Living Testament: 1960’s Pittsburgh

Joan Netta Burstyn, a friend of Syracuse Stage Producing Artistic Director Timothy Bond, talks about living in Pittsburgh after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination:

Our family lived in Pittsburgh during the very years covered by Wilson’s Two Trains Running. We arrived there in Fall 1966. At the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination we had three young children, ranging in age from three to eight. Our babysitter was an African American woman named Dannie, who also had three children of her own. (Later, Dannie became a preacher, and for some years after we left Pittsburgh we kept in touch with her and her family.) When the riots began, she sent her children to her mother’s house outside the city for safety. She and her husband continued their lives, in their apartment above a store.

I recall the packed hall at Carnegie Mellon University for the memorial service for Martin Luther King. We stood at the back with my husband holding our three year old who attended a nursery school program there. The president of the university broke down in tears in the middle of his speech.

Then, I recall the older children having armed guards on their bus to school near the Hill district while the rioting continued. We wanted, shortly after the memorial service, to take our children to join the march downtown in support of Martin Luther King and all he had fought for. However, part way there, we passed a store front where there was an armed guard stationed with his gun looking out at the street. We decided it was too dangerous for us to take the children further.

Some days later, while the curfew continued each night, Dannie came as usual to look after the children in the late afternoon. I took her back home in the car. On the way, we passed groups of young men standing at the roadside peering into each car. When I dropped her off at home, she told me not to go back the way we had come, but showed me a route that would take me more quickly out of the neighborhood.


About syracusestage

Syracuse Stage is the Professional Theatre of Central New York.
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