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.

Lindsay Patross

Lindsay Patross

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

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