Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Franklin Wilhamina “Frankie Mae” Scott was born in 1905 in Clinton, Louisiana. She and her husband, Charles H. Pace, moved to Pittsburgh in 1936. She worked as an organizer, educator, leader, and entrepreneur in the Hill District. As a Black woman, Pace fought against the Urban Redevelopment Authority and served with many local organizations, including the Citizens Committee for Hill District Renewal, which she co-founded. She won the inaugural Daisy E. Lampkin Award in 1966. Two of Pace’s most important achievements were her roles in organizing a billboard to stop development in the Lower Hill District, and attending the Chicago University Model Cities Education Program as the only volunteer representative. In 1967, Pace testified before Congress in support of the War on Poverty. She died on November 1, 1989, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Franklin Wilhamina “Frankie Mae” Scott was born in 1905 in Clinton, Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, to Henreatta and Louis Scott. She grew up in Chicago, Illinois, with her nine older siblings. Her activism began when she moved to Pittsburgh in 1936 to serve in a church with her husband Charles H. Pace. As a leader, entrepreneur, community organizer, and educator, Pace was especially known for her 1968 efforts to organize a billboard that demanded that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) halt development above Crawford Street until the community secured housing and jobs. Situated uptown from the Pittsburgh city skyline, the Hill District neighborhood encompassed a large and thriving Black and immigrant community before Lower Hill development started in the 1950s. For decades Pace advocated vigorously and extensively for the people and organizations there.
In the Hill District, Pace owned a gospel music store, the Old Ship of Zion Music Company, with her husband Charles. Their shop was located at various addresses along Centre Avenue. The couple had two children, a son who died at an unknown time and a daughter Frances, who attended the University of Pittsburgh. Apart from managing the store and her family life, Pace was active in her church, the Pace Gospel Choral Union, assuming roles such as assistant supervisor, president, and directress. In his lifetime, Charles H. Pace composed over one hundred original gospel songs. One of his most important gospel works, “Bread of Heaven,” highlights a tragic event in the Old Ship of Zion Music Company. A sewage pipe burst, filling water up to a piano’s height, and the Paces lost everything. Frankie Pace changed the music store’s name to Pace Music Store after Charles’s death in 1963.
Pace’s drive to help others came from her career aspirations. As a young woman, she had wanted to become a social worker; however, she did not want to attend college. So she became a community activist, noting that she did more social work than any agency in Pittsburgh. Her directness and “telling it exactly like it is” helped her make progress in civic initiatives, such as education, training programs, and housing (“On Poverty Program” 1). She also worked with the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, and the Parent Teacher Association on issues ranging from elementary to high school, whether her child was in school at the time or not.
Pace especially devoted herself to improving education and housing in the Hill District. She quickly emerged as a catalyst, described by Henry Freeman of the United Way Family and Children’s Services as a “‘real honest-to-goodness community leader’ for disenfranchised communities” (Benic 2). She was an original member of the Homeowners and Tenants Association—the first group to protest City Hall during Pittsburgh Mayor David L. Lawrence’s tenure. In 1942, her neighborhood organizing efforts led to a group called the Citizens Committee for Hill District Renewal (CCHDR), which Pace founded with realtor Robert Lavelle and civil rights activist Jim McCoy and in which she served as vice-chairman. Importantly, the CCHDR insisted that future development in the Hill District could not occur without community input. In 1954, Lawrence named Pace to a special committee to combat poverty in Pittsburgh and she served for sixteen years. This organization later became the Community Action Pittsburgh. Her volunteer work also extended to Pittsburgh’s Model Cities and Office of Economic Opportunities programs. As the only volunteer representative at the Chicago University Model Cities Education Program, she held a prominent role in this organization as well. Additionally, Pace spearheaded Pittsburgh’s War on Poverty in the 1960s. Her community service also included a membership on the board of C.O.O.P.—a code enforcement agency—service on the Board of Directors for the Urban League of Pittsburgh and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Pittsburgh, and service as a member of the Opportunities Industrialization Center and the Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation. Her devotion to the Hill District came from a deep understanding of her responsibilities in the community. In an interview before her death in 1989, Pace stated, “‘I already knew even by the time I came here if you wanted something done in your neighborhood you had to find out who to see to get it done, then go there and speak up’” (“Frankie Pace”).
Pace not only worked for civil rights during Pittsburgh’s urban renewal initiatives; she also participated in the Family and Children’s Services organization and the Coalition of Elders group in Pittsburgh. She served as a fundraiser, member, and trustee of her church, the Rodman Street Baptist Church. In 1967, Pace testified before a Senate Sub-Committee on Manpower and Poverty in support of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. In a pointed reference to the ongoing Vietnam War, she powerfully argued that “if we can spend billions of dollars to destroy life, we ought to spend millions of dollars to save life” (United States, Congress, Senate, Committee on Labor and Welfare, Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower, and Poverty 12-13). Her advocacy served as a reminder that Black, working-class people needed to be represented in all community initiatives and needed to be heard at the local, state, and federal level.
In 1966, Pace received the first Daisy E. Lampkin Award from the Women’s Auxiliary of the Pittsburgh NAACP. In 1989, the Olivet Baptist Church in the Hill District also honored Pace for her community service. She died on November 1, 1989 from heart disease and was survived by her daughter Frances Barnes and her grandson. In 2021, the City of Pittsburgh named a park for Frankie Pace in honor of her activism for the Hill District.
Damato, Nikol. “Urban Renewal in the ‘Human Renaissance’: Race, Law, and the Environment in Postwar Pittsburgh.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 88, no. 1, 2021, pp. 85-113. Project Muse, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/779911.