In February 1870 the United States Congress ratified the 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote, this voting rights victory was
largely gained by the activism of National Equal Rights League (NERL) members who had fought for Black suffrage since 1831, when many Northern States revoked Black Voting Rights as a result of Slave
rebellions in the South.
In celebration of the passage of the voting rights amendment, NERL and its' Pennsylvania State Executive Committee, lead by Rev. Henry H. Garnet, held a
national parade and festival in the City of Pittsburgh; this national event was attended by over 5,000 Leaders and Citizens from across America.
“Jubilee of Freemen: Commemorating a
Triumphant Moment in African American History”
--- By Samuel W. Black (Director of African
American Programs at Senator John Heinz History Center)
“Tuesday, April 26, A.D. 1870 has pasted into the local history of old and loyal Allegheny County, laden with associations which will ever make it
memorable. It was the occasion of jubilee, of public and marked thankfulness, of grateful and graceful acknowledgment, on the part of a people who have been called by God, and a remorseless nation to
enjoy the blessings of full citizenship in a land where slavery once thrived.”
This quote from the opening paragraph of an article on the front page of the Pittsburgh Daily Gazette, Wednesday, April 27, 1870, recalls the events of the
day where African Americans, whites, veterans, politicians, activists, poor, wealthy, men, women, and children paraded through the streets of Pittsburgh and Allegheny to celebrate the ratification of
the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Once again suffrage had been restored to a people who had suffered so much.
The procession was led by brass bands, with soldiers marching in formation, and women and children proceeding in wagons and carriages. Some men were on
horse-back, and hundreds on foot as three divisions - one from Birmingham, a second from Allegheny and a third from Pittsburgh made their way from Smithfield Street, then moved into the Hill District
only to return into town and march across the Allegheny River to Allegheny City. Remarks were made at the Allegheny Commons. Hundreds lined the streets of the procession to join in the celebrations.
Houses were decorated with wreaths and flags to commemorate the new found enfranchisement for African Americans. President of the organizing committee, the Rev. John Peck opened the string of
presentations at the Allegheny Commons with an address that placed into focus the reason for the Jubilee and the struggle to attain those freedoms. Peck renounced,
“I almost hated that flag when its broad folds afforded no protection to me and mine...When it proudly floated over the dome of the national capital and
cast its shadow on slaves driven in droves under its fold, when it withheld protection from the helpless and made strong the system of human slavery. But I thank the Lord God Almighty that I am a
citizen today.” (Gazette, Wednesday, April 27, 1870, page 1.)
The occasion was a crescendo for long suffering activists like Rev. Peck, Henry Highland Garnett, Louis Woodson, Edward Parker, Paris Burley, Charles
Nighten, Samuel A. Neale, B. K. Sampson, Benjamin Pulpress, George Massey, Robert Jackson, and a community that had placed abolition and equal rights at the forefront of its agenda. Like building
blocks stacked one on top of another, the Black Pittsburgh struggle in the antebellum period was constructed of militant underground activism and episodes of slave rescues, anti-slavery speeches,
Black men convention meetings, migration of runaway slaves, emigration of those fed up with America, Civil War, and political activism, all capped by the 1870 procession...."
JOIN US ON SATURDAY JUNE 18TH AT 10AM, IN DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH, AS WE MARCH TO CELEBRATE THE END OF CHATTEL SLAVERY AND BLACK VOTING RIGHTS IN