The Johnstown Banishment was an event that occurred 100 years ago on September 7, 1923. This year, a number of events observing that anniversary will be held, including a vigil and commemoration event in Johnstown and a vigil in Pittsburgh.
What is the Johnstown Banishment? Following the killing of four police officers by a Black man, the Johnstown mayor banished all African American and Mexican American residents of less than seven years to leave within 24 hours.
The 9/7/1923 Johnstown Banishment of 2000 Black and Mexican people and barring any more into the city was an act of terrorism and profound injustice. It was backed up by the Ku Klux Klan burning of a dozen crosses in the hills surrounding the city.
This travesty of justice was part of a larger backdrop of running Blacks out of town and terrorizing Black communities. It occurred just 2 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, another atrocious racial attack that is just being widely acknowledged. It was also a time of heightened KKK recruitment, including marching into churches, white and Black, to make donations as a way of gaining sympathizers, and terrorizing. Sometimes they were successful and others not. The KKK marched into at least 1 Methodist Church in the Pittsburgh Area, in 1923, Greenstone UMC, where they were turned away and unmasked. Highlighting for us that as a church we are not disconnected from the world and our actions have consequences in the world. We can see that this is local and personal.
The mayor of Johnstown is said to have issued this ban to aid his reelection. While he was voted from office, he faced no legal sanctions for his actions. (and was later voted back in as mayor). Johnstown may have wanted to put the attention from this scandal behind them, whatever the reason it became a story not included in the narrative of Johnstown.
Today, we still feel the impacts of the extreme racial injustice of the 1923 incident and others of its era on Johnstown and throughout the country. We can see racial injustice still active in very obvious acts of racial hatred, more subtle acts of injustice and complicity and still steeped into our systems and institutions.
We have an opportunity today to ‘know more’ by learning of this history and others and using the knowledge of the past to help us better understand what is occurring currently, we can ‘know better’ from our analysis and act now in meaningful ways, we can ‘Do Better’ so that the year 2123 can ‘Be Better’ in terms of racial inequities and injustice. Moving us closer to God’s Kin-dom come on Earth.
Learn more about the Johnstown Banishment