This Black History Month, we want to explore different educational resources to expand our knowledge and awareness of Black history. Black History Month is an annual celebration of the many contributions that African Americans have made to our collective American narrative. Let’s use this month to explore new histories, see different perspectives, and amplify more voices!
Goin' North: Stories from the First Great Migration to Philadelphia
Did you know in 2016, our friends in the West Chester University of PA History Department won the prestigious Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History for their “Goin North” project? The Goin’ North project features oral histories, digital exhibits, maps, and photographs all relating to Philadelphia and the Great Migration—the mass exodus of southern Black migrants away from the rural South to northern and western cities during the early-twentieth century. Philadelphia—an industrial hub rivaled by few—saw perhaps the greatest transformation. Its Black population increased from roughly 85,000 in 1910 to 220,000 by the 1930s! This transformation was felt even out here in Chester County.
October 1918 World Outlook Magazine cover art.
Take this young couple from New York as an example. In 1927, 21-year-old Horace Newman and 18-year-old Mozelle McCullough submitted a marriage application with the Chester County Clerk of Orphans’ Court (they likely wanted to get married in Coatesville where the groom’s family resided). Because Mozelle was a minor younger than 21, she needed consent from her parents who were farmers in Great Falls, South Carolina. Mozelle was likely one of the hundreds of thousands of Black southerners who migrated north in search of economic opportunity, equality, and more-accepting social attitudes. Below is the letter from Mozelle’s parents granting her permission to marry.
Dear Mozell With Pledgure [pleasure] we write you. We are not well at this writing. I am down again with Rheutison. Been in all the week….Please send me some moore of that medican…Done me moore good than anything els I have got hold of.
The fair is over and we had a good fair this year. We was at Conference last Sunday. We had a nice time. Got our same paster back again. J.W.A. Blake.
Now Mozell we received you letter and was suprize to no that you was thinking of such a thing. But as you think it is best for you you can go a head. But be sure and no what you ar doing my child. It is a life time jurney as you no I would hate to see you mistreeted my child. Look well bee foer you jump.
By our consent you can go ahead my child.
We are about throug picking cotton. Made 12 bails this year and plenty of corn. Show this to the young man.
From Papa and Mama.
Chester County USCT Soldiers Database
Did you know the Chester County Archives has a database of United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers from Chester County who served during the Civil War? Behind each name in this database is a human story and personal motive for joining the war. These men put on the Union Blue--a uniform for a country that did not yet federally protect birthright citizenship or the right to vote for African Americans. The youngest identified USCT soldier from Chester County was 16-year-old Joseph H. Moore of Pennsbury. Sixty-three-year-old Richard Adams of West Marlborough was the oldest identified.
USCT Troops at Fort Lincoln, Washington DC. From the Library of Congress.
African American Genealogy Group of Philadelphia
This week, we want to acknowledge the terrific work being done by the African American Genealogy Group of Philadelphia. Many of us can trace our ancestors back to the early nineteenth-century and beyond. African Americans, however, have a much more difficult trail to follow, especially before the end of slavery. Check out this 1768 will for example. It was for a woman named Bilah of Westtown Township. Unfortunately, we do not know the last name of Bilah because the Register of Wills simply referred to her as “Negro Billah.” This is the first will filed in Chester County by a woman identified as being African American.
African American genealogy does pose more challenges, but that just means the stories uncovered are that much more significant. The African American Genealogy Group of Philadelphia is a great place for local researchers to turn to for support, and do yourself a favor and check out that fascinating video about their project with Eden Cemetery pinned to the top of their Facebook page!
"Negro Bilah" (Bella) 1768 will, #2430