August Wilson and the Civil Rights Movement in Pittsburgh
Set in Pittsburgh's Hill District and Homewood neighborhoods, this tour provides a glimpse of which places and events influenced playwright, August Wilson.
August Wilson was one of Americas most gifted and talented African American playwrights. He was born in this house in the Hills District, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 27, 1945. This area at the time was home to a working class neighborhood that was predominantly African American. Wilson would later use this apartment house as the setting for some of his most famous plays. The culture and environment surrounding this small apartment led to some of the most important moments in Wilson's career.
The setting of the 1985 play Fences by August Wilson. Fences focuses on the Maxon family, and their toils with the ever changing social and political life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the 1950s. Fences has won a Pulitzer Prize (1987), Tony Award (1987), and its 2016 film adaptation was nominated for four Academy Awards, with Viola Davis winning Best Supporting Actress for her role as Rose Maxon.
The site where Greenlee Field once stood has earned a place in history. Greenlee Field was the first and only black-owned baseball field in the East but only stood for a short 6 years before being replaced with the Bedford Dwellings housing project. The field was named after the owner Gus Greenlee and was home to the Pittsburgh Crawfords. A Pennsylvania historical marker is placed on the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Junilla Street, near the place where the baseball stadium once stood.
Mellon Arena was located in Pittsburgh from 1968 until 2012. This arena once boasted the largest moving dome in the world and was home to the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League. Civic Area opened September 17, 1961 and hosted many events beyond hockey, including concerts and national political conventions. The building began to show its age in the early 2000s. As the Penguins began negotiations for a new facility, many in the city hoped to restore the historic structure. Despite efforts to save the old arena in 2011, demolition plans were made in that year and the area is now vacant.
Homewood Playground and Homewood Swimming Pool are the approximate location of a lumberyard fire that took place during the April 1968 riots within Pittsburgh. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, Pittsburgh erupted in six days of violent protests, culminating in a fire at a Homewood Lumberyard.
West Funeral Home was originally located here at 2216 Centre Avenue. The funeral home served the African American community and continues to do so today at its 2215 Wylie Avenue location. The West family has owned and operated this funeral home for three generations. August Wilson included the funeral home and its owner, Thomas L. West Sr., in Two Trains Running. However, Wilson’s portrayal of West was inaccurate.
Eddie’s Restaurant once sat here at 2172 Wylie Avenue. Hill District native, August Wilson would come to this restaurant to write his “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays and it is believed that he used the restaurant as inspiration for Two Trains Running. Unlike the restaurant in Two Trains Running, Eddie’s was demolished in 2008.
The Lutz Meat Market was once located in this building on Centre Avenue. The market was owned by Karl Lutz. August Wilson included both the market and Lutz in his play, Two Trains Running. Within the play, Wilson stressed that there were racial tensions between Lutz and the Hill District’s African American community. However, this portrayal went against the actual moral character of Karl Lutz.
Freedom Corner is located at the corner of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood. Dedicated in 2001, the memorial showcases the African American community’s fight for freedom. The site was once a place where civil rights activists would meet during marches and is now a place to reflect on past struggles.