African American history display at state Capitol to be permanent, refreshed yearly

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – New faces appeared at the Capitol Wednesday in honor of Black History Month, but they’ll be sticking around long after February ends.

A now-permanent display remembers notable, influential African Americans from Pennsylvania. Visitors might recognize some of the portraits — Marian Anderson, Robert Purvis — but others offer new insight.

“I recognize all of them pretty much,” Vinnae Alcendor said while looking at the portraits one by one.

There are eight hanging in the East Wing rotunda altogether. Alcendor works at the Capitol and wanted to see the faces she knows.

“I’m happy to see all of them up here,” she said with a laugh.

Photojournalist Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris, baseball Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, jazz great Billy Eckstine. “I remember my grandparents and my mom’s older brother used to listen to him a lot,” Alcendor said.

State leaders from the Department of General Services and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission unveiled the portraits Wednesday morning, the first day of Black History Month. They’ll stay up year-round.

Philly Sen. Art Haywood was instrumental in bringing the portraits here. He spoke at the unveiling ceremony.

“This is C. Delores Tucker,” he said of one of the portraits after he and the others uncovered them. “Big leader advocating for civil rights, voting rights, and for inclusion” — and a resident of the district he represents.

He wants the center of state government to represent more people like her.

“We have a lot of young people who come to the Capitol on school trips from around the commonwealth,” he said. “It’s good for them to see what people can overcome and what they can become.”

“Folks like Marian Anderson, famous African American opera singer,” Howard Pollman of the PHMC said, giving ABC27 a quick history lesson on all those represented.

Civil rights leaders Robert Purvis and Dr. Rev. Leroy Patrick, down to librarian Virginia Florence; the State Museum hung this display until seven years ago, Pollman said.

“We did some renovation and it had to come down, and since then it didn’t really have a place to go,” he said.

Now it has a place to stay.

“Overall, I’m just happy that we’re able to see what these people have accomplished in their lifetimes,” Alcendor said.

The eight unveiled this week are just the start of the state’s collection. There are 23 portraits in all. Each February, curators will rotate in some of the others.

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