Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Citizen’s group proposes Riverfront Park monument to honor prominent African Americans

Harrisburg’s Riverfront Park is dotted with historical monuments, but none of them honor African Americans.

A group of citizens hopes to change that.

Members of the Peace Promenade Project are asking city hall to green-light Harrisburg’s first monument to African Americans, which they hope to erect near the corner of Forster and Front Streets by June 2019.

Their proposal calls for a life-size tableau of four Pennsylvania abolitionists and voting-rights advocates: Thomas Chester, a Harrisburg-born journalist and attorney; William Howard Day, the first black school board director in Pennsylvania; Jacob Compton, a pastor who drove Abraham Lincoln’s carriage during his visit to Harrisburg; and Frances Harper, a poet and women’s rights activist.

All except Harper lived in Harrisburg and are buried in Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook.

The monument would testify to the city’s African-American history and honor the 15th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which granted African-American men the right to vote. (Women would not get the right to vote until the 19th amendment passed in 1920.)

“This is an American monument that represents the continuing struggle for the full fulfillment of the 15th amendment,” said Lenwood Sloan, leader of the Peace Promenade Project, which aims to rededicate Harrisburg’s public monuments through a yearlong event series.

Kelly Summerford, another project leader, said that the monument would also offer local students an opportunity to learn about abolition and voting rights.

Mayor Eric Papenfuse said he met with the project leaders and enthusiastically supports the project. He also offered to help the group pursue a gaming grant from Dauphin County.

City Council President Wanda Williams also pledged her full support at tonight’s legislative session.

The Peace Promenade group, which counts more than 200 members and 40 supporting organizations, plans to fund the monument through public support, corporate donations and individual giving. They did not announce an anticipated budget.

According to Summerford, the group plans to follow a process used by the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts to commission an artist and develop a design.

They hope to install the monument by “Juneteenth” 2019 – the anniversary of June 19, 1865, the official announcement of the end of slavery in the former Confederacy.

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