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WATCH: A free virtual panel on the legacy of the Great Migration in Pennsylvania

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By the 21st century, 10% of Erie's population was Black and nearly half its Black residents had family ties to Laurel, Mississippi.
By the 21st century, 10% of Erie's population was Black and nearly half its Black residents had family ties to Laurel, Mississippi.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Philadelphia Inquirer

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“We don’t want you here.” That’s what Armendia Dixon remembers her boss saying to her back in 1966 when she became the first Black staffer in a whites-only elementary school in Laurel, Mississippi.

That was the first and last time the principal spoke to her. Within a year Dixon made her way to a new job and home over 1,000 miles away in Erie, Pennsylvania, where a late-stage Great Migration was taking place.

Like Dixon, many African Americans at the time were leaving the rural South and heading to cities in the North and West in search of opportunity and relief from Jim Crow discrimination.

Erie had its own troubles, but the city’s newcomers settled and grew roots, their success enabling them to bring along relatives and peers from back home. The steady influx produced a vibrant community that remains to this day and is integral to the city’s culture and politics. This event shed light on that history and the people who made it possible. Watch it below.

Our panelists were:

  • Armendia Dixon, director, Meadville Area Middle School MLK Mentoring Program

  • Stephen Kearse, assistant editor, Spotlight PA

  • Clemmie Harris, director of Africana Studies, Utica University

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