Historical Voices

Celestine Bell Davis

The Journey Toward a Teaching Career: After remembering an early incident that might have derailed a less determined woman, Ms. Davis recounts the establishment of a program in the mid-1960s at then-Gannon College that allowed her to become a teacher’s aide, and eventually a teacher. 
The Push for a Dr. King Holiday: Years before the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was declared a federal holiday, Ms. Celestine Bell Davis mounted a King Holiday campaign in the School District of the City of Erie—efforts that as she recalls here, inspired letters of praise, and also threatening hate mail from among others, the far-right John Birch Society.
NAACP Efforts to Expose Discrimination: Ms. Davis recalls an NAACP “test case” in which she and fellow long-time activist Kate Buczek revealed overt discriminatory treatment toward African Americans at a local Erie restaurant. 
Black Schools in the Jim Crow South: Ms. Davis describes the poor condition of textbooks and the school system in the segregated Jim Crow South.

Gary Neal Horton

Education, Hope, and the Lack of Progress: Gary Horton’s passion for education shines through, as does his disappointment in the “astonishing” lack of progress in the hiring of African American teachers in the Erie School District in his lifetime. 
The Legacies of Reverend Ernest Franklin Smith and Zella Pickins: Gary Horton describes the central importance and enduring impact of faith, family, and hard work from his youth.  Especially revered in both memory and his ongoing work in the community are the lives and legacies of his grandmother, Zella Pickins and Reverend Ernest Franklin Smith.
Rev. Ernest Franklin Smith and His Impact: Gary Horton recounts Reverend Ernest Franklin Smith’s background at Tuskegee Institute working for Dr. George Washington Carver, Rev. Smith’s arrival in Erie, and his establishment of a vital social welfare network, the spirit of which very much continues today in the work of the E.F. Smith Quality of Life Learning Center.
Impact of the “Walking in Black History” Program: Gary Neal Horton tells the story of how the “Walking in Black History” program came to be, his involvement in this remarkable African American history initiative, as well as the profound impact of the program on him and other participants.  As Horton remembers, “To know those things, and not be moved or changed by those things…and come back to Erie, Pennsylvania and be silent in the face of a community that needs change” was never an option for him.

Johnny Johnson

Ada Lawrence and the Importance of Black History: Johnny Johnson makes clear his deep affection and respect for educator Ada Lawrence, who “lit a fire” in him for African American history soon after his arrival in Erie.
Growing Up in the Jim Crow South: Johnny Johnson recalls the indignities of Jim Crow segregation while growing up in Georgia in the 1950s.  “It was separate and very unequal.”
“I Oughta Shoot You, Nigguh”: Johnny Johnson remembers a terrifying encounter with racist state policemen at a checkpoint in the Jim Crow South.

Marcus Atkinson

Celestine Bell Davis and African American History: Marcus Atkinson recalls the importance of Celestine Bell Davis in awakening him to the vitality of Black History.
The Failures of the Education System in Teaching Black  History: Continuing to recount the profound, enduring impact of Ms. Davis on his own education, Marcus Atkinson describes a “Sensitivity Training” session on African American history he gave to Erie teachers as revealing of the failures of American education in reinforcing racial inequities in the United States.
“I Am a Man” Great Grandfather Arrington: Marcus Atkinson recounts his Great Grandfather Kane Arrington’s search for respect as a Black man in America in a generation only once removed from slavery.  He recalls how his Great Grandfather embodied the iconic “I Am A Man” insistence of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike.  For Marcus, his Great Grandfather’s demand for dignity, coupled with his work ethic, served as the perfect complement to his Great Grandmother’s emphasis on education as the cornerstone to a better life.  They became the pillars of his own success.
Great Grandmother Arrington: Here, Marcus Atkinson recounts the impact of his Great Grandmother Gertrude Arrington, an extraordinary “academic and intellectual force” not only in his life and that of her family and students, but in the entire region of Mississippi from whence she hailed.  We learn how she was steeped in the works of African American poets and writers and was the first to teach Marcus the value of Black history. 

Rubye Jenkins-Husband

Making a Difference in America: Rubye Jenkins-Husband reinforces the value of one generation following in the footsteps of those who have gone before, each with the goal of societal improvement, of making a positive difference.  As she says, America, to me, history to me, is about making that difference.”
Importance of JFK/Neighborhood Centers: Rubye Jenkins-Husband recounts the essential role of the neighborhood centers like the JFK Center in the lives of community residents.  Important information on job training, housing and other issues imparted by center staff also helped to build trust between the neighborhoods and city officials.
Erie City Council: A brief excerpt reinforcing the value of public service, specifically referring to her years of leadership on Erie City Council.
Building Rapport with Neighborhood Residents: Rubye Jenkins-Husband remembers fondly the importance of spending time on front porches out in the neighborhoods when she served as director of the JFK center.