Commonwealth Monument Dedication

The Monument on the day it was dedicated 

August 26, 2020 marked a historic day in Harrisburg history. Titled “A Gathering at The Crossroads: For Such a Time as This,” a new monument was erected in the Pennsylvania State Capital Complex to honor a forgotten piece of Harrisburg’s history: The Old Eighth Ward. The Eighth Ward was a complex and vibrant community that was near the base of the Capital Complex. This community boasted a variety of religious beliefs and included “well over a thousand residents [including] artists, writers, educators, activists, politicians, construction workers, domestic workers, and many more.” Many of the ward’s residents sought to make the community a better place; one such person being Colonel Struthers. Unfortunately, the Eighth Ward was destroyed to make room for the expanding Capital Complex in the 1910s. 

But now we remember the people of the Eighth Ward. The monument reads the names of 100 activists from the late 1800s who fought for their home. Surrounding the base are four statues: statues of abolitionist William Howard Day and suffragist Frances Harper are already placed on it, with statues of musician Jacob T. Compton and Old 8th Ward native T. Morris Chester being added on later. Furthermore, the ceremony isn’t just to commemorate a forgotten piece of Harrisburg history but also to honor the anniversaries of the 15th and 19th amendments which gave African American men and women respectively, the right to vote. Many members of the community who were either a part of the project or knew of it attended, with “state and local officials [attending] the event” including Governor Tom Wolf.  

In his speech, Governor Tom Wolf said: 

It is hard to imagine for all of us, I’m an old man, but I’m still young enough not to remember what was here before. That in the Soldiers and Sailors circle, that it used to be a bustling neighborhood with hundreds of businesses, hundreds of homes. This is the doorstep to the Capitol. The Capitol was much smaller, the building was smaller than, and all people of all backgrounds lived in this neighborhood. Immigrants seeking the American dream for a better life. Religious groups in search of protection under William Penn’s promise.  

And, of course, hundreds of African Americans rebuilding their lives and their families in the wake of slavery and the Civil War. In the years before the destruction of the 8th Ward, approximately 36 percent of Harrisburg’s African American population lived here, in the 8th Ward. And, these Harrisburgers were not content merely to live in the shadow of that Capitol Building. They believed in active citizenship. They believed that it’s not enough to merely live next to Pennsylvania’s seat of government, but it was necessary to participate. And, they did.  

And, therefore it’s fitting that we are unveiling today a monument celebrating this neighborhood and its citizens on the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, as well as the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment barring voter discrimination based on race or skin color. The activists in the 8th Ward cared about equality. 

Messiah University served as one of the partner organizations for this project and many students and faculty have contribute to this project. During the Spring 2020 semester, several history courses focused on researching the Eighth ward and the community. This combined research culminated in a book titled One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African-American Community, 1850-1920.  

  • Dr. Sarah Myers‘s public history class, students researched women that were part of the 100 names for a display at the Spring 2020 Humanities Symposium.  Using newspaper articles, oral interviews, and other tools, the class helped to retrace these women and tell their stories. 
  • Dr. David Pettigrew Digital History class, students went to the archives and researched events around the Eighth Ward and used this research too tell stories related to the old eighth ward using digital technologies. 
  • Dr. James LaGrand’s African American History class, students combined efforts to research by searching through newspapers and other databases to unearth and bring to life the stories of the 100 names and honor their contributions to the community.  

Throughout Messiah University many people such as Dr. Corey, Dr. Pettigrew, and many other helped to contribute to the success of the project through platforms such as the Digital Harrisburg website. Through this research a community of people has been rediscovered and highlighted so that we might remember their contributions to society and how they were impacted by the destruction of the Eighth Ward. 

Messiah University Students at the dedication 

“For such a time as this” could not be a more appropriate title for this history making installation. The United States is currently reckoning with its painful history of disenfranchising minority people groups, and it is more important than ever to recontextualize what we know of history, and to celebrate the excellence of BIPOC. This monument is the first in the nation to honor the suffrage of those whose voting rights were not included in the national blueprint, and the first on Capitol Grounds, to honor African Americans. In a time when American citizens have taken it upon themselves to tear monuments down, to remove from pedestals the historical figures whose legacy’s do not respect them, the City of Harrisburg has erected a brand new monument that represents the legacy of a population, that we should all strive to live up to. 

The current monument sits on the Capital South Lawn in front of the K Leroy Irvis Building at Fourth and Walnut streets. 

Written by Katie Heiser, Joshua Reid, and Ned Kuczmynda

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