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Earlier this week, Billy Penn reported that a timeline in Pennsylvania’s Capitol building mentions just one woman and no people of color by name. We put out the call for suggestions to rectify this problem — and wow, did you respond.
First, some background: The timeline in question is located in the state capitol’s welcome center, which was renovated in 2014. Megan Martin, secretary-parliamentarian of the state Senate, was part of the team that helped with the redesign. In an email, she took issue with our focus solely on the timeline and not on the welcome center as a whole.
Martin noted that there’s a trailblazers section on three touch screens in an area just outside the welcome center where people like former House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis and environmentalist Rachel Carson are named and that “other notable Pennsylvania women and people of color featured throughout the displays.”
“Focusing solely on the timeline fails to appreciate the variety of information that is provided to Capitol visitors throughout the entire Welcome Center,” Martin said. “As time passes, we will need to update the information in the Welcome Center, and in doing so, we will continue to look at the complete picture that makes up the Welcome Center, the Capitol and the Commonwealth – not just one corner of it.”
It’s great that the welcome center as a whole celebrates the women and people of color who’ve made Pennsylvania what it is today. But, as others have pointed out, segregating the accomplishments of these Pennsylvanians misses the point. Women and people of color should be part of mainstream conversation, not just celebrated in separate spaces or relegated to special sections.It’s not unreasonable to think there are visitors who make just a cursory visit to the welcome center and glance only at the “Pennsylvania Milestones” exhibit, which doesn’t require the user to browse using a touch screen.
That’s why we asked for your suggestions — and readers, you delivered. Below is a selection of the people you would add to the timeline. Email us and keep ’em coming.
Allen, who was born in Philadelphia into enslavement, founded African Methodist Episcopal Church — “the first independent black denomination,” according to PBS — in 1794.
Mira Lloyd Dock
Bill McShane, a former State Archives intern, wrote in to suggest Dock, a Harrisburg resident who was “a progressive activist in the early 1900s” and is “considered to be the ‘Mother of Forestry in Pennsylvania.’”
She helped shape the City Beautiful movement in Harrisburg (most visible aspects include Riverfront Park and Wildwood park in the city) as well as the system of State forests. She also corresponded regularly with Gifford Pinchot, Joseph Rothrock and other folks influential in forestry and conservation.
LaBelle, a native of Philadelphia, fronted the first all-black vocal group to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. The issue was released in 1975.
Robert N. C. Nix Jr.
Born in Philadelphia, Nix in 1984 became the first black state Supreme Court chief justice in the U.S.
The Philadelphia-born group — led by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter — became Jimmy Fallon’s house band on NBC in 2009 and continued with the comedian to the Tonight Show in 2014.
The famed writer was born in Allegheny City, which is now part of Pittsburgh. Stein was a central figure in Paris’ salon scene and a great influence on the modernist art world.
Juanita Kidd Stout
Stout wasn’t from Pennsylvania, but she was the first black woman to be elected to a judgeship not only in the state but anywhere in the U.S. She also was the first black woman to serve on the state Supreme Court. In 2012, Philadelphia renamed its Criminal Justice Center as to honor Stout.