100 signatures reached
To: Kevin Acklin, President of Business Operations, Pittsburgh Penguins - Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority - Pittsburgh City Council, The Sports & Exhibition Authority Pittsburgh, and City of Pittsburgh Mayor Office.
Reparation for Bethel AME Church Pittsburgh, PA
Today, the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority is negotiating new plans for the area. Now is the time to repair the harm done to Black residents and members of Big Bethel by returning the land that was unlawfully taken. By signing this petition, you’re doing the following:
• Tell Kevin Acklin, President of Business Operations, Pittsburgh Penguins and The Sports & Exhibition Authority Pittsburgh to return the stolen land and development rights to Big Bethel.
• Calculate the lost revenue to the church and dollars made on the land.
• The URA, Pittsburgh Penguins, The Sports & Exhibition Authority, and Pittsburgh City Council must agree to return the land and developments rights to Big Bethel.
We have church members alive today who actually experienced this injustice. It’s time to acknowledge this terrible history and, with brave leadership, pave a new way forward together.
Why is this important?
As pastor of Bethel AME Church of Pittsburgh and representing the congregation, we implore the Pittsburgh City Council and the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to address and restore the land stolen from Bethel AME in 1957.
Known as Big Bethel to its more senior members, the church once seated 1,900 Pittsburgh residents in what was then a thriving neighborhood in the Lower Hill District. The oldest Black church and the first elementary school for Black students, it was a haven for residents and the center for organizing in the 1950s during the civil rights movement. Bethel held programs before and after school while launching the Black Nurses Association to improve the health and welfare of its congregation.
That all came to a screeching halt in 1955 when the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority announced plans for the Lower Hill Project redevelopment which called for removing “blight” from the community. To church members who are still with us today, Big Bethel was not a “blight”. It was a beacon of light and home to mentor new leaders, and a place where Black people of the time could feel the love and support of the community. Despite this, in 1957 city council members declared that Big Bethel had “outlived its usefulness,” thus enabling the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to confiscate the church using eminent domain. In its wake, the Civic arena was built and is now home to the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team.
Meanwhile, the church of the Epiphany, which predominantly serves a white congregation only two blocks away, was spared and stands to this day. Pittsburgh law states it is illegal to seize a church using eminent domain. However, the members of Big Bethel didn’t have legal representation to pursue their claims. Big Bethel was thus compelled to move to a smaller location serving 900 members, never to be returned to its former glory. This same group sold 2.5 acres of land to the FNB Bank building project for development last year which is a few hundred yards from the original site of Bethel AME Church for $10.00. We are asking for the same consideration to sell us our land and development rights back for $10.00.