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The unfinished struggle for civil rights in Pennsylvania

Historian says racism and discrimination wasn't confined to the south

  • Scott LaMar
Mid adult woman leading a demonstration using a megaphone

Mid adult woman leading a demonstration using a megaphone

Airdate: June 13th, 2023

It’s been three years since the murder of George Floyd sparked a racial reckoning in the U.S. It may have led to some progress, especially in how history is viewed.

But, one narrative that still survives though is that the Civil Rights movement was carried out largely in the south where Jim Crow laws and most racism were thought to exist.

While there may not have been explicit Jim Crow laws in the north, there was racism and unwritten rules that discriminated against Blacks.

In 2008, author and historian Thomas Sugrue wrote the book Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten History for Civil Rights in the North.

Sugrue is Julius Silver, Roslyn S. Silver, and Enid Silver Winslow Professor, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History, Director of the NYU Cities Collaborative at New York University.

Sugrue said on The Spark Tuesday that even with progress, there still are civil right issues that are unresolved,”Pennsylvania’s housing markets still remain quite segregated by race. That is, there’s still not a free market for African-Americans and other non-whites in our state’s housing markets. Another, the question of police community relations remains intense and unresolved, as witnessed by the uprisings after the protests, after the George Floyd murder in 2020. And I would say another that’s partially met is the question of equal opportunity and employment. And, of course, our public education system in Pennsylvania and throughout the North today is actually more segregated than it is south of the Mason-Dixon Line.”

When it comes to house discrimination, Sugrue indicated there are realtors who “steer” Whites to predominatly White neighborhoods and Blacks to mixed race or mostly Black neighborhoods.

Sugrue will be speaking in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s Framing Pennsylvania History Series on Pennsylvania and the unfinished struggle for civil rights Wednesday, June 14 at 1:30 at the State Museum in Harrisburg.

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