Reimagining the Old Eighth Ward: A Reflection on the First Chautauqua Lecture

We recently kicked off the Commonwealth Monument Project with the first of six “Chautauqua Series” lectures at the McCormick Public Library. Close to 40 people came in and out during a two hour session. The library staff were supportive and helpful throughout. Mr. Lenwood Sloan facilitated an excellent series of presentations and conversations about the places, people, voices, and faces of the Old Eighth. The conversation was so good that the library closed before we could finish them!

Presentations began with an outstanding and fulsome historical overview of the Old Eighth Ward by Dr. Michael Barton, Professor of American Studies and Social Science at Penn State Harrisburg.

Dr. Michael Barton shows slides of Old Eighth Ward imagery

Then Dr. David Pettegrew gave an overview of the Digital Harrisburg Initiative and the work that staff and students are doing at Messiah College and Harrisburg University to support the Commonwealth Monument Project. Three students from the Digital Harrisburg team showed up as well, plus a visit from Dr. Bernardo Michael, co-chair of Messiah College.

Dr. David Pettegrew explains the work of the Digital Harrisburg

Dr. Jean Corey, Professor of English at Messiah, was also present along with six students from Marshall School who have participated in Poetry in Place. It was a highlight to hear these students read their original poems that offered modern voices about the real people who once lived in the Old Eighth.

A student from Marshall School reads his poem on a resident of the Old Eight Ward

The event concluded with Mr. Jimmy Wood, a descendant of Jacob Compton, offering an enthusiastic, honest, and compelling collection of memories about Harrisburg, his family, and ancestors.

Mr. Jimmy Wood recounts some of his family history

The entire event was a wonderful intergenerational exchange and exploration.

Representatives from Bethel, Wesley AME Zion, and 2nd Baptist were present for parts of the workshop, as were a couple of history detectives ready to harvest memories!

This is the first of six Chautauqua events that will be held every other month at the library. These will alternate with six Live and Learn events that will be held at Gamut Theatre. Come and join the group on March 9th, 12-2, at the Gamut Theatre as they explore the incredible life of Frances Harper against the background of the 15th and 19th amendments.

Check out the flyer for that event here

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