Resisting Arrest: Race and Pittsburghers’ Struggles against Police Power from the 1840s through the 1950s


  • Elaine Frantz


We often think about critiques of police violence against Black people as having begun in the 1960s and 1970s. This article explores the history of resistance to policing from Pittsburgh’s beginnings in the eighteenth century to the 1950s, proving a prehistory to this dominant narrative. As soon as the police emerged in late eighteenth-century Pittsburgh, the people they attempted to police pushed back against their actions. As they expanded their authority over the decades, this resistance expanded as well. People being policed tended to be the least powerful segment of the population, but sometimes their objections found their ways into newspapers and municipal and legal documents. This paper traces a continual tradition of protest to police violence and overreach, particularly by Black Pittsburghers and their occasional supporters. While it by no means solved the problem of police violence against Black Pittsburghers, this continuous struggle brought to light, sometimes reined in, and sometimes gained some redress for this endemic social problem.