On February 27, 2020, the Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County presented “Less Known Stories of African Americans in Indiana County.” The program was a collaborative effort between the Indiana County NAACP and the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center. The program began with some brief remarks by Mr. Jonathan Bogert, the Executive Director of the Historical Society, followed by an Address from Dr. Carolyn Princes, the President of the Indiana County NAACP.
The program continued with some comments by Dr. Lori Woods from St. Francis University who presented “Student reflections of the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center.” On February 8, 2020 students from St. Francis University visited the Blairsville Underground History Center for an interactive tour. Following their visit, the students wrote about their experience. The students found the tour to be very moving, and also an important aspect of our history that more people should learn about and understand. This understanding of history helps us to improve society today and move in a positive direction.
Denise Jennings-Doyle, President and co-founder of the Blairsville Underground Railroad History Center, introduced two historical figures who visited and told their story of their life in Indiana County.
Anthony Hollingsworth was a 12-year-old freedom seeker from Virginia, was seized by slave hunters on the Simpson Farm, near Homer City. He was bound to a horse and taken to the Indiana House hotel at Philadelphia and Sixth Streets. There was a large crowd that gathered to protest his capture and stormed the hotel to free him. Dr. Robert Mitchell and newspaper editor James Moorhead, ardent abolitionists, intercepted the enraged citizens and persuaded them to allow the courts to decide the young man’s fate. The following day, Judge Thomas White asked the slave catchers to produce written evidence that slavery existed in Virginia; when they did not, Judge White set Hollingsworth free. Several young men hoisted Hollingsworth onto their shoulders and paraded him through the streets.
Hollingsworth settled in Stratford, Ontario, where he was employed, according to the 1863 County of Perth Gazetteer, as a “hairdresser and shampooner.” Hollingsworth never forgot the kindness and support he was shown by the local residents. He mailed a letter to Dr. Mitchell, who briefly gave Hollingsworth shelter on his property near Diamondville, thanking him and the “good folkes” of Indiana County for their assistance.
Jane Brunson Johnston, was the wife of Lewis Johnston. Together they were conductors in Blairsville and Allegheny City (North Pittsburgh), PA. It’s believed they transported freedom seekers between Blairsville and Hollidaysburg. Freedom seeker Richard Newman was living with the Johnston family on West Campbell Street in Blairsville when his attempted kidnapping occurred on April 1, 1858. The Johnstons raised six children. Their son Lewis Johnston, Jr. became the first black Covenanter Presbyterian preacher in Pennsylvania.
The evening concluded with musical selections by Anthony Frazier – singing and providing a history behind “Wade in the Water” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Patti Holmes also provided musical selections of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Greatest Love of All.” Audience members were encouraged to join in singing with the performers and the Armory was filled with song.
Coming up in March the Society is hosting two programs. The first will be an Irish Sing-a-long held on March 20, 2020 from 6-8PM in the Clark House. If you love traditional Irish sing-a-long songs or find yourself singing classic tunes your grandparents sang for you, then you are going to enjoy the Irish Sing-a-long. We will play and sing around the piano in the Historic Clark House. Musical guests Allen Krynicky, Mike Busija, Scott Neuroh, Ken Black, Hazel Johnston, and Bruce Jenkins, will lead you in singing Irish tunes to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, as well as classic favorites from the 30s and 40s. This event is an OPEN FUNDRAISER with no entrance fee or ticket cost, but donations will be gratefully accepted, with all the proceeds from this event going directly toward repairs needed for the Chickering Square Grand piano that was recently donated to the Historical Society. For more information, or to donate to the Piano Fund, call 724-463-9600.
Our second event will be held on Sunday March 29, 2020 – the 2nd Annual National Vietnam War Veterans Day Program. Doors will open at 5:30 PM with the program beginning at 6:00 PM. The event will feature guest speakers, music of the era, and a historical display relating to “The Wall That Heals.” Commemorative pins will be awarded to Vietnam Veterans by Christina Lonigro. Refreshments and hors d’oeuvres will follow the program. For more information and reservations please call 724-463-9600. This event is sponsored by: The American Legion Auxiliary Post 141, the VFW Post 1989, the American Legion Post 141, and the Indiana County Historical Society.
Finally join us on Saturday April 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm in the Armory for our 3rd Annual Spring Swing. Dress to the nines and put on your dancing shoes, it’s time to Swing! Don’t know how? No problem! Lessons begin at 7:00pm, the dance will follow at 7:30pm. Maybe this year we’ll try a little West Coast swing to spice things up a bit. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door, and are available at the HGSIC or through Crisp Entertainment. Call 724-463-9600 for more information.