Mile walk Saturday celebrates black history in Pittsfield

Friday June 21, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- A walk through history in central Pittsfield on Saturday will commemorate the 150th anniversary of both the Emancipation Proclamation, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry -- one of the first black military units in the Civil War whose members were predominantly drawn from Western Massachusetts, and to honor the Rev. Samuel Harrison, the regiment’s chaplain.

The walk and the following program at Second Congregational Church are signature events of the 2013 Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival, celebrating African-American culture and heritage in the Berkshires. Co-sponsors of the Faith & Freedom Walk include the Samuel Harrison Society, Second Congregational Church, the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP, and the City of Pittsfield.

To participate, meet at the Harrison house at 82 Third St. at 12:45 p.m., and begin walking at 1 p.m. The walk will travel to the present home of the Second Congregational Church at 50 Onota St., stopping at sites of importance in African-American history along the way. Historian Frances Jones-Sneed will provide background at each site.

The length of the walk is approximately 1 mile. Attendees are asked to park in the Brein Center parking lot (formerly Sacred Heart Church) on Fourth Street since there’s very little parking available on Third Street. Free transportation back to the parking lot will be available thanks to the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority. A free public program and reception will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Second Congregational Church, featuring keynote speaker Will Singleton, president of the Berkshire County Chapter of the NAACP, an excerpt from a sermon by Harrison, and music by area choirs.

Harrison was born into slavery in 1818 and found his way to Pittsfield in 1850 to become the eloquent pastor of the Second Congregational Church and the chaplain of the famed Massachusetts 54th Regiment. During this time, he went head to head with Abraham Lincoln over equal pay for blacks serving in the Union Army and won.

In June 1864, Congress granted equal pay for the 180,000 blacks who fought on the side of the North. For the most part, Harrison’s weapon was the pen rather than the sword. For more than 50 years, he wrote passionate essays, pamphlets, sermons and books condemning racism on every level. In an age of lynchings and violent bigotry, he feared no man and no man or institution was too big for him to challenge. The Faith and Freedom Walk is a Lift Ev’ry Voice event co-sponsored by the Samuel Harrison Society, Second Congregational Church, the Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP and the City of Pittsfield.

The Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival celebrates African-American culture and heritage in the Berkshires throughout the summer of 2013. The festival is sponsored by Williams College, the City of Pittsfield, Housatonic Heritage, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Raising Change, MCLA and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

For more information on the Lift Ev’ry Voice festival, visit


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