The Lead

Black Caucus celebrates past, present and future with Black History Month kickoff

By: - February 5, 2019 6:30 am

One month after Pennsylvania swore in its most diverse class of lawmakers ever, members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus aren’t just celebrating Black History – they’re also making it.

Pennsylvania’s Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC) kicked off Black History Month yesterday with 90 minutes of song, dance and speeches Monday in the Capitol Rotunda.

Lawmakers and allies from across the Commonwealth joined the celebration.

Founded in 1973, the Legislative Black Caucus is bigger than ever before, according to House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny. Its members also hold some of the highest positions in the House’s leadership ranks.

During leadership elections in November, caucus member Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, became the first woman — and first African-American — to serve as Democratic Caucus Chair.

Caucus Chairman Jordan Harris, also a Philadelphia Democrat, was elected House Minority Whip. He’s the first African American to hold that post since the 1970s.

Harris said Monday that the state’s African-American leaders will keep an eye to the past and the future as they chart out priorities for the new legislative session.

“I’m excited for the work that the Black Caucus continues to do, while understanding we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us,” Harris said. “You don’t just stand there to enjoy the view, but to continue to build our own pathways, using what we’ve learned from our past, enjoying what we have in our present, and looking forward to what we create for those coming behind us.”

Monday’s program featured a choral performance from students at Pine Forge Academy, a Bucks County high school that’s one of the last remaining African-American boarding schools in the nation, and dance performances by the Philadelphia-based Enon Vessels of Praise Dance Troop.

Chieke Ihejirika, a professor of history, philosophy, and political science at Lincoln University, also delivered a brief lecture.

The theme of this year’s Black History Month, “Black Migrations,” honors the millions of African-Americans who scattered across the country to escape the Jim Crow South. More than six million African Americans left the south between 1916 and 1970, according to the Smithsonian, seeking better lives in industrial cities in the North.

Historians now estimate that the Great Migration, as it is now known, was one of the largest domestic migrations in all of human history. And it forever changed cities across the Commonwealth.

In Philadelphia alone, the African American population ballooned from 84,000 in 1910 to more than 219,000 in 1930. Pittsburgh’s black population more than doubled during the same time period, growing from 25,000 to 54,000.

The Legislative Black Caucus will commemorate Black History Month with events throughout February. But as McClinton said Monday, “we celebrate our history, our heritage, 365 days a year.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.