In 1994-95 Sarah Thompson and Karen James began a journey chronicling Erie’s Black History from 1795 to 1995. This was a successful and astonishing effort that brought history not previously researched into Erie’s historical mainstream. Previous attempts by other researchers had made little or no inroads at all in acknowledging the existence of Blacks in Erie History.

Sarah and Karen uncovered people and events in Erie's Black History in hope that their research would become the impetus for further research and discussion. No person and no institution took the initiative to venture further and delve into other areas and uncover more historical information that pertained to Blacks in Erie.

One family that stands out and bears extensive research is the Lawrence family. The Lawrence family roots began in the 1800’s and extends into today’s community. This saga is truly a microcosm of all that is good about America and also speaks to the tenacity, perseverance, and trials of a Black family battling discrimination, racism, and still fulfilling the “American Dream”. This history could not be written or even researched without Erie’s premier black historian, Ms. Ada Louise Lawrence who has maintained over 200 years of her family’s history.

This history began with Emma Gertrude Lawrence born in 1858, married in 1881, and widowed with four children in 1889. Gertrude took in washing to support her family and started the first Black female owned business in the City of Erie, Lawrence Cleaning and Dyeing. Next in line is her son Earl who made an indelible mark on all areas of Erie’s history without those contributions being noted in mainstream Erie History. Belle's (Earl’s wife) humanitarian efforts placed her at the forefront of service in the Erie community. Ray Lawrence, a piano player of immense talent and the leader of several bands and Charles a talented singer and businessman.

Ada Louise carried on the legacy of service and education to place the Lawrence family in the circle of outstanding contributors to the Erie community.

This is not merely their story but Erie’s story of overcoming obstacles and seeking the greater good for all mankind. May this story touch and encourage, uplift and rejuvenate, but make us all aware that the power within is greater than the power without.


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Mr. Johnny Johnson, Ms. Ada Lawrence. Mrs. Sarah Thompson, Watson-Curtze Mansion 2008