HACC hosts African American Historical Society lecture

Alum Gerald Wilson highlights local involvement, impact of slavery in Black Heritage lecture

HACC hosts African American Historical Society lecture

Jess Staley, Features Editor

Although we know of the horrors of slavery, when talking about Black heritage, many are unaware of the involvement that took place locally in Lancaster County. 

In honor of Black History Month, HACC’s student involvement sponsored a Black Heritage lecture, given by Gerald Wilson. Wilson is a HACC alum and a founding member of the African American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Lancaster County Historical Society. 

Many are surprised to know that enslaved people were held in Lancaster, and the many ways slavery affected the county. Enslaved persons were held by the most affluent citizens in Lancaster City. General Edward Hand, a doctor and one of George Washington’s adjutants in the Revolutionary War, was a slave owner in Lancaster. A middle school in Lancaster is named after Hand, but it has since been decided to change the name due to his involvement with slavery. 

Columbia, a town in Lancaster County, was a hotbed of anti-slavery activity as it was a major stop in the Underground Railroad. Lancaster’s proximity to the Maryland line made this more accessible. The slaves route was from Lancaster to Philadelphia, then eventually to Canada.

Stephen Smith was a prominent African American from Columbia. He was born into slavery. Before he was freed he had learned about the lumber business; when freed, he pursued various business ventures, Wilson said. He had much success in real estate and through his lumber yard, making him a very wealthy man. Smith went on to fight for civil rights. 

An interesting documentation of history is the City of Lancaster Negro Entry Book. It was used from 1820-1849 to register all African Americans with the city government. The book is held at the Historical Society in Lancaster. Wilson also shared a photo of a recruitment poster asking for colored men to join the Civil War. After 1862, President Abraham Lincoln called for enlistment of black soldiers for the union due to the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation also freed three million slaves.

Through his work with the African American Historical Society, Wilson visits sites where there were once hiding places of the underground railroads and the enslaved. These locations are found in basements of historical buildings and catacombs.

The Historical Society’s goal is to increase the knowledge of African American history and achievements. Members analyze and preserve data and artifacts to better understand what life was like for black communities in South Central Pennsylvania. The Historical Society conducts walking tours from May-Oct in downtown Lancaster. Visit the authentic sites where slaves traveled through the underground railroad to freedom and learn about the role Lancaster has in Black history. 

For more on the African American Historical Society events, tours, and more, visit African American Historical Society .