Filed Under Activism

Freedom Corner

A Rallying Point for Pittsburgh Activism

The intersection of Centre Avenue and Crawford Street serves as a significant monument to civil rights activism in Pittsburgh.

In the 1950s, city planners across the country labeled neighborhoods as "sub-standard" and moved to replace them with new houses and gentrified communities. Eradication disguised in the name of "urban renewal" threatened to destroy the Hill District and the lives of the people that called it home. To make room for the development of the Civic Arena, planners seized large areas of the Lower Hill District by eminent domain and forced 8,000 residents and 400 businesses to leave the Lower Hill District, as "progress" destroyed their homes.

As talk of further top-down redevelopment crept into the Hill District, residents held the line at the corner of Crawford and Centre. A grassroots group called the Citizens Committee for Hill District Renewal (CCHDR) erected a billboard on the corner in 1966, declaring "Attention City Hall and URA: NO REDEVELOPMENT BEYOND THIS POINT! We Demand: LOW INCOME HOUSING FOR THE LOWER HILL" As the bulwark against demolition and eradication, the geographic point known as "Freedom Corner" first became tied to the concept of civil discourse and organized resistance. The actions of activists transformed this intersection from an ordinary streetcorner into a place of significance for social activism, protest, and remembrance.

From its early beginnings, Freedom Corner has served as a meeting point for groups protesting against injustice and prejudice. Pittsburgh Councilman Sala Udin noted in 1998 that "One cannot discuss the civil rights struggle in Pittsburgh without mentioning Freedom Corner. The two are intertwined."

In 1963, thousands of Pittsburgh civil rights marchers met at Freedom Corner to depart for Washington, D.C. and the landmark March on Washington for Jobs and Freedon. Five years later, in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., violence broke out throughout the country and in the Hill District. The NAACP had planned a peaceful march from Freedom Corner to downtown Pittsburgh, only to be stopped by the police before a single step took place. In the end, organizers convinced the police to allow the march to proceed and the peaceful event advanced through downtown to Point State Park. Events like the 1968 march have helped the Hill District community to remain strong and have offered opportunities to heal during times of adversity.

Over the years, Pittsburghers have met at Freedom Corner as a starting point to march and protest a myriad of issues. Freedom Corner has served a role in civil liberties marches and parades, community food drives, war protests, marches supporting victims of violence, and a meeting place for remembrance services. These events and the actions of the community have allowed Freedom Corner to become ìinfused by the spirit of those who gave the struggle for social and civil rights their voices, their muscle and their livesî. This spirit has transformed an ordinary streetcorner into the prominent place of remembrance Freedom Corner is today.

For decades, no formal monument marked Freedom Corner. After years of hard work and fundraising, local leaders dedicated a monument at Freedom Corner in March 2002. These efforts began in 1992 when the late city councilman Jake Milliones began a campaign to erect a sculpture at the corner. After Milliones' death in 1993, Councilman Sala Udin and the Freedom Corner committee worked tirelessly to obtain funding and finish Milliones' campaign. The Freedom Corner monument, designed by local Black artist Carlos Peterson, is made of granite and features a bronze figure of a spiritual form that rises from the rear wall of the structure. Soaring with arms uplifted, the figure signifies hope, faith and a future of human rights triumphs.

From its early beginnings, Freedom Corner has served as a meeting point for groups protesting against injustice and prejudice.

The monument remains an important meeting point and starting point for groups in Pittsburgh and the Hill District in particular. In keeping with tradition, the 2023 Juneteenth parade started at Freedom Corner before making its way through downtown Pittsburgh. The significance of Freedom Corner's past continues to speak to a new generation of activists that build on and honor the previous marches that started there. Their actions transformed the corner of Crawford and Centre from an ordinary streetcorner into the prominent place of social action and movement known as Pittsburghís Freedom Corner.

Video

Ewari (Ed) Ellis Ed Ellis, director of the Halfway Art Gallery, points to paintings of carved African heads. Ellis wears traditional African garb, including a kufi cap and carved head pendant. Source: Charles "Teenie" Harris, Carnegie Museum of Art Creator: Charles "Teenie" Harris Date: c. 1960-1975

Images

MLK Day of Mourning March William "Mugsy" Moore leads the way as police walk in front of the marchers as they begin to move along Centre Avenue to Downtown and the Point Source: Charles H. Martin Photograph Collection, University of Pittsburgh Archives Creator: Charles R. Martin Date: April 7, 1968
Freedom Corner, 1967 Freedom Corner in 1967, with Holy Trinity Church in the background. The billboard in the photo proclaims to motorists that they are entering the Hill District and advises them not to litter. It also urges strict enforcement of housing and health codes in the community. Source: Melvin Seidenberg Photographs, c. 1828-1988, MSP 566, Rauh Jewish Archives, Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center Creator: Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Date: November 9, 1967
Carlos Peterson, co-designer of memorial Local artist Carlos Peterson stands in front of the Freedom Corner memorial he designed, holding a separate artwork created for the memorial. Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Creator: Nate Guidry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Date: 2020

Location

475 Crawford Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Metadata

Julie Bowman, “Freedom Corner,” Hill District Digital History, accessed June 17, 2024, https://hillhistory.org/items/show/7.