The State Museum of Pennsylvania is presenting a new exhibition focusing on three stories of the Civil Rights Movement in the state, one of which focuses on a Levittown episode from the 1950’s.
“A Place for All: Three Stories of Integration in Pennsylvania” combines three evocative episodes in Civil Rights history originally presented as three separate temporary exhibits in 2002–2005. Originally curated by Eric Ledell Smith, a noted African American scholar who was a historian on the museum’s staff, these displays focused on mid-20th-century integration efforts in three arenas in Pennsylvania – housing, education and public accommodations – through the lens of personal struggles and first-person remembrances.
The State Museum has revived and updated these exhibits, presenting them as one comprehensive installation that will open in the first-floor galleries. A Place for All comprises three sections each telling a story of bravery, strength and resilience.
A Story of Strength: The Myers Family Moves to Levittown – Levittown was the largest planned community constructed by a single builder in the U.S., opening in 1952. The exhibit focuses on the integration of housing and features the story of the violence and harassment endured by the Myers family as they moved in as Levittown’s first African American residents to pursue their dream of suburban home ownership.
A Story of Bravery: Integrating Pittsburgh’s Public Pools – In the early 1950s, African American community leader Dr. LeRoy Patrick and other western Pennsylvanians fought for the desegregation of public accommodations like bowling alleys, restaurants, skating rinks, and swimming pools in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh. At that time African Americans were not permitted to swim at the Highland Park Pool, Pittsburgh’s largest and most popular municipal swimming pool. The exhibit tells the story of how Patrick and others led the successful drive by local African Americans to integrate pools.
A Story of Resilience: The Desegregation of Girard College – Founded in 1848, Girard College was still an all-white private school for boys in Philadelphia in the mid-20th century. Legal pressure and a grassroots community protest movement in the city led to the U.S. Supreme Court upholding an appellate court decision to desegregate the school in 1968. Through first-hand accounts, photographs, and graphics the exhibit tells the story of the protests and what it was like to be a young African American attending a previously all-white school during the Civil Rights era. Also featured is historic KYW-TV film footage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s appearance at a rally in the city in support of the protests against segregation at Girard, provided by CBS3 Philadelphia and Temple University Libraries.
The exhibit was updated by Harrisburg native and television production veteran Leslie Strain, who provided research and additional content to revise and unite the three stories. State Museum Senior History Curator Dr. Curtis Miner and History Curator Katelyn Metz managed and edited content and procured the historical photographs, media, artifacts and supporting materials for the exhibition.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania, adjacent to the State Capitol in Harrisburg, is one of 24 historic sites and museums administered by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission as part of the Pennsylvania Trails of History.
The State Museum offers expansive collections interpreting Pennsylvania’s heritage. With exhibits examining the dawn of geologic time, the Native American experience, the colonial and revolutionary eras, a pivotal Civil War battleground, and the commonwealth’s vast industrial age, The State Museum demonstrates that Pennsylvania’s story is America’s story.
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