Pittsburgh and the Great Migration

The Frick Pittsburgh presents “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration: Black Mobility and the Automobile” at the Car and Carriage Museum. The exhibition, which will run from May 6, 2023, to February 4, 2024, examines the role of the automobile in American history during the Great Migration, the mass movement between 1910 and 1970 when approximately six million Black people left the American South to seek a better quality of life in the North. 

African Americans migrated to Northern, Western, and Midwestern cities, including Pittsburgh, to escape racial violence, improve economic prospects, and liberate themselves from the oppression of Jim Crow laws. “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration” explores what drew Black Southerners to Pittsburgh, how the communities they developed transformed neighborhoods like the Hill District, and how the automobile facilitated the change. 

“Unlike buses and trains with their dedicated routes and timetables, the automobile allowed Black Americans to travel whenever and wherever they chose while providing a degree of protection from harassment and discrimination,” Kim Cady, former associate curator of the Car and Carriage Museum and executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, said. “Although there were dangers, the accessibility of cars opened doors that otherwise would have been far more difficult, if not impossible, to reach.


Six sections will examine the motivations for migration, the dangers of travel, and the opportunities awaiting new arrivals to Pittsburgh. The Frick relied on the expertise of an advisory panel comprised of local historians and specialists to help shape the contents of the exhibition. 

The cars selected for the exhibition represent the joys and struggles associated with Black mobility. The 1914 Ford Model T represents the manufacturing efficiencies that made the automobile affordable to almost all. The 1939 Buick Model 61 Century Touring Sedan illustrates a make chosen by many Black consumers for its ease of operation, large comfortable interior, and acceleration capability, which at times could be a life-saving feature.

Other vehicles in the exhibition have a connection to Pittsburgh stories, such as the 1941 Pontiac Super Streamliner Torpedo Six Sedan, which would have been part of the Owl Cab Company’s fleet, and a bright-red 1938 Packard Twelve convertible, a car similar to one driven by Pittsburgh entrepreneur Gus Greenlee onto Greenlee Field on the Pittsburgh Crawford’s opening day in 1932.

Period clothing, including evening gowns, overalls, and a child’s Lone Ranger sweater will accompany the vehicles, evoking the everyday users behind the steering wheel or in the passenger seats. “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration” will share gallery space with a curated selection of made-in-Pennsylvania vehicles from the Frick’s permanent collection.

“It is a pleasure to mark the reopening of the Car and Carriage Museum with an exhibition as thought-provoking and timely as ‘Pittsburgh and the Great Migration,’” Elizabeth E. Barker, executive director of The Frick Pittsburgh, said. “This exhibition celebrates the rich history and ingenuity of Pittsburgh’s historically Black communities, including our neighbors in Homewood, Wilkinsburg, and East Liberty, while shedding light on the complex role mobility played in Black Americans’ pursuit of greater opportunity. We hope this exhibition inspires visitors to deepen their understanding of local history and sparks important conversations on shaping a more equitable future.”


“Pittsburgh and the Great Migration” will be open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Members: Free; General admission: $15; Seniors and Students: $13; Active-duty Military: $13; Children 16 and under: $8; Children age 5 and under: Free; PA EBT Access card users: $1.


Guided Tours of “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration”
Tuesday–Friday, 2:00 p.m.; Sundays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Take a guided tour of “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration” and discover the freedom and the challenges of automobile ownership for Black Americans seeking a better life in the first half of the 20th century. Guided tours provide an overview of the entire exhibition.

Exhibition admission is required. Tour participants meet their guide at the beginning of the exhibition. For groups of ten or more people, please call 412-342-4087 or email Education@thefrickpittsburgh.org to reserve a guided group tour.

Guided group tours of the exhibition are scheduled based on staff availability at a cost of $15 per person.

Exploring Pittsburgh and the Great Migration: Exhibition Talks
Tuesday–Sunday, 1:00 p.m.

Join a tour facilitator for a deeper exploration of a topic, theme, or object featured in “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration.” Exhibition admission is required. Tour facilitators will gather interested participants within the exhibition galleries.

Misbehavin’: The Songs of the Harlem Renaissance
Sunday, July 9, 2023, 4:00 p.m.

Many Black Americans moving north during the Great Migration found new homes in Harlem in New York City and were part of the Harlem Renaissance that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s. What began as a literary movement soon broadened to include modern dance, classical music, painting, and more.

New, earthy, popular music by such giants as Duke Ellington and Thomas “Fats” Waller gave new life to Harlem. Join us for an evening of this music and more – ticket price includes a glass of wine (21+), after the performance meet-and-greet with the musicians, and access to the exhibition, “Pittsburgh and the Great Migration: Black Mobility and the Automobile.” $30 members; $40 non-members; $10 students. Advance registration and pre-payment required.


The Frick Pittsburgh offers authentic experiences with art, history, and nature that inspire and delight. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds are warmly welcomed to explore collections of fine and decorative arts, vehicles, historic objects, and buildings – including Clayton, the Frick family home and the only intact Gilded Age mansion remaining from Pittsburgh’s Millionaire’s Row – left as a legacy to the people of Pittsburgh by Helen Clay Frick, daughter of noted industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick.

Alongside these treasures, the Frick offers an active schedule of temporary exhibitions and programs on our 10-acre garden campus in the heart of Pittsburgh’s East End.

No Comments Yet.