‘We all stayed.’ Penn Hills, once a suburban landing pad for Black households, now risks disinvestment and erasure of history.



Willie Stargell joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1962, 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier. Six years later, Stargell bought a modest ranch house on Doak Street in Penn Hills. His choice was no accident. Since the 1920s, the western part of Penn Hills has been a preferred destination for Pittsburgh’s Black middle class.

In the last century, Black Pittsburghers beat a path eastward, from the Hill District, through Homewood and into Penn Hills. “It was a pretty decent community with, you know, Black affluent people,” said Aaron Tipton, a Black man in his late 50s who grew up (and still lives) in Lincoln Park, a Penn Hills subdivision that abuts the Pittsburgh city line. Black business owners, doctors, tradespeople and athletes settled there. Attracted by single-family homes with yards, clean air and less crowding, these new suburbanites transformed a mostly white, rural township. Their stories are indelibly etched into the municipality’s history.

Black people comprised 9% of the population in Penn Hills in 1930; in 2020, they accounted for 41%. The municipality offered middle-class Black homebuyers an opportunity to live the suburban dream: a home with a yard, lots of fresh air and a pathway to building intergenerational wealth. Penn Hills is Pittsburgh’s counterpart to well-known Black suburbs outside of Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas and Cleveland.