Commonwealth Monument Project


LETTER TO THE FIELD – Lenwood O Sloan, Executive Director

“Every people must be the architects of their own destiny!”

Martin Delaney


2020 marks the simultaneous commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, which provided African American men the right to vote, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment in 1920, which extended the franchise to women.

Between the passage of the two was an intense 50-yearperiod of struggle for African Americans for equity, parity, and inclusion.

Pennsylvania was the 4th state in the union to ratify the 15th amendment and the 7th state to ratify the 19th.We have much to be proud about this year!

But neither ratification was an easy task for Pennsylvania’s Black community and the practice of the franchise as well as the protection of each amendment took extreme diligence. As we all know, it still does today.


As these two benchmark anniversaries of the achievement of citizenship intersect at the crossroads of time, the IIPT-TFEC Harrisburg Peace Promenade reaches the culmination of the two-year Commonwealth Monument Project.

In this year of both the national election and the national census, we call upon Pennsylvanians and good citizens across the nation to each re-dedicatethemselves to the commitment to “liberty and justice for all”.

It’s a perfect time to re-ignite, within diverse communities across the Keystone State, an appreciation for theenduring value of the vote.

Following a comprehensive process of site selection with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, the Pennsylvania House and Senate endorsed and authorized

“the people’s project” leading to the development and commissioning of a newmonument, commemorating the concurrence of the two anniversaries.

Upon the passage of H.R. 415 and S.R 158 it was confirmed that the multiple elements of a new work of public art will be placed on the K Leroy Irvis Building- South Lawn at the Pennsylvania Capitol complex in Harrisburg.


Current historic markers nearby the selected site reveal thatit was once Tanner’s Alley, the gateway to the once valued, now vanished, Old 8th Ward. Collaboration with the National Parks Services - Network to Freedom confirmed through research and vetting that the Old 8th Ward was a Freetown of safe houses and places of respite along the Pennsylvania underground railroad.

Indeed, the Pennsylvania Historic and Museums Commission's classic blue and gold marker,currently on the site, confirms that the legendary Frederick Douglas spoke at a gathering in 1859 on the steps of the Wesleyan AME Zion Church, about a block away. The church’s footprint is buried underneath the offices and hallways of the K. Leroy Irvis Office Building,  

Frederick Douglas’ words were meant to encourage the citizens of the thriving and diverse 8th Ward to remain diligent in their quest for freedom and equality. It's a message that resonates today and every day.

Upon the approach of the commemorative anniversaries of the two amendments, no facade, foundation wall, door step, or chimney of the Old 8th Ward exists to remind us of its 1100 households and more than 500 businesses that once thrived there.

The expansion of the Capitol Park beginning in 1912, through acts of eminent domain, completely decimated everything from cornice to cobblestone. Indeed, not even the crooked system of streets, roads, rows, or alleys that crisscrossed the terra firma between Walnut and Forester (traveling north) or 3rd and 7th Streets(moving west to east) remain to frame the neighborhood’s existence.


Its an unfortunate tale shared by scores of African American neighborhoods across the Commonwealth and the nation. Many arefacing official government expansion of public projects,commercial urban renewal, political red lining, and economic gentrification.

We cannotbring back the Old 8th Ward nor can we bring back its people. But we can gather itsdescendants to reclaim its history, restore its memory, and reconnect its legacy. We can recruit the contemporary voices, still traveling along the rugged pathway of the quest for freedom and equality, to stand with them in solidarity upon such hallowed grounds.

We can awaken within ourselves the awareness of the power of one voice by reviewing the words of great orators of the Abolitionist, Suffragist, and early Civil Rights movements. We can rededicate ourselves to the potential of communities when they become architects of their own destiny.

Yet, long before the isolation of the pandemic forced us into social distancing, there was the daunting hurdle of the habitual distancing that we have self-imposed on Harrisburg.

True, there is a long held disconnect and lack of appreciation by local communities for their state capitols in general. Still, most Pennsylvanians just don’t think very much about Harrisburg at all. For many, its “somewhere out there!”Activists regard it as the place to go to advocate and protest. Few consider it as a significant crossroads and junction for a history which truly belongs to “we the people”. So why should diverse communities invest their resources, time, and energy in supporting the development of public art to grace the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg?

Just as the Keystone State is to the “The Golden 13”, Harrisburg is to the Commonwealth.  The city is simultaneously a local municipality, the seat of Dauphin County, and the center for Pennsylvania Government. Historians know that it was the true goal of the Confederates who invaded the state during the civil war, and the central Intersection for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Leaders from across the Keystone State gather in Harrisburg to speak on behalf of communities and neighborhoodsthat trust them to be their voices. The histories and legacies of those communities and neighborhoods, like the Old 8th itself, are often dismantled, left out of the public record, diminished, or eclipsed.

