History of the Pittsburgh Ghetto
In the heart of Western Pennsylvania is the city of Pittsburgh, nicknamed the “Steel City” for how important the steel industry was to the city’s growth and to the story of the Pittsburgh ghetto.
The beginning of the Pittsburgh black history started with the Hill District, which was once known as the “Harlem of Pittsburgh” and the heart of the city’s African-American culture during the early and mid-1900s.
Other than the Hill District, there were was small pockets of blacks in neighborhoods of the South Side’s Beltzhoover, Homewood and Garfield on the East Side, and parts of Manchester, Charles Street Valley, and the Central North Side.
After the city built the Civic Arena in the lower Hill District, many people were forced to relocate to different parts of the city. Most moved into Homewood and nearby a neighborhood of the East Side, the North Side, and into mostly the entire city’s housing projects.
History of the Pittsburgh Ghetto: East Side
The East Side has the most history, with the historic Hill District, known for entertainment and the black business district, and for having Pittsburgh’s only race riot, which was led by years of neglect and finally the assassination of Martin Luther King.*
Today the East Side is heavily changing as people are leaving the city and moving into other communities like Penn Hills or Mon Valley. While in the Hill District, most of the communities housing projects are mostly demolished or rebuilt, along with blocks from Bedford to Wylie being either left vacant or gentrified.
Garfield, which has mostly always had a black population, is gentrifying along Penn Avenue, as well a number of blocks in the actual neighborhood.
Around Larimer, the East Liberty, which was a once famous shopping district of East Liberty before people left the area in the 1960s and 1970s, is one of the most gentrified and sought after area, together with the Hill District and South Oakland neighborhoods that are near Downtown and the University of Pittsburgh.
While being the most active section of the Pittsburgh ghetto, the East Side was once home to blocks like Alley Mob and Formosa Way, cliques like the Hazelwood Mob and LAW Gang, and the old projects from the Hill District’s Allequippa Terrace and Addison Terrace to Garfield Heights to the Pennly Park Apartments aka the East Liberty Towers.
While being the most active section of the Pittsburgh ghetto, the East Side was once home to blocks like Alley Mob and Formosa Way, cliques like the Hazelwood Mob and LAW Gang, and old projects from the Hill District’s Allequippa Terrace and Addison Terrace to Garfield Heights to the Pennly Park Apartments aka the East Liberty Towers.
The reputation of the Pittsburgh ghetto on the East Side included Homewood’s Downtown, Uptown, and Mohler Projects, the Hill District’s once Gute Block, Francis Street, Flackside, and Reed – Roberts projects, Garfield around Aiken Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, the infamous Larimer Avenue and Wilkinsburg connection, and not to forget legendary East Hills.
History of the Pittsburgh Ghetto: North Side
The Pittsburgh ghetto of the North Side is similar to the East Side, except smaller in size. The original black communities were around Charles Street in Perry Hilltop, Manchester, and the Mexican War Streets of the Central North Side.
With the close location of the baseball and football stadiums, as well as the downtown area, the North Side is redeveloping and gentrifying.
Communities around Federal Street, the Lower Manchester area, and the Central North Side neighborhood are some of the North Side sections that are seeing the most rebuilding.
The new construction is relocating black families farther north into Marshall-Shadeland and neighborhoods around Brighton Road and Perrysville.
The North Side, which was once known as the War Side, has areas like NorthView Heights, Fineview (Allegheny Dwellings), and Brighton Place, which were once known for the S.O.E., the G’s of Manchester and Wilson Avenue in Perry Hilltop, Hoodtown of the Central North Side, Rhine Street in the Spring Hill community, and a few other sections of the North Side.
History of the Pittsburgh Ghetto: South Side
The South Side’s community of the Pittsburgh ghetto is based around Brownsville Road and Warrington Avenue.
The black community started in Beltzhoover in the early 1900s and grew as the lower Hill District was destroyed by the city and relocated people into the housing projects of St. Clair Village and Arlington Heights.
