Stories from the Old 8th Ward

The Frisby Battis corner at Short and South Streets
This section of African-American owned businesses was renowned as the heart of Republican politics in the Ward
Now the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and South Drive

The Old Eighth Ward was a very politically active community. Many citizens were actively involved in a variety of civic organizations to bring about political change in the community. Voting was prominent topic of discussion, especially among black men in the community. Prior to 1838, men of color enjoyed voting privileges in Harrisburg and throughout the state of Pennsylvania, but in 1838, the Pennsylvanian Constitutional Convention disallowed the African American men in Harrisburg the ability to vote. The vote was reinstated for African American men across the country with the passing of the fifteenth amendment in February of 1870. Although by law African American men were able to vote, the amendment did not quell the vehement protests of those who opposed this decision. Despite the opposition, some individuals of the Old Eighth Ward refused to yield their vote. During a voting day in Harrisburg, Major John W. Simpson stood on a store box at a polling place near Umberger’s Cross Keys hotel, and made sure that all people who intended to vote that day were able to place their vote, despite much opposition.

The Old Eighth Ward was also home to a variety of civic organizations. One particular political hub of the Old Eighth is located at the corner of Short and State streets, and is owned by Frisby C. Battis. Not only was this building (pictured above) a polling site, but it also provided a place for many civic organizations to meet. Some of these organizations include State Democratic Colored League, members of the Republican party, J. D. Cameron club, D. H. Hastings club, and many more. Battis himself was a very involved with the Republican party in the city of Harrisburg. Battis not only hosted many of these civic organizations at his residence, but he was also the president of the Cameron Campaign Club. Battis was served multiple terms as an elected official, including a delegate at the Republican convention in Lancaster, and as a doorkeeper at the Republican convention. 

Women were also heavily involved in political associations in the Old Eigth Ward. Anne E. Amos is a highly active member of the political community of Harrisburg. She founded the Daughters of Temperance movement, which was one of the organizations through which women were politically involved in Harrisburg . In addition to the Daughters of Temperance, another civic organization, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, was also heavily involved in the temperance movement in Harrisburg in the early 1900s. Women were also very involved in sparking change outside of work in these civic organizations. During the Great War, over one-hundred women in Harrisburg volunteered and packaged bandages to send to Europe through the Red Cross.  The Phillis Wheatley Women’s Christian Temperance Union also met frequently in the Old Eighth Ward, hosting events for the community. These women’s civic organizations and many more were major contributors to the political landscape of the Old Eighth Ward.

The hatchet was a common symbol of the Temperance Movement. Anne Amos was the founder of the Independent Order of Daughters of Temperance in Pennsylvania.

Although records of Anne Amos are scarce, her obituary, written by the groundbreaking Harrisburger J. P. Scott, demonstrates the power of African-American women to effect political change in the Old Eighth Ward. Born at sea to a French mother and a Martiniquan father who passed away three months before her birth, Anne arrived in Pennsylvania when she was six years old. Prior to the Civil War, she and her husband became ardent abolitionists, using their home as a station on the Underground Railroad. Simultaneously, she opened a kindergarten to help provide educational opportunities for African-American children in Harrisburg and continued her educational service in North Carolina during Reconstruction, teaching the newly emancipated.

Upon returning to Harrisburg, Amos founded the Independent Order of Daughters of Temperance. Not only did this organization work to combat alcoholism and vice, but their work was fully intertwined with the women’s suffrage movement. In fact, Amos was so successful in her temperance and suffrage organizing that she was highly sought by white temperance and suffrage advocates as a consultant and advisor. Moreover, her work was also closely tied to her church as well, demonstrating the ways in which politics, reform, and religious life were often closely related.

Anne E. Amos’s obituary, written by educator J. P. Scott, that appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier, April 1, 1911.