Black History Month is an important time at the Chester County Historical Society, which focuses on all aspects of history throughout the area. Many aspects of its exhibits and programs highlight the history of the local African American community, including the newest exhibit at CCHS, “On the Edge of Battle: Chester County and the Civil War.” The exhibit examines life in Chester County during the bloodiest war in our nation’s history. The featured display focuses on the hopes, struggles, victories and losses of local men and women living in Chester County at the time of the Civil War.
When you enter the Chester County Historical Society to visit “On the Edge of Battle,” you will receive a “character card” that tells the first part of one of twenty-five individuals’ stories. The cards include Richard Adams, a member of the Third “U.S. Colored Troops”; Henrietta Cummings, who was born into a free black family and was proposed to by her love before he enlisted; and Joseph Jones, a member of the first black regiment of the war, the 54th Massachusetts. Visitors to the exhibit gallery can search for their ancestors in a database of over 6,000 residents Chester County residents who served in the war. Up until the opening of “On the Edge of Battle,” only 112 records about Chester County African American soldiers in the Civil War were compiled. Now, through research by Archivist Cliff Parker and photo archivist Pam Powell, the database includes 925 African Americans.
CCHS is also proud to present Family Day on President’s Day, Mon. Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. An important component to Family Day is a special kid-friendly presentation by Jen Bryant, author of “A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin.” Pippin, acclaimed 20th century African American artist, was a native of West Chester. Bryant’s new children’s book brings his story to life through vivid imagery and stories.
Another initiative of the Chester County Historical Society is the ‘Horace Pippin Traveling Trunk” program. These “trunks” are filled with materials and activities that engage and inform students on important points in our history, including early settlement, the American Revolution, the Underground Railroad, and the Civil War. These “trunks” are wonderful education resources, now used in a variety of educational settings.
On Feb 27, the US Airways’ African American Diversity Network (AADN), one of the company-sponsored employee Business Resource Groups that encourages an inclusive workplace through networking and development, has chosen the “Horace Pippin Traveling Trunk” to be displayed for over 600 employees at the Philadelphia International Airport.
The Paoli Public Library, as well as a group of homeschoolers, will be using “Underground Railroad Traveling Trunk” during the month of February because of its specific link with the black community during the time of the Civil War, and its focus on the Underground Railroad in Chester County.
“On the Edge of Battle: Chester County and the Civil War” is open during CCHS’s public hours of 9:30 to 4:30, Wed through Sat. To find out more or to arrange a group tour or a rental of traveling trunks, please visit ChesterCoHistorical.org or call 610.692.4800. Our deepest gratitude to DNB First, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, the Fox Chase Bank Charitable Foundation, the Haverford Trust Company, the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau Foundation, Jimmy Duffy Catering, Dr. Florence K. Williams, Fig® West Chester, and the Quaker City Foundation for their support of our exhibit.
David Reinfeld is the Vice President of development at the Chester County Historical. He can be reached at Societydreinfeld@chestercohistorical.org.