Documentary project works to recover Sewickley's early Black history | Pittsburgh City Paper

Documentary project works to recover Sewickley's early Black history

click to enlarge A black and white archival photo shows a large group of Black men and women dressed in suits and medical gear.
Photo: Courtesy of Sewickley Community Center and Daniel B. Matthews Society of St. Matthew AME Zion Church
Black Red Cross members and others pose at Beaver Street and Broad Street in Sewickley, 1917
A year ago, the Sewickley Community Center and the Daniel B. Matthews Society of St. Matthew AME Zion Church previewed a series of photos dating as far back as the early 1900s. Presented as part of an event titled "A Conversation: Sharing History of Sewickley’s African American Community," the images depict a vibrant Black community previously undocumented in Sewickley.

The photos inspired efforts to discover and preserve an elusive chapter of the borough's history.
Not only that, but project organizers are calling on the public for help.

The initiative includes producing a documentary based on the photos and narrative from Their Story: The History of Blacks/African Americans in Sewickley & Edgeworth, a book published in 2000 by late Sewickley resident Bettie Cole. A release describes the goal of the film, currently titled Their Story: The History of the African American Community in Sewickley, as making "more widely known the untold history of Sewickley's Black community."

Those interested in participating can attend a kickoff event on Sun., Feb. 26 at Lindsay Theater and Cultural Center. The free gathering invites input from the Pittsburgh community to fully flesh out the film, whether that be through additional photos, stories, memories, or whatever else may provide depth and context to this slice of Pittsburgh history that has gone underrepresented.
click to enlarge A black and white photo shows a group of young Black Girl Scouts posing for the camera.
Photo: Courtesy of Sewickley Community Center and Daniel B. Matthews Society of St. Matthew AME Zion Church
Girl Scouts and Brownies from the Sewickley Community Center, 1955
Co-chairing the initiative are Stratton Nash and Gwen Strickland, who is also Cole's daughter. Supporting the effort are project committee members Beverlee Blair, Gloria Cook, Floyd Faulkner, Susan Kaminski, Shelley Murray, Stratton Nash III, Joyce Parker, Bob Patterson, Dorinda Taylor, Brett Wormsley, and June Wormsley.

“Last year’s event was such a success that participants agreed that the community would be well served to memorialize this information in the form of a documentary,” Stratton says.

After these pieces of cultural context are collected, work will begin on turning them into the full documentary. More details will be shared at the Feb. 26 event. There will also be other chances for people to get involved in the project moving forward.

“Our community members hold a wealth of knowledge about this important aspect of Sewickley Valley’s history,” says Strickland. “We are hoping to capture all their stories in this project.”

Those planning to attend the event are encouraged to RSVP at [email protected].

Their Story: The History of the African American Community in Sewickley. 5-7 p.m. Sun., Feb. 26. Lindsay Theater and Cultural Center. 418 Walnut St., Sewickley. Free. RSVP encouraged. thelindsaytheater.org

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