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Altoona Railroaders Museum

The staff at the Railroaders Memorial Museum, in Altoona along with members of the African American Heritage Festival Committee are preparing to host an event to recognize the contributions of African Americans to the history of the county and the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Two of the speakers met with us to give a brief look into the lives of some of these amazing individuals.

“I am the grandson of James Edward Corbet, who was a waiter on the railroad for over thirty years. At that time, in that period of time, those were probably one of the better jobs. He want home a lot, because he was on the railroad a lot. You know, as a waiter, and being on the railroad, he just sent money home and he was back in the road alot. I mean, grandfather did what he had to do to take care of his family. You know, he was always having to look good, you know, so he was always dressed to a ‘T’. He loved Altoona. He loved the youth, he was always involved in youth activities: boxing, baseball. But, he just instilled putting your best effort out and, you know, you’ll get a good result. So, when I think about him – I miss him a lot. He told me about how important association, being around the right people, and I hope that he’s looking down on me and he’s proud of me, proud of his grandchildren, and the rich history of the railroad and what he contributed here in Altoona.”
“We look at the big picture, you know, and the big picture is, you know, it’s all about service, and the community, and what he represents. He represents everybody. (He’s back on camera) You know, it’s not just a Black man, but he’s a man who encompassed everything. So, you know, I do get emotional, but I thank god for the life of my grandfather.”

“One of the gentlemen that I have come to (sigh) just be so entranced by, and I want his story to be known, by everybody in this area, Mr. Nesbit. He was born in 1822, and moved from Carlisle to Hollidaysburg when he was approximately nineteen or twenty years old. Hollidaysburg was the largest borough, town, in what would become Blair County. Like other people who came to Hollidaysburg, they were brought there by the employment, the industry of the canal and railroad, getting people across the Allegheny mountains.”

“For most Black men of that time, becoming a barber was important as a step to moving up in the society. He continued to grow in his influence, of the time. He and the father of Doctor Daniel Hale Williams Jr got involved with a gentleman by the name of Doctor Martin Delaney, out of Pittsburgh. Doctor Delaney is considered the father of Black Nationalism. And he, along with Frederick Douglas, we’re promoting, of course, the freeing of Slaves in the South, and the granting of rights to Black men.”

“When Nesbit dies, the obituary from the Altoona Tribune and Altoona Times identifies him as part of the Underground Railroad. He is named as a conductor. In other newspapers, he is identified as a past President of the State Equal Rights League.”

“It is nice to know that history, and to share it with others and, go like, and have them get excited about that information as well.”

“Just know that we have been here, and we have added to the culture and history of this community.”

The event takes place next Thursday evening at the Railroaders Museum from 6 to 9 pm.

Tickets can be purchased at

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