Central Pennsylvania African American History for Everyone
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Banner headline Former Slave Dies



the 20th Century

Salena Johnson, a Formerly Enslaved
African American Resident


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, February 19, 1919

1919 Death Notice for Salena Johnson, Oldest African American woman in Harrisburg.

Text of news article:
Oldest Colored Woman in City, Born a Slave, Dies

  The death of Mrs. Salena Johnson, said to be the oldest colored resident of Harrisburg, occurred last night at her home, 812 East street. Mrs. Johnson was born a slave in Virginia, July 4, 1824, and was 94 years, 7 months and 11 days old. When she was freed from bondage after the Civil War she came north with her daughter, the late Mrs. A. W. Dennee, living in Carlisle for many years. Removing to Harrisburg, she lived in this city up to the time of her death. She was a member of the Wesley Union A. M. E. Church and was widely known here.

  Mrs. Johnson is survived by three children, Mrs. Elizabeth McDonald, of Pittsburgh; Mrs. Elnora Washington, of Philadelphia; and George W. Johnson, with whom she made her home; three grandchildren, Mrs. Mary Jackson, of Toronto, Canada; Miss Frances Johnson, of this city; and George E. Johnson, who is with the Army in France; three great-grandchildren, Dr. A. L. Marshall, Dr. W. E. Marshall, of this city, and DR. F. S. Marshall, who returned from France on Sunday with the 351st Field Artillery; and one great-great-grandchild, Margaret Jane Marshall.

  Funeral arrangements will be made on the arrival of her daughters and will be announced later.

Telegraph, Harrisburg, PA, 19 February 1919, p. 4.

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