The Hill District of Pittsburgh

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The Hill District of Pittsburgh, which was a prosperous black majority city that culminated a lot of art and music and a beautiful life, went through the urban renewal of 1960 lost all its glory and became poor community and the racial segregation and profiling took its peak causing black people to feel underserving and lived to only eat and put a roof on their heads (Gottlieb, 1996). Fences, a play written by August Wilson about a black community, can be mirrored with the life of the African American community of the Hill District of Pittsburgh in many ways.

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In Fences August Wilson mentions that Tory is going through racial segregation at his work place, in the him and his friend Bono, both being African Americans, work as garbage collectors and the white people are assigned the job driving the garbage trucks. This is the same as the racial segregation that occurs with the white-collar jobs that the white people owned and the low-profile jobs that were being assigned to the people of the Hill District in the 1960’s. Baseball is a game that has been shown to be of great importance in the Hills District of Pittsburgh in the 1950’s. Grenlee Field was a black owned baseball stadium and home to the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro League.

It had great baseball players who were celebrated in their own time such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige and this was part of the great history of Pittsburgh. (Eberhardt, 2008) This same situation is depicted in the play Fences as he illustrates that Troy was a good baseball player and he played for the Negro League as well until he became old enough not to play anymore. His son Cory is also seen to be an aspiring baseball player during his time in college but unfortunately his father does not give the chance he deserved. The Hills District of Pittsburgh was well known for its great music and jazz was one of the most prosperous pieces of art the it possessed. The city produced jazz giants in its prime time like Lena Horne, Art Blakely and Errol Garner.

They played at a jazz club called Crawford Grill that was owned by a black man named Gus Greenlee. Folks gathered there for a great time and appreciating music and more so socializing with one another. In Wild Avenue Days, the Hill District was known to be the most prosperous and influential black community in America. in the play Fences, there is an illustration of the existence of music played at the Crawford Grill. Lyon, Troy’s eldest son, aspires to be a musician and wants to make a name for himself by playing music and is seen to be determined so and is focusing on his goal and making it a reality. He keeps coming to his father to borrow money to support his career which he terms it to be a promising one and of the purposes of his life. So in this case we see that the play is depicting the Hill District’s music history and the way jazz was the pride of the people of Pittsburgh.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King jr there was an uproar in America and this created racial tension and strife between the white and the black people. This also affected the people of Pittsburgh and soon afterwards there was the urban renewal age of the city in 1960. This caused the displacement of more than 8000 residents and 400 businesses in the area. Crime and poverty became the new form of life and this destroyed the greatness pf the city. In the play Fences by August Wilson it is shown that the locale had lost its glory and that the once rich people were overridden with poverty. Troy; I saw Josh Gibson’s daughter yesterday. She walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet. This statement proves enough of the once great people of the area reduced to nothing and all their glory and wealth lost. Once more the play mirrors the situation in Pittsburgh perfectly and therefore it creates a picture of the people of Pittsburgh in mind. In other situations, the play Fences by August Wilson does not give an accurate depiction of the Hill District.

The economic situation in the Hills District back the was thriving on the production of steel with steel mills for world war 1. This increased demand for labor among men and was the source to a better life. However, the play shows that for better life people in the area were working and earning from different sources. Troy and Bono are seen to be garbage collectors and later on Troy is promoted to be a truck driver and this for him is the true definition of having a better life. There is also the fact that the people of Pittsburgh had a radio, a weekly newspaper, a college of beauty culturists and thriving art which led to Pittsburgh being known as the little Harlem’ and was a mecca of art and culture. (Bodner 1900-1960 ) This is not seen in the setting where Troy and his family lived as the play was illustrated therefore its evident enough to say that the play is not a true depiction of the life of the Hill District. The play Fences gives a scenery of imprisonment in many ways such as literal ones and symbolic ones.

It is seen that the main character, Troy, is jailed once in his lifetime for 15years due to robbery, assault and a murder he wasn’t sure he committed. This shapes the character’s behavior and molds him into the person he would become when he grew up. During his time in prison he developed two characters that shaped his life. One was that he grew to be a good baseball player and he aspired a career because of that and continued to play even after prison but his career was cut short because of racial profiling and his age causing him to hate baseball. The second one was a shortcoming which he learnt during his time in penitentiary and that was to push people away from and not have real emotions and attachments to people. He does not love his wife and mistreats his son and everyone around him all because of the detachment he has felt during his time in prison.

This behavior is also contributed by the way his father mistreated him while growing up. The characteristic behavior shown by the main character due to his time in prison can be attributed to people who have gone through slavery. Slavery and imprisonment can be the identical and different at the same time in that convicts have a form of liberty and this is seen with Troy who becomes a good baseball player all while he is in prison and this couldn’t have been possible if he was in enslavement. Slaves had owners and their every move was measured and watched making liberty a forgotten tale to them.

There is also the part of emotional detachment of the victims of slavery and imprisonment. This is seen to be of a greater similarity as the people are going through a time where freedom is much less of a subject and forming attachments might lead to heartbreaks and losses they are not ready for. This might explain the irrational behavior of Troy’s father towards his women and children because he might have been a slave who has seen nothing but cruelty his whole life. Troy was taken as a prisoner because of robbery and breaking the law and in a way it can be said that he deserved it but that can’t be said with slaves since they did no wrong and being enslaved is against their will and is unjust since they have no freedom until they are bought by another master but that’s not the case seen with prisoners as they serve their time and gain their freedom once the given time lapses. References. Bodnar, J. E., Simon, R., & Weber, M. P. (1983). Lives of their own: Blacks, Italians, and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900-1960 (Vol. 286). University of Illinois Press. Eberhardt, M. (2008). The low-back merger in the steel city: African American English in Pittsburgh. American speech, 83(3), 284-311. Gottlieb, P. (1996). Making Their Own Way: Southern Blacks’ Migration to Pittsburgh, 1916-30 (Vol. 82). University of Illinois Press.

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The Hill District of Pittsburgh. (2019, Oct 30). Retrieved December 4, 2022 , from
https://studydriver.com/the-hill-district-of-pittsburgh/

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