Black History Month

By Molly Rush

I recently began thinking about a number of black activists, many of whom may be forgotten. I came to know some of them through my work with the Catholic Interracial Council (CIC), and then the Merton Center.

Many were a part of movements past whose work should not be forgotten. I’m sure there are others who you might add to the list.

Early on I attended Friday night meetings at Central Baptist Church in the Hill and joined in on actions of the United Negro  Protest Committee.

I represented CIC at many press conferences at Hill House led by NAACP President Byrd Brown. I also represented CIC at meetings of the Allegheny Council on Civil Rights, which was actively involved in many interracial and interfaith activities. ACCCR organized buses for the March on Washington.

Then there was the formidable Frankie Mae Jeter, who chaired the Welfare Rights Organization of Allegheny County and achieved some changes in the system.

Mayme Lee, Director of Lutheran Meals on Wheels, organized Vibration II, a prisoners visitation committee. An unforgettable tour of Western Penitentiary included the ‘hole’ where all we could see was the line of hands holding mirrors to allow them a glimpse of their rare visitors.

Sadly Mayme died at 45, her youngest child just ten. We organized a successful fundraiser for her family, a concert with Sweet Honey in the Rock. That girl is now an attorney.

Homewood activist Bouie Haden of the United Movement for Progress led a rent strike against slum landlords.

In 1969 Nate Smith of the Black Construction Coalition organized major protests as Three Rivers Stadium was being built. A deal was made to hire 1250 blacks, desegregating all-white unions. Ebony Magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential civil rights leaders.

Earlier heroes include Rev. Leroy Patrick, who in 1949 led a small group of blacks who waded right into the Highland Park swimming pool, integrating the all-white facility.

In the 1950s a woman, Frankie Pace, led protests of urban renewal that displaced Hill District  residents and businesses, destroying this once thriving community.

Then there was Robert Lavelle, founder of Dwelling House Savings & Loan. It was the only black-owned bank in Pittsburgh.

Charles Kindle was chair of NAACP’s South AfrIcan Committee, fighting apartheid with weekly protests at the Gold and Silver Exchange on Smithfield.

Dozens of protest marches began at Freedom Corner on Centre Ave. & Kirkpatrick. A plaque is planted on the ground with the names of some of these and others who helped create real changes in Pittsburgh.

Add your memories about the many others who have blazed a trail for us to follow.

The struggle continues!

Molly Rush is a co-founder of the Merton Center, a board member, and a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective.

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