Three Pittsburgh Black history stories that you need to know

Did you know that the EMS service we used today was started in the Hill District?

by Lindsay Patross
February 26, 2021

Ajax Jones: the first Black Mayor of Pittsburgh

JaQuay Edward Carter is the founder of the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society and the BLACK HISTORY SOCIETY of Western Pennsylvania. JaQuay first learned about Ajax Jones while researching his great-grandmother who is buried in Sharpsburg in the same cemetery as August Wilson. JaQuay has uncovered so much history about Ajax Jones and Pittsburgh, we had to split it into two stories. Learn about Ajax Jones’s childhood in the Hill District, during a time when some of the houses were stops on the Underground Railroad. Part 2 of the story is about Ajax Jones’ life in city hall. He served under nine different mayoral administrations and as mayor to the city for three days during a change in administration. Check out our interview with JaQuay to learn more about the history of Hazelwood.


Freedom House Ambulance Service

The ambulance service that is used across the country today is based on the Freedom House Ambulance Service, a pioneering program in the hill district that trained Black men and women to be the first paramedics. You can learn more about Freedom House from NPR and the Stanford Medicine website. Watch this video from WTAE to learn more about Freedom House and hear from some of the Freedom House paramedics. [UPMC & UPMC Health Plan have recently launched Freedom House 2.0, a fellowship program to provide mentorship and healthcare training in the Hill District.]


The National Negro Opera Company

Mary Cardwell Dawson started the first African-American opera company in the country on Apple Street in Homewood. The archives for the National Negro Opera Company are part of the Library of Congress. The building where the National Negro Opera Company was started was recently named one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can see more photos of the Negro Opera Company and the building here. You can watch the WQED documentary on Mary Dawson and the National Negro Opera Company here.


More Pittsburgh Black History resources:

Do you know of another resource we should include on this list? Please let us know! Send an email to [email protected].

📸 Header photo credit: Freedom House paramedics with ambulance via the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh born and raised, Lindsay has been writing about the people who love Pittsburgh since 2008.

More Local Stories

‘We The Culture’ aims to tell New Orleanian’s stories in an authentic voice

It’s a time warp into the 90’s with the spice of the city’s present culture, and it’s spearheaded by House of the Young Entertainment.

My Amazing Cheap Date: Sunflowers and Citrus Fruits

On this episode of “My Amazing Cheap Date” two couples explore bliss on a bun and get their game on. – for $50 or less.

Blind Kitchen: Who’s Got The Sauce

In this episode, Jas Rogers, chef/owner of Saucex Dat, and Aaron Poret, sous chef at Bywater American Bistro, face off to see who can recreate each other’s signature dish.

What’s on the Menu: Comfort Food

This episode of What’s On the Menu is all about comfort foods, which may be small but pack a big punch and will leave you satisfied

Eat Play Stay: Monadnock

In this episode of Eat Play Stay, explore Natchitoches, Louisiana, the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory.

In Transit: Esquire’s Dave Holmes Interviews Rocky & Ross Lynch in Orlando

In this episode of In Transit Dave Holmes talks all things Orlando with guests Rocky and Ross Lynch. Get to know the brothers and bandmates of “The Driver Era”

1:11 Juice Bar feeds your mind, body and taste buds

1:11 Juice Bar features organic juices, snacks, salads and wraps.

Threadz Nola Binds Three Generations of Black Women Designers

Threadz NOLA is a thriving Black woman-owned upholstery and furniture design firm. Owner Andreina Salazar Snyder has even worked with Oprah.

Restaurants on the Radar: Comfort Foods

In this episode of “Restaurants on the Radar,” host Brendan O’Connor takes you to his favorite restaurants in Orlando serving comfort food.

Stitch: Animals

In this episode of Stitch, see how animals contribute to our lives through giving support, connection, and companionship

juice bar

1:11 Juice Bar feeds your mind, body and taste buds

1:11 Juice Bar features organic juices, snacks, salads and wraps.

Everything you need to know about the Barrel & Flow Fest

Barrel and Flow, the nation’s only beer festival in Pittsburgh to put people of color in the spotlight is back. August 13, 2022

Presque Isle Beaches

Need a beach trip? Go for a swim at Presque Isle State Park in Erie

Just a short 2-hour drive north of Pittsburgh, Presque Isle State Park offers beaches and relaxation in an era of social-distancing.

Five Pittsburgh foodies on Instagram you should be following

Get your follow button ready.