The story of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, is the story of how a small black city fights from vanishing, or rather, from being vanished away, and the black women who were recently installed to lead that fight. In May, Marita Garrett was elected the first black woman to serve as mayor for the Borough of Wilkinsburg, which sits on the eastern border of Pittsburgh in the Big Tech-centric city’s shadows. The Wilkinsburg she is inheriting is one that, like a lot of small municipalities, is fighting for its own visibility, and even its very existence.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and I still don’t know where Pittsburgh ends and Wilkinsburg begins,” says Damon Young, co-founder of the popular VerySmartBrothas blog who once worked as a teacher in Wilkinsburg. He wrote last year that many of the problems Wilkinsburg faces today are the “intentional results” of Pittsburgh’s historic disregard of black people in the region.
“It’s almost like when you invite someone over to your house, and you’re bragging about how nice your new place is, but your place is actually dirty, but you don’t want to clean it up, so you just stuff all of your mess into the closet. I feel like Wilkinsburg has kinda been Pittsburgh’s closet for the last few decades.”
Garrett understands this perception. She got questions all the time as she went door-to-door asking people to vote for her for mayor, like: “Wait, Wilkinsburg is a city?” And, her favorite: “Sorry, but I’m voting for [Pittsburgh Mayor] Bill Peduto,” from residents who were unaware that they were not eligible to vote for Pittsburgh candidates—because they live in Wilkinsburg. (CityLab)