While we go about the pressing business of local matters, the Senate and House legislators advocate for your best interests from their offices in the 12 buildings of the Capitol Complex. They are supported by an army of state employees, contracted workers, technical assistance providers, lawyers, media, vendors, lobbyists, contractors, and general service providers that swell to almost 8,000 people a day. Many arrive from up to 60 miles away or more for their daily eight-hourjobs.This temporary community, larger than some local burgs and townships, is superimposed on the local municipality and the historical site. Alas, they have little knowledge of, affinity for, or sense of place.

For example, there is still no public marker there that reminds us that K. Leroy Irvis was the first African American to become Speaker of the House of any State legislature since Reconstruction. It is a fact that would generate great pride and awareness for the more than 100,000 visitors each year, including several 1000 students, who tour the Capitol Complex.

It is therefore fitting and appropriate for the new monumentgrounded in a sense of placeto be seton the South Lawn entrance to the Irvis Building.


The impressive public art installation, “A Gathering at the Crossroads", was created by Becky Ault and A.R.T. Enterprises Inc of Lancaster County, PA. A.R.T. Inc. is the only woman owned arts foundry created, directed and owned by a woman in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

The monument includes four life-size bronze figures of exemplary orators, 1870-1920. They stand around an iconic lyceum pedestal. Atop the pedestal is a three-dimensional miniature of key buildings that surrounded the Capitol before the community’s demise. They are set upon a map of the neighborhood in 1870. On the pedestal’s sides are bronzereliefs of 19th century community street scenes at a time of prosperity and the names of 100 African American voices of the Old 8th Ward.

The four orators include Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, William Howard Day, Jacob T. Compton, and T. Morris Chester. As Harper hands a copy of the 15th amendment back to William Howard Day,the four appear to be caught up in an animated exchange. The life-sized bronze figures standupon cobblestonesof thesixteen-footK. Leroy Irvis Equality Circle.

The combined histories of the four orators exemplify the voices of legendary African American elocutionists from communities across the Keystone state.

Through “animating democracy” collaborations with six diverse regional coalitions, we have launched a “Live and Learn” series of civic dialogues that contemporize and contextualize each community's direct links to the four orators, the history of the CommonwealthCapitol, and the goals of the Monument Project. 

Regional partnerships have helped to advance our goals to animate democracy and ignite civic engagement. Communityregional collaborations include:Philadelphia,

Allentown, Westchester, Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Altoona, and Pittsburgh.


” A Gathering AtThe Crossroads” will be the first monument to African Americans or women ever placed on Pennsylvania's Capitol since its completion in 1906!

It's also the first Monument on any state Capitol grounds dedicated to the legacy of the exemplars and stewards of the value of the vote. 

We were poised to welcome delegations from each of the regional partners to meet us at the monument ceremony for the dedication of the new site-specific work of public art.

Organizations across the Commonwealth collaborated to fashion a week long commemoration, beginning with the monument dedication on Monday, June 15th and ending with Friday June 19th events in several communities that would serve as curtain raisers for Juneteenth celebrations.

However, the Corona pandemic really shook this core of the landmark and history making series of events.  As time passed and fear mounted, we realized that we mustwork together to be ready when the governor lifted the ban against convening. Regional partners caucused to come up with a plan to move forward with new ideas and newcommunications tools This is the moment to magnify the value of the vote while really employing innovative methods of preserving and making history at the same time.

The catastrophic impact of the pandemic causes us to pause and seriously consider the safest methods of convening. Who do we gather and how do we keep people safe?

We looked to " lessons learned" from the period between 1918-1920, which was also challenged with a pandemic. With the assistance of Penn State University and The Colored Convention Project, a statewide Live and Learn think tank was convened June 1 via the technology of ZOOM.

Thought leaders examined a set of questions that included:

- How did the 1918 soldiers of civil rights protect the rights of African American men returning from the war to face the new battle of Jim Crow?

- What weapons of resistance can we use to combat the fearful return of Jim Crow in 2020- the year of the national census and the national election?

- How did the African American Suffragists endure the struggle and achieve the accomplishment of real inclusion in the benefits of the 19th amendment within the climate and aftermath of the 1918 pandemic?

Participating thought leaders included  Pittsburgh Juneteenth Committee, the “ From  Slavery to Freedom Project” of theSenator John Heinz History Center, the Messiah College  and Harrisburg University Digital Harrisburg Project , The African American Heritage Association of South Central PA, Penn State University, The Colored Conventions Project, Juneteenth PA., and the impressive coalition of Philadelphia thought leaders collaborating under the banner of the Frances (Harper) Project.

The tools of social media have been critical to our ability to connect and convene since Mid-March when the world as we knew it forever changed.

Now, it's essential to reinforce social distancing while respectfully creating ways to share common grounds. 

Indeed, as an international heritage tourism program and placemaking initiative, we approach the task with sober analysis of how to use our power to convene at the threshold of“the new normal.”

Still, a few questions of the daystill remain: 

-  how to join together as we advance the call to action?

- how do we respect social distancing while encouraging engagement?

-  how to raise the banner, "Harrisburg Homecoming Jubilee"?

-  what will it take to feel safe to gather on common ground for shared experiences?