As the years passed, St. Clair Village, aka the Darccide, and Beltzhoover were the two main areas of the South Side, until St. Clair Village was demolished after years of problems and relocated people into places of the South Side like Knoxville and Mt. Oliver.^
The South Side is home to a mix of neighborhoods from Mt. Washington to Carrick, with most of the housing projects to be of the past and half of the population in Beltzhoover to be elsewhere, due to the amount vacant houses, the South Side seems to be expanding further down Brownsville Road.
History of the Pittsburgh Ghetto: West Side
Pittsburgh’s West Side is the only side of the city that does not have any Blood or Crip affiliation in the Pittsburgh ghetto, as the homegrown West Side Convicts claim most of the communities.
At one point the two biggest neighborhoods of the West Side was Fairywood’s Broadhead Manor and Westgate Village. When the city decided to get rid of the housing projects, many people moved into other neighborhoods of the West Side like Sheraden, Greenway, or McKees Rocks.
Fairywood, which population has largely dropped from the older days of the neighborhood, was the heart of the West Side’s black community.
The community changed after the city sold Westgate Village and the new owner looked for any reason to evict its tenants, eventually making Westgate Village into luxury townhomes.
The other contribution to the change of Fairywood was closing most of Broadhead Manor and the flooding of the remaining units. These main factors have forever changed the small community of Fairywood.
History of the Pittsburgh Ghetto: Mon Valley
The Mon Valley section of Pittsburgh is located in Allegheny County, right outside of the East Side of the city of Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River.
The streets in the early 90s and into the 2000s led to Mon Valley’s reputation in areas like Duke City (Duquense), Sco Nation (Braddock / North Braddock), blocks in Homestead, Clairton, and Crawford Village and Bailie Ave of McKeesport.
The story of Mon Valley begins after layoffs, factory shutdowns, and an all-around loss of the workforce, helped the community declined and lose the majority of the population.
This happened after the steel industry collapsed between the 1960s and the 1980s, and by the 1970s and 1980s, homes began to be under foreclosure, residents were being evicted, and bankruptcies were occuring heavily throughout Mon Valley.
During this time, with exception to a few communities, many white families were moving out and many black families were slowly moving in a number of Mon Valley neighborhoods.
Many African-Americans became victims to redlining, a process of only offering a certain group of people to live in a specific area with a lack of receiving proper resources.
The majority of Pittsburgh’s Mon Valley African-American population began in neighborhoods like Hawkins Village of Rankin, Castle Garden of Homestead, Cochrandale of Duquense, and a few other places in Mon Valley.
Blacks in Mon Valley at first had problems receiving equal rights in housing and in the local job market of the steel industries. By the time blacks were able to receive equal rights, the steel plants were beginning their downfall of closures and layoffs.
Today, the alleged claim of having a poor tax base and many cities surviving on state and federal government funding, this section of Mon Valley has become on hard times.
Though these areas are labeled as the suburbs, most Mon Valley neighborhoods are no different from any other community in Pittsburgh, especially as the East Side’s population is becoming less and less through gentrification, moving people into Penn Hills and Mon Valley.
*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.
Pittsburgh History Sources and Further Resources on Pittsburgh History:
Brewer, John M. African Americans in Pittsburgh. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2006. Print
Dickerson, Dennis C. Out of the Crucible: Black Steelworkers in Western Pennsylvania, 1875-1980. Albany: State U of New York, 1986. Print.
Haynes, Monica. “MLK Riots: When Patience Ran Out, the Hill Went up in Flames.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 Apr. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
Jones, Diana Nelson. “Diana Nelson Jones’ Walkabout: Opportunities Grow in Old St. Clair Village.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 14 July 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
Lubov, Roy. Twentieth-century Pittsburgh: The post-steel era. University of Pittsburgh Press. 2007.
Trotter, Joe William, and Eric Ledell Smith. African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1997. Print.