a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More inclusive histories, finally

By Scott Beveridge

Local historians are including the contributions and struggles of black people for the first time in the things they publish about their communities.

Record keepers in Washington, Pa., have been collecting the oral histories of older black people who lived during the Civil Rights Movement, including those about segregated movie theaters and swimming pools.

Until then, the black story had largely been overlooked there, unless told through the eyes of prosperous white people who helped escaped slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad, said Tom Mainwaring, a professor at Washington & Jefferson College.

The folks in Donora, Pa., have followed suit.

The Donora Historical Society has included a number of photos of black people in a new book on the Washington County borough’s history in what probably is the first time an integrated story has been told there.

The photo that stands out, above, shows a dozen Boy Scouts in uniform posing outside their Baptist church in 1940 with their leader and troop and country flags at a time when the United States was poised to enter World War II.

The paperback photo album also includes a head shot of U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, a black Donora native who served as a federal drug czar and also presided over the perjury trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Meanwhile, the book holds a portrait of Loretta Ross Jones, a black woman who has spent her life working to help improve the lives of troubled local children.

The book also shows off a fantastic collection of photographs that tell the story of how the town grew up around steel. It’s only because the society was fortunate to have inherited the remarkable collection of a professional photographer, Bruce Dreisbach, who spent most of his life in Donora after locating there in 1906.

The book is a project of Charles Stacey, a retired public school superintendent, and two other historical society members, Brian Charlton and David Lonich. It can be purchased at local retailers, online bookstores or through its publisher, Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com

(The society will officially launch the book at 1 p.m. April 10, 2010, at the Donora Smog Museum, 595 McKean Ave.)

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