Hidden History: Finding the Hidden History of the Electric City

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(WBRE/WYOU-TV) A Scranton woman has turned a school research project into something much bigger. As reporter Eric Deabill shows us — piece by piece — the 25-year-old is unearthing the Hidden History of African Americans in the Electric City.

Glynis Johns spends a lot of time inside the Lackawanna Historical Society….

            She pours over maps — directories — and pretty much anything else that she can get her hands on — to help explain the history of African Americans in the city of Scranton.

            Johns started in 2016 as part of a graduate research project.

“I wanted to know how long African Americans were here and i found we were here for a long time, since 1800, and it’s been amazing and it’s made me feel like this city is mine. I’ve had more pride in my identity and more pride in the city”

            Johns has developed an online database at “Blackscranton.com”

            Her school project has turned into something much bigger. 

“I told myself, I can’t keep all this magical history to myself. I cannot leave it in these pages so from there I came back to the community and wanted to share it in any way possible” Said Johns.

            When johns first started on her journey — she visited libraries and the historical society.

            She found a lot of information on the Civil War — railroading industry and coal mines — but not much on her ancestors.

“The black history is a little harder to dig into because it wasn’t thought to be important at the beginning of the last century. People weren’t paying attention to that story so now we have to go backward in time” Explains Mary  Ann Savakinus, Lackawanna County Historical Society.

            Glynis Johns has now received a grant to continue her work.

            She’s researched and uncovered information about black business leaders and role models from the electric city.

            One of the most interesting things says she has discovered — is in the 1880s — only about 15 years after slavery ended — 20 African American men formed their own fire company in Scranton’s Hill Section.

“These black men got together and organized this volunteer company. It was credited with saving hundreds of lives. They tried to be incorporated into the fire department and it really didn’t go so well”

            She’s also dug-up information on the city’s first African American mail carrier — George A. Jones.

“He would write mail for people because during that time a lot of people didn’t know how to read and write — and again for African Americans that is an incredible, incredible thing,” Said Johns. 

            Finding all of this information hasn’t been easy.

            Johns has had to dig and dig through historical documents — but its become a labor of love for her.          

“I’m hoping that we get more interest from the community itself where they will participate and share their stories with us..” Said Mary Ann Savakinus. 

            Johns doesn’t know where all her research will take her.

            Her goal, however, is clear.

            She’s hoping to one day be able to open a “Black Culture Center” in the city of Scranton.

“I want there to be a space where people can come and look through stacks of archives specific to black history and find whatever they need, a space to learn, a space to be creative”

Learn more at Black Scranton.com

Lackawanna County Historical Society Click Here


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