WQED shines light in dark corners of Pa. history
Although Pennsylvania has prided itself as a “state of independence,” WQED-TV’s Chris Moore says it also must remember its past as a land of lynching.
“We have come a long way and things are better than they were, but they can get better only if we understand our history,” says the producer and TV host.
That history is the focus of “Jim Crow Pennsylvania,” a WQED-produced show that looks at bigotry and hatred as well as optimism and hope.
It tells the tale of the 1911 lynching of Zachariah Walker in Coatesville, Chester County, and the work of civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph, who organized sleeping-car porters and black steelworkers.
The show will premiere at 8 p.m. Thursday and is part of an assortment of shows observing Black History Month.
“Jim Crow Pennsylvania” was produced by Moore, Minette Seate and Olga George, and is named for the use of “Jim Crow” laws or practices, which applied only to blacks.
Moore recalls the famous Andy Warhol quote about Pennsylvania being Pittsburgh and Philadelphia divided by Alabama, and says that type of thinking led him to want to do the project.
“I came here from Arkansas in 1980, and people would always say, ‘Oh, how could you have lived down there?'” he says. “But the more I found out, the more I learned this state had a history, too.”
Easily the most striking part of the film is the section on the death of Walker, who was hanged but not killed in the lynching, and then burned alive.
Moore credits co-producers Seate and George with doing great research to find people who knew something about the killing.
“There wasn’t a feeling of animosity,” Seate says about her efforts to research the grisly story. “But some people just thought of it as old wounds that they wanted to put behind them. They wanted to get past a feeling of helplessness.”
She says George’s “dogged determination” finally led to an elderly resident whose father had told him about the incident.
George also was able to find a woman who was one of the targets of an anti-black protest when she and her family were the first blacks to move into Levittown, the post-World War II suburb development in Bucks County.
“There is this white thinking that says, ‘That happened hereâ¢ Let’s forget about it,'” Moore says.
On the positive side is the story of Fairview Park, the 100-acre site in Salem, Westmoreland County, that was bought in 1945 by a group of African-American churches as a recreation and gathering site. Blacks at that time were admitted to local amusement parks but only reluctantly.
Times have changed, but the park still is used and well liked. And Moore says that is because it is a special spot.
“There always has been a joy of ownership in the United States,” he says. “Everybody wants to be able of own a piece of the rock.”
Seate adds there is in it a “pride of self-sufficiency.”
The Fairview Park Association owns and manages the facility, showing that black residents can have a role in American land ownership as well as other aspects of life, Moore says.
“We need more than just sports heroes,” he says.
“Jim Crow Pennsylvania” also will be shown at 10 p.m. Friday, 1 a.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Feb. 11 and 5 p.m. Feb. 25.
Black History Month programs
Besides “Jim Crow Pennsylvania,” WQED-TV will present a broad range of shows during Black History Month.
“Return to the Roots of Civil Rights,” 4 p.m. today, 5:30 and 10:30 p.m. Feb. 11, 8:30 p.m. Feb. 15 — A bus tour goes through key sites in the civil rights struggle in seven states.
“Dance Party: The Teenarama Story,” 4:30 p.m. today — Narrated by Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, the show looks at a Washington, D.C., television dance program aimed at black teens.
“Deford Bailey: A Legend Lost,” 10:30 p.m. today — A look at one of the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry.
“NOVA: Forgotten Genius,” 8 p.m. Tuesday — The NOVA series examines Percy Julian, a scientific genius, industrialist and civil rights pioneer.
“Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life,” 10 p.m. Tuesday — A look at Pittsburgh composer Strayhorn, who was a colleague and pianist with Duke Ellington for 30 years.
“The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords,” 4 p.m. Feb. 11 — A look at the black press that began in the early 1800s.
“Race: The Power of an Illusion,” 10 p.m. Thursday and Feb. 15 — These are the final two parts of a series that began Feb. 1. They examine how race and racial thinking is more of a social construction than simply a biological reality.
“An Evening with Colin Powell,” 10 p.m. Feb. 16 — A look at the life and career of the former Secretary of State and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“In Country: A Vietnam Story,” 8 p.m. Feb. 22, 10 p.m. Feb. 23, 1 a.m. Feb. 24, 3 p.m. Feb. 25 — WQED’s Chris Moore takes a look at war-scarred Vietnam.
“Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change,” 10 p.m. Feb. 22 — A look at Catholic nuns who joined the civil rights protests in Selma, Ala.
“Wylie Avenue Days,” 4 p.m. Feb. 25 — A look at one of the key streets in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
- In addition, WQED’s “OnQ” series will examine black history topics Feb. 15, 21, 22 and 27; “Black Horizons” airs 9 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays; and “Tony Brown’s Journal” airs at 2:30 p.m. Sundays.