The Jan. 24 editorial “Saving Grace: The August Wilson Center Needs More Time” was a welcome voice of advocacy for the beleaguered center. I would like to respond to one point made by the author, however, which was that a “new approach might be to broaden the center’s mission to give attention to all the city’s ethnic groups.”
I believe that in a city such as Pittsburgh, a center devoted entirely to African-Americans is not only appropriate but necessary. I would venture to guess that most Pittsburghers can name the Steelers’ defensive line, but relatively few may be aware of the truly majestic American history that was written right here in Pittsburgh solely by her African-American citizens.
Photographer Teenie Harris began to capture the “crossroads of the world,” as poet Claude McKay once called the thriving, bustling Hill District, where Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne and all the jazz stars of the day played. The Negro Leagues grew to greatness right from the Hill. Homewood’s John Edgar Wideman and Albert French are widely read and appreciated outside of Pittsburgh. The jazz great Mary Lou Williams of East Liberty mentored Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. And August Wilson? The man who immortalized our city on Broadway and beyond? The list of African-American luminaries is too long to list. What a source of pride for us! What a legacy for our children!
It is offensive to assume that the contributions of Pittsburgh’s black sons and daughters cannot and will not be appreciated by the city’s citizens of other races. Pittsburgh is deeply wonderful because of her history: her working-class, steel-driven flavor, the ethnicities of her neighborhoods and the musical, literary, athletic and academic achievements of her black citizens.
We are great because they were and are great.