The Capitol has been a bleak and barren landscape as this week goes on without a budget. There were some staffers and tourists strolling through the hallways, and today I took some time to walk the halls before attending a meeting. While walking down the hallway where Speaker Turzai’s office is located, I wanted to take a glimpse at the some of the paintings of our more famous House Speakers who have been thrown in prison for corruption and other scandals. However, there was one painting that struck me and made me go on a quick history lesson, and that is the painting of K. Leroy Irvis.
K. Leroy Irvis was an African American politician from Pittsburgh and he was the Commonwealth’s first, and only, African American to hold the seat. He held the seat in 1977 and 1978 and then from 1983 to 1988. On top of that, he was the first African American to hold a House Speakership in the country since Reconstruction, when John R. Lynch was elected to Mississippi’s House Speaker role in 1873. While the Rick Smith Show was travelling on the Peoples Tour digging up Civil Rights History, we came across John R. Lynch’s name while we were in Jackson, MI. John R. Lynch Street served as the focal point for Jackson’s black middle class and the center of the area’s civil rights movement. Jackson State University was located along the main street. The NAACP office where Medgar Evers worked out of was, and still is, located there. As well as the Council of Federated Organizations building, or COFO, which served as a training ground for CORE, SNCC, the NAACP and SCLC Freedom Summer voting registration drive.
According to a New York Times article in 1947, Irvis was one of the first African Americans to ever organize demonstrations against Jim Crow hiring practices and this wasn’t in the South, but the city of Pittsburgh. Up until today, I’ve never heard of K. Leroy Irvis or let alone the fact that he was the first African American to ever hold a House Speakership since Reconstruction. Along our tour, we had the opportunity to meet James Felder, who was one of the first African Americans voted to a state office in post Reconstruction South Carolina in the 1970s.