Erie’s new African American Heritage Trail, officially titled ‘A Trail of Shared Heritage’, was unveiled on Aug. 17.
According to the trail’s official website, the trail “invites you to discover key people, places and events associated with the history of African Americans in Erie County, Pennsylvania, and learn how they contribute to the economic, political and cultural broader story of our region.”
This trail was conceived and created by a combination of community partners, local historians and members of the Mercyhurst University community. Specifically, Mercyhurst University history professor Chris Magoc, Ph.D., local historians Johnny Johnson and Sarah Thompson, Erie Arts & Culture program director Melinda Meyer and former Mercyhurst students Adriana Houseman, Hannah Pfeifer and Samantha Sherwood were all instrumental in the making of the trail.
According to Magoc, the idea for the creation of the trail can be traced back to 2013. Houseman, a public history graduate from the class of 2013, worked to draft the trail for her senior project that year. “Most of the sites that she identified are still sites on the final project,” Magoc said. Unfortunately, the project was then put on hold due to a lack of necessary financial resources.
In 2017, the project was picked up again by Magoc, Johnson and Meyer. In 2019, it started to pick up steam as 2020 graduates Pfeifer and Sherwood began working on the project. Both alumna ended up being vital to the trail and its website being finished by the start of this semester. Magoc noted that the completion of the trail this summer ended up being very good timing, given America’s currently heightened awareness of racial justice issues, systemic racism and African American history.
The trail’s website contains a digital brochure with a map of all twenty-nine locations, as well as descriptions. Furthermore, the site contains oral histories from five of Erie’s many African American history makers.
There is also a relevant historical narrative overview, as well as biographical profiles on approximately 40 to 50 important figures in Erie’s black history.
One of these figures is Morrow B. Lowry, whom Magoc noted has a relationship with Erie’s Underground Railroad and Mercyhurst University.
“There’s some biographical profiles of individual black and white figures who have figured prominently in Black History [in Erie], including a guy named Morrow Barr Lowry, on whose land Mercyhurst College was built,” said Magoc. “And it was out of the Lowry building. . . that a newspaper called The True American, which was an abolitionist newspaper, was published back in the 1850s. They used to hide runaway enslaved people in the stacks of newspapers down there in the Lowry building.”
All the trail’s locations, a digital brochure of the trail and biographies and oral histories of important figures in Erie’s Black History can be found on the trail’s official website, www. sharedheritage.org.