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Mayor Wanda WIlliams and the Chester WayIn August 2020, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Harrisburg dedicated a monument on the lawn of the Irvis Equality Circle within the State Capitol Complex. A Gathering at the Crossroads marked the culmination of three years of planning by the Commonwealth Monument Project, a project of the International Institute for Peace through Tourism sponsored by The Foundation for Enhancing Communities. Designed and sculpted by Becky Ault and Art Design Group, this new public bronze monument commemorates the anniversaries of the ratification of the 15th and 19th Amendments (1870 and 1920) that gave African American men, and then all women, the right to vote.

Gathering at the CrossroadsA Gathering at the Crossroads presents four life-size figures of notable African American leaders—Thomas Morris Chester, Jacob Compton, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, and William Howard Day—discussing both the milestone and the limitations of the recent passage of the 15th Amendment. The orators encircle a pedestal engraved with scenes of the Old Eighth Ward, an immigrant neighborhood and the core of the city’s Black community, demolished between 1910 and 1960 to create the capitol green and complex of buildings visible today. The sides of the pedestal record the names of 100 local women and men who championed civil rights, freedom, and opportunities for the city’s Black community, indeed, for all citizens, across city, state, and nation between 1850 and 1920.T. Morris Chester

View a brief video about A Gathering at the Crossroads, featuring interviews with Mr. Lenwood Sloan and John Melham, produced by Messiah University student Keli Ganey.

Dauphin County Library System is pleased to announce a new initiative of the T. Morris Chester Welcome Center at the McCormick Riverfront Library, Messiah University’s Center for Public Humanities, and the Commonwealth Monument Project to tell the story of the people of the monument. Titled “The Chester Way: Stories of Freedom, Equity, and Justice in Pennsylvania’s Capital Region,” the initiative center around the “way” of Thomas Morris Chester, highly respected Black journalist, soldier, lawyer, and civil rights proponent in the U.S. and wider world in the 19th century. Born in Harrisburg in 1834, Chester traveled widely over the United States, Liberia, England, and Europe, yet always considered Harrisburg home. The Chester Way of the project’s title references the recently renamed stretch of Walnut Street between Commonwealth Avenue and the McCormick Riverfront Library, and points to Chester’s globetrotting in the pursuit of justice, equity, and opportunity for African Americans.

In 2023 the TMC Welcome Center is partnering with educators and students from Messiah University in a project of placemaking in three components.

Do You Know?First, the team is developing digital collections of primary sources related to 25 individuals celebrated in A Gathering at the Crossroads. Students are working with librarians and community partners to create digital memory boxes for Thomas Morris Chester and the other orators, K. Leroy Irvis, and twenty individuals inscribed on the pedestal of the monument. Centered on the subject of the historical struggle for civil rights in the capital region, this digital collection will amplify the voices and stories of sometimes forgotten agents who have worked for the public good in the capital region.

Second, the team is developing a website showcasing the life, times, and travels of Thomas Morris Chester as he sojourned in Harrisburg, elsewhere in Pennsylvania and the United States,  and abroad in Liberia, Russia, and England. The interactive Story Map, which will be developed in collaboration with the Center for Applied Environmental & Geospatial Technology at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology will include text and embedded images, maps, and videos of Pennsylvania Past Players. Available for visitors to explore via computers at the McCormick Riverfront Library and anywhere else, the website will create heritage tourism experiences along the Chester Way and immersion experiences at the Chester Research Collection.

Pennsylvania Past Players
                                  The Pennsylvania Past Players

 

Meet the Pennsylvania Past Players

Pennsylvania Past Player Eric Jackson performing as T. Morris Chester
Pennsylvania Past Player Sharia Benn performing as Francis Ellen Watkins Harper
Pennsylvania Past Player
Darlene Coloń performing as Lydia Hamilton Smith
Pennsylvania Past Player Kelly Sommerford performing as William C. Goodrich
Pennsylvania Past Player Yvette Davis performing as Harriet Smith
Pennsylvania Past Player Lenwood Sloan performing as Martin J. Delaney
Pennsylvania Past Player Sharon Jackson performing as Annie Amos

All videos edited and produced by students through Messiah University’s Center for Public Humanities

 

The third outcome of the work will be a public-facing digital tour of significant sites in the capital region associated with the long quest for civil rights from the 18th to 21st centuries. Messiah University students are working with members of the Commonwealth Monument Project and the T. Morris Chester Welcome Center to identify and tell stories about places in the capital region associated with the quest for civil freedoms, suffrage, justice, and rights. The work will result in a web platform and mobile app with a “base map” of stories about civil rights in the capital region.

This new work is supported by a public humanities grant from the Council of Independent Colleges through funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The collaboration was selected as one of only 13 projects nationwide. The CIC grant program is designed to energize public humanities activities by directing academic resources, student research, and public programming toward truly significant issues of contemporary life in partnership with community organizations. The CIC sustaining grant will bring together historians, librarians, students, and community stakeholders to develop place-based stories about the Chester “way” and historic quests in capital PA to build a free, equitable, and just world.

For more information and to support the work, click to contact Lenwood Sloan.

Photo compliments of IIPT-CMP and Messiah University. Original sculpture by Becky Ault–A.R.T.