Education and The Great Migration–part two

Interior view, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh,...

Interior view, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania room is around the corner.  Despite this one encounter, I still get the warm fuzzies just looking at this picture.

When I was a teenager growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I spent a lot of time in the famed halls of the Carnegie Library in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.  Oakland is truly a nerd’s paradise since that is also is where the main campus of the University of Pittsburgh is located. As soon as I was permitted to travel on my own, I would choose to visit this library to conduct my own selected “research” projects.



One day, I visited the Pennsylvania room in the library to find out about some of my relatives, who had performed in various nightclubs around the city in the early 1950’s.  My repeated requests for information from newspapers exasperated the librarian, who finally burst out “There are no such resources about black people because no one cared to write about black people in those days!”






Well, that response put me off of pursing that kind of research for several years.  And it wasn’t until years later, after my undergraduate education, that I found out that her statement was not entirely true.  The librarian didn’t know enough, and I was born too late to know firsthand about how the existence of black journalism and the role that they played in The Great Migration.  Black newspapers, like The Pittsburgh Courier functioned as an education system for Southern Negroes and served as a valuable outlet for news and information.



The Pittsburgh Courier was one of the biggest and best black newspapers during the course of the early part of twentieth century.  This important newspaper had advertisements and carefully placed news articles that lured migrants northward for jobs.  The Courier was not just distributed to Pittsburghers, but also spread into the deep south by Pullman porters who wanted the folks in the South to know where there were better opportunities.  The far reach of this nationwide newspaper diminished in the 1960’s after changes during the civil rights era forced all city newspapers to include coverage of everybody, regardless of race.



My Bledsoe family characters would convene to read the words of journalists in the newspapers, which allowed them to see a different life for themselves. Asa Caldwell, the hero of A Daisy Chain of Love, is a journalist for the Courier who struggles to understand how his words have stirred the hearts and minds of Negroes, like the Bledsoes, in the south.  Asa’s character is based on the powerful real-life example of Robert L. Vann who ran The Pittsburgh Courier for years.  Asa’s quest to rediscover his writing voice is a reminder to me that there are many stories of an entire people that must be told.  The fact that The Courier existed and motivated so many is tangible proof that there were journalists who cared to write about black people in the early twentieth century.  It was one of many black newspapers that performed this very valuable function.



6 thoughts on “Education and The Great Migration–part two

  1. Hmm, indeed about the librarian. What I find interesting about the whole encounter, is that she wasn’t willing to find out about things like the Courier. As a research librarian, she must have known she didn’t know everything, but to help a patron, no matter how old you were (I’m guessing middle school/high school), she should have made the effort to find out. The fact that she didn’t reveals more about her than one initially realizes.

    • Hi Louise!

      I was young, about 15 years old, and my imprecision (as well as persistence) in seeking the information might have been frustrating. And for many people, even for some research librarians, it isn’t always easy to utter those words “I don’t know.” I’m just glad I was able to come into a circumstance where I was able to find out a different truth. Thank you for stopping by!

  2. Hi, CP,

    I didn’t know Asa was based on a real man. This adds to my interest. Your post reminds me of my college days when I had to research newspapers on microfishe.

    Keep it up, your writing is preserving history for future generations.

    • Hi CP!

      I first heard of Robert L. Vann because his name was on an elementary school in the Pittsburgh Public School district. That’s something that always intrigues me, so I was compelled to find out who he was. Asa is based in part on him, and even though he’s not the hero in subsequent stories, his services are required quite often, so we do see more of his adventures! Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Love your blogs, Piper! They are chock-full of interesting facts linked to you in such a personal way. Something tells me I’m going to love your novels as well 🙂 Can’t wait to read them!

    • Hi Jacqui,

      Thank you so much! I didn’t know what (or if )I had anything to blog about for the longest time, but when I realized how many people didn’t know about this historical moment, I had to jump in! I hope you get to read them soon as well! Thank you for stopping by!

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