"The City of Steel"

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  Known historically as an industrial powerhouse, the steady economic growth of Pittsburgh in the late 19th century attracted thousands of black southerners and European immigrants to the city, resulting in much ethnic and racial diversity within Pittsburgh's population. In addition to the effect of industry and the influence of various ethnic groups, the unique topography of this region of Pennsylvania also has played an important role in shaping history of Pittsburgh. Located where the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers join and form the Ohio River, Pittsburgh is a city comprised of many hills, rivers and valleys.

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the British built Fort Pitt at the fork of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers after winning control of this area from the French. The glass, iron and coal industries began to grow in this region at the turn of the century, followed by transportation developments, including the first steamboat in 1811, a canal system in 1834, and the first railroad in 1851, all of which encouraged Pittsburgh=s industrial development. As the steel and aluminum industry emerged in the late 1800's, the city of Pittsburgh grew and became a hub unifying the many manufacturing and mining satellite towns in this region. With the consolidation of the Carnegie Steel Company in 1889, Pittsburgh henceforth dominated the American steel industry. Despite contributions made by both Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon to Pittsburgh's economy, the industrial empire that they established was not entirely beneficial, especially for the many workers who faced low pay, deplorable work conditions, and overall poverty. Black workers in particular faced hardships, for whom these jobs typically offered little pay and no opportunity for advancement.


The irregular hills and valleys of Pittsburgh's region divide the city into numerous small areas, resulting in a strong sense of community within these different neighborhoods. On the other hand, the hills and valleys dividing the city also lead to an overall sense of disunity within Pittsburgh. Whereas most blacks lived in one area in other Northern cities, Pittsburgh's topography divided the black community into numerous small neighborhoods, such as the Hill, Homewood-Brushton, Beltzhoover, and Manchester. This division became a major stumbling block for black Pittsburghers in terms of achieving power, a sense of unity, and self-sufficiency as a community. Specifically, the topography of Pittsburgh reinforced the many divisions along class and culture lines, specifically the division between migrants and Pittsburgh-born blacks. Another factor working against the development of a strong and stable community was that most blacks from the south used Pittsburgh as a mere "pitt stop" on their way to other northern cities such as Cleveland, New York and Detroit.

Even under these circumstances, however, a notable black influence and sense of unity arose in Pittsburgh. The Hill district was unquestionably the most demonstrative of the black community's achievements (rephrase?). The Hill district's black community can be traced back to the Revolutionary War era when 150 slaves were brought to Pittsburgh from Virginia and freed. The Hill district was a city within a city, offering its residents an arena for both social and economic opportunity. By the 1930's, the Hill was a bustling community comprised primarily of African Americans, Jews and Italians. Claude McKay, leading poet of the Harlem Renaissance, labeled the intersection of Wylie and Fulterton Avenues, two of the Hill's primary streets, as the "Crossroads of the World". The black community, which became the dominant ethnic group on the Hill by the 1940's, developed into a stable, flourishing enclave of steelworkers, businessmen, and commercial proprietors. (put in something about migrants.) The great Negro League baseball team, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, as well as the country's leading African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, originated on the Hill. The Hill was known on the national jazz circuit, with the Crawford Grille and the Hurricane Lounge being a performance arena for local artists and a regular stopping place for big name entertainers, such as Lena Horne, Billy Strayhorn and Mary Lou Williams.


Despite the decline in industry in recent years, Pittsburgh remains economically and socially viable today, with the sizable black community comprising 25% of the city's population according to a 1990 census. However, the black community never recovered from the destruction of their economic and cultural haven, and now the thriving years of black Pittsburgh's Hill district are only a memory.