Editor: Kudos to Glynis Johns and Sandra Burgette Miller for their outstanding contributions to Black History Month.
Johns’ Black Scranton Project tells the story of African-americans in our city during the 19th and 20th centuries. I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear about rampant discrimination in housing and employment that continued into the 20th century. Blacks were forced to live in miserable conditions downtown and the only jobs they could find were menial and paid poorly.
On the bright side, I learned about George W. Brown and his wife, Louise, who started the largest trucking company in eastern Pennsylvania in 1882. There was Lincoln Tillman, Scranton’s first black firefighter, who saved countless lives in his 52-year career. George Jones became Scranton’s first black mail carrier in 1894 when few blacks could read and write.
These are stories Johns shares with her audience. If not for her efforts, this part of our history would have been lost.
When Sandra Burgette Miller asked relatives about her family’s history, she was told, “We come from Waverly.” Not satisfied with that, she began a research project and discovered that in 1848 her great great-grandfather, Thomas Burgette, fled the south and rode the Underground Railroad until he reached the safety of Waverly. Burgette was one of several slaves that residents of Waverly welcomed. Miller was so moved by her ancestor’s bravery that she wrote a book, “Tell’ em,” to inspire other African Americans. She later turned her book into a play, “Tell’ em, One Man’s Struggle from Slavery to Waverly, PA.”
Johns and Miller have made a major contribution to Scranton’s historical record. They are truly passionate about the history of African-americans in Northeast Pennsylvania and share their findings so we can all learn from the past.
JOAN HODOWANITZ SCRANTON