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Female African American factory workers pose for a group portrait, circa 1920.



Harrisburg's African American Community Moves Through the Twentieth Century


Study Areas



Free Persons of Color

Underground Railroad

The Violent Decade

Civil War

US Colored Troops

Year of Jubilee (1863)

Ellen Coleman, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Resident


An aged African American woman sits next to a stove.

Significant numbers of formerly enslaved African Americans made their homes in central Pennsylvania in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some escaped enslavement and traveled north via the Underground Railroad before 1865. Many more found themselves no longer enslaved by war's end and looked north for job opportunites or to escape the harsh poverty and crushing racism of southern Reconstruction. The first few decades of the 20th century saw large numbers of southern Blacks moving north to take advantage of the plentiful jobs in northern industries.

Their presence in northern cities enriched each African American community. Their shared first-hand stories of lives enslaved broadened the historical perspective and served to counter the "Lost Cause" myths. Knowing which citizens were formerly enslaved is invaluable for modern historians and persons researching their family histories. Small connections can often add up to bigger stories. The news items below represent snippets in the lives of these persons.

Death Notice, June 4, 1915

1915 death notice for Ellen Colemen.

Text of news article:
Funeral services for Mrs. Ellen Colemen, aged 74, who died at her home, 1421 Market street, Wednesday, will be held from the home to-morrow afternoon, at 3 o'clock, the Rev. W. H. Marshall officiating. Burial will be made in Lincoln Cemetery. Mrs. Coleman was born in Virginia, a slave, and was freed after the Civil War, coming to this city shohrtly afterward. She is survived by two brothers, D. J. Summers, of Chicago, and Moses Summers, of Greencastle; also one step-daughter, May E. Wilson.

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