City Native Examines History in ‘Black Scranton Project’

SCRANTON, Pa. -- Native Scrantonian Glynis Johns brought her master's thesis back home to hang on the walls of her city's former mall. The pop-up exhibit called the "Black Scranton Project" has been welcoming visitors to a storefront at the Marketplace at Steamtown since the beginning of February.

"When I finished the work, I came back here and was like, 'I need to share this with whoever will listen, but particularly the black community, we've always been seen as transient, we aren't contributors to the community,' I wanted to show that we have been here, we have been doing so many amazing things for quite some time," Johns said.

The exhibit tells the story of Scranton's first black firefighter and the black community's contributions to the coal industry.

Johns has relied on the foot traffic at the Marketplace at Steamtown to draw people in, and so far, it's worked. She says she's seen more than 600 people in here just this month.

"All you have to do is come to the mall, where you're shopping at Boscov's, walk 400 feet and then you're here," laughed Rosemary McGuigan.

McGuigan came to check out the part of Scranton history she thinks is so often overlooked

"As open-minded as we think we are, we are not. We carry out prejudices deep, as much as we can put it in newspapers and write lovely things about it, it is there, and we have to be reminded that at one time, this was it."

Johns says her own project uncovered something in herself; she's now proud to be a black Scrantonian.

"Growing up, I felt like being black and from the city was a stigma. I always wanted to hide my identity. I wanted to say I was from Philly or I wanted to say I'm from New York. I really wanted to leave here and become a new person, but after doing this work, it's like, I should be proud of where I'm from, being from Scranton is not a bad thing and look at all this beauty that I've uncovered," said Johns.

The Black Scranton Project will be open at the Marketplace at Steamtown through March. Johns is hoping to one day open a permanent space.

2 comments

  • Mark Zurinski

    Such a great story. I will be checking out the display soon. We need people highlighting history of all groups that were instrumental in developing our area. Thank you for your hard work.

  • donald fox

    Its great to have history shown like this but I am tired of it having to be racially motivated. We have first of every race. First Native American… first Irish American… First Mexican American and so on. Why must it be this month is only Black History. 12 months a year should be history of every race period.

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