildly, to be Black in America,” Magoc said.
Information on all 29 historical sites and maps are listed in 15,000 brochures that will be distributed to Erie-area churches, schools, businesses and visitor bureaus.
The finished product includes an accompanying website, www.sharedheritage.org, where visitors can view a map of the tour, a timeline and overview of Black history in Erie County, profiles of about 60 significant individuals, and oral interviews with prominent Erie-area African-Americans.
“We lost a lot of physical evidence of these sites over the last 100 years,” Meyer said. “When people take this tour, they’re going to find that, in some cases, we’re directing them to locations where there is an amazing story, but the physical remnants have been destroyed or are long gone.”
Erie Times-News staff writers share their views from behind the scenes, stories and bylines. Ron Leonardi can be reached at 870-1680. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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