Because of the delayed production of the bronze figures due to the temporary closure of the A. R. T. Foundry of Lancaster PA., we will be unable to complete all four life size bronze figures in time for the August 26th “Toast to Tenacity”.

Through the diligence and creative energy of the A.R.T. team, we will be able to complete the bronze tableau on October 14th with the installation of Jacob Compton, symbolizing the contribution of the agents and conductors of the underground railroad and T. Morris Chester, representing the USCT African American patriots and the Civil War.

Our goal for the monument project in the summer and fall ahead is to unveil the landmark public artwork while achieving easy human movement and respectful practices of social distancing.

Safety while sharing will be the goal, watchword, and call to action as we reset our plans for the dedication day ceremony, August 26, the official 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment.

We have extended the invitation to the eight regional partners to each send a pair of thought leaders to Harrisburg for the unveiling of the first two figures, William Howard Day, representing the Abolitionists and the 15th amendment, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, representing African American Suffragists and the 19th amendment.


Meanwhile, in August 2020 we project that Pennsylvania citizens will still be under safety regulations about assembly. Therefore, it will be impossible to achieve our grand scheme ofattracting busloads of delegations from diverse regions to amasson the Capitol Complex at one time.

Instead, we will invite regional project partners to convene simultaneous small gatherings on August 26that their local sites as crossroads and junctions of their communities. 

Each community has also been invited to identify an historic community to spotlight.

In addition, we’ve invited each to craft a roll call of their own 100 African American Exemplars 1870 – 1920 to place into the historic record.

We've encouraged each to consider the local regulations for gathering while they build the roster ofreception guests. We ask that the rosters reflect the collaboration utilized throughout the projectincluding legislators, sponsors, community organizers, educators, and descendants of their historically Black communities.

With the technical assistance of our talenteduniversity I. T. partners and their students, we'll use what we have learned from the inventive ZOOM exchanges during the past period of "staying in place". We’re seeking new ways to hook each local reception up to the interactive Harrisburg event. 

Alas, there'll be no major August 26thfestival at the State Capitol. We’d planned a Jubilee fueled by rallies and parades recreating and reinterpreting thewell documented historic 1870 and 1920 events.

Rather, we’lluse a balance of logic and technology to cohosta concurrent series of six reunions and receptions in Harrisburg including the Governor's reception at the official monument site.

Five additional reception sites will participate. They include Gamut Theater, Harrisburg University, Strawberry Square, Capitol Rotunda, and Capitol East Annex.

Each has been an anchorfor the presentations and civicengagement activities across the past two years of the monument project. Each has a well-developed plan for re-entry and re-engagement. They’re our “safe houses!”

Commonwealth Monument Project teams will host 25 guests at each site including sponsors and stakeholders,a pair of representatives from regional partnerships and descendants of the 100 Voices of the old 8th, members of the media, and youth leadership delegates.

The number of guests making up the six groups of 25 will come to a total of 150, a number which echoes the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment. 

As stated above, the August 26thdate marks the actual 100thanniversaries of the 19th amendment.

The proximityofthe receptions to the monument site allows participants and guests to safely and personally visit the monument following the August 26 dedication ceremony.

Social media will help to expand inclusion and awarenessfor participants of the benchmark day.


It's essential that we plan the pathway out of the isolation and exclusion caused by the pandemic.Establishing the new normal requires us to construct places of resilience, events that give us strength, and moments where we come together for encouragement. Still, we ask ourselves, “what does new normal really mean?”

For the Commonwealth Monument Project, it means conserving and preservingmemory, holding and marking our place in time as we make history this election year, developing a new heritage place through commissioning public art, and reconnecting PA communities to their scattered descendantsfor moments of solidarity, 

It means both generating and collecting new critical thinking and new journalism, inviting thought leaders to share best practices, and inviting new voices to the conversation.

And it also means, with the continuously unfolding regulations about social gatherings, that we need to be flexible enough to adapt the blueprint for the new normal with the input and help of the cultural and heritage community and our tourism partners.



Wherever you find yourself along the quest for freedom on August 26, we hope you will pauseto take a stand with us in honor of this important and impressive collaborative achievement.

Pin the name of a19th century African American exemplar on your chest or lapel that day. Then take a moment to reflect upon the iconic events and exemplary people in your community who made it possible for each of us to practice citizenship and the franchise.

In the months that follow the dedication, we invite you to ZOOM intothe events in your local community, join the civic dialogue, and be a part of making history.

God willing, the four bronze figures of the orators gathered around the iconic pedestal on the HarrisburgIrvis Equality Circle will stand at the corner of 4th and Walnut in the shadow of the K. Leroy Irvis Building and the Pennsylvania Capitol for the next 150 years. 

Meanwhile, be sure to thank your legislative leaders for their support of S.R. 158 and H.R. 415, which made the monument possible. And, when you feel safe, make the journey along the Pennsylvania Quest for Freedom and meet us at the monument.

We will see you at the Crossroads. We shall overcome!