Mapping the African American Reformers of Harrisburg

As the days are getting colder, our research is getting warmer. At the moment our Digital History course at Messiah College is waist deep in our third project for the semester. Over the past few class periods we have been learning a lot about the inner workings of ArcGIS, a digital mapping technology. We take spatial data points, plot them on a “base map,” and then analyze the relationships we see between the coordinates.

This tool has been particularly helpful for my “City Spatial” project as there is a direct correlation between location and my area of 1-2-6A8-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0c0t2-a_349interest. The first step to project three is to gather at least ten locations of people or organizations in the city of Harrisburg. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I have chosen four people, three churches, two schools, and the YMCA to discover the role African Americans played in the early 20th century reform campaign. Additionally Michael Barton’s Harrisburg’s Old Eighth Ward has been very helpful in providing critical information about the two A.M.E. Churches in Harrisburg and William Howard Day’s school system.

Following this step is connecting our digital data to the physical archives. JPScottEarlier in the semester we visited the Dauphin County Historical Society where I accumulated a number of helpful photographs of people and buildings associated with the African American reformers known to us. John Paul Scott, an African American teacher and civic leader can be seen in the image to the right. On Story Maps then, an ArcGIS tool for map making, I have plotted the home addresses, churches, and schools where African American reformers spent their time. With each location, a photograph is added to tell the story of these people and places. By the end of the project, I will have analyzed my findings on Story Maps and publicized it to share the research.

ArcGIS has shed interesting  light on the African American reformers of 1900s Harrisburg. In class I joined Excel spreadsheet information with a topographic map of Harrisburg to discover all of my addresses were in the Eighth Ward. As seen in the picture below, the five points neatly surround the Capitol Building in a “Big Dipper” shape. The rest of the points were more easily plotted in Story Maps because the construction of the newer Capitol Building destroyed many of the streets, homes, churches, and other establishments in the Old Eighth Ward in Harrisburg.Harrisburg1901MyPeopleStreet

This ArcGIS map, from left to right, features Second Baptist Church, the Lincoln School, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the home of John Paul Scott, and Wesley Union African Methodist Episcopal Church. These sites are important for their relationship with the African American community in Harrisburg, especially in the Eighth Ward.

The almost universal proximity to the Eighth Ward is an exciting trend in my analysis on early 20th century African American reformers in Harrisburg. Without preemptively reaching a conclusion, it seems to be suggesting a favored hub of activity for African Americans involved in the beautification movement. I’m looking forward to seeing the final product of my mapping and research for project three.

-Megan Ekstrom


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