Burg on Space, Race and African-American Community in Shippensburg, PA

James Forten. Watercolor by an unknown artist. Leon Gardiner Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Steven B. Burg. “The North Queen Street Cemetery and the African-American Experience in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 77, no. 1 (2010): 1-36.

Preview:

“On a small hill two blocks from downtown Shippensburg, Pennsylvania can be found a two hundred year-old African-American burial ground called the North Queen Street Cemetery. 1 Sometime in the eighteenth century, that piece of rocky ground on the outskirts of the town became a graveyard for the area’s slaves, and by the 1830s, it also provided a site for the community’s first African-American church. For most of the nineteenth century, that space served as the social, cultural, and spiritual center of the town’s growing African-American population, a place where they could celebrate, mourn, and build together the foundations of an African-American community.

This study is a micro-history focusing on a specific piece of land in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, that became the physical nexus of the town’s African-American community. The lot on North Queen Street became a location where the complex racial dynamics of a rural central Pennsylvania town became manifest as the area’s African-American minority transitioned from slavery to freedom. At that site, the town’s white elite helped the African-American community to create institutions that would serve their spiritual needs while also seeking to control, exclude, and subordinate them. For more than one hundred years, the church and cemetery on North Queen Street reflected Shippensburg’s racial order by providing the community’s most obvious and consistent sites of racial separation, part of a complex and fluid set of social boundaries that reflected the peculiar nature of race relations in rural Pennsylvania. The conditions of small-town life meant that whites were often the neighbors, employers, co-workers, and friends of African Americans, and the relatively small numbers of African-American residents often made separate accommodations expensive or impractical. It was only when the local African-American population grew in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth…”

Available at Project Muse ($$)

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