by Diana Nelson Jones/Feb 22
The Young Preservationists Association has been a leading force for recognizing the places that figured in the history of blacks in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. It was YPA's championing of the National Negro Opera Co. headquarters on Apple Street in Homewood that got it a state historical marker several years ago.
Now YPA is coming out with a guide of 104 sites in the region that have historical significance as they pertained to the black experience. You can see a copy at a 4 p.m. reception at the August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave. (www.augustwilsoncenter.org) on Thursday. There is no admission charge and there will be refreshments. (At left is playwright August Wilson's childhood home on Bedford Avenue in the Hill.)
The former National Secretary of the National Negro Opera Company, Barbara Edwards Lee, will be honored at the reception. The National Negro Opera Company, started in Pittsburgh in 1941, was the first black opera company in the nation.
YPA founder and CEO Dan Holland said the first 5,000 guides will go to schools "and if we run out, which would be a good problem to have, then we will find a way" to do another run. If you want a copy, get on the list by emailing to
Called "Discover the Legacy: The African American Experience in Southwestern Pennsylvania," the guide features sites in nine counties, from jazz venues to stops in the Underground Railroad nework that helped former slaves find freedom. (Above is the East Ohio Street marker noting the original location of Avery College. Methodist preacher Charles Avery established it in 1849 to offer classical education to blacks.
The YPA's guide is meant to encourage heritage tourism, promote preservation of historic sites and to serve as a reference for existing historical markers. It is also an affirmation. Either by design or heedlessness, public policy has obliterated so many places of the black experience. It's ironic that the the black sense of place was less tenuous a thing before the '60s, the decade that Civil Rights shared with urban removal.
YPA's partners in making the guide book are the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the The Poise Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
More information is available on YPA's website, at http://www.youngpreservationists.org/ and, more specifically, http://www.youngpreservationists.org/discover-pittsburghs-african-american-history-on-a-new-website