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Some notable Western Pennsylvanians whose families arrived here in search of opportunities unavailable in the South

Sunday, February 25, 2001

The Great Migration molded the life of Pittsburgh and the nation in ways big and small. Here's a sampling of people it brought in who helped reshape this city.

Robert L. Vann

Robert L. Vann. The publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier was born in Ahoskie, N.C., in 1887. Vann went to college in Richmond, Va., the former capital of the Confederacy. Around the turn of the century, he moved to Pittsburgh to finish his bachelor's and law degree at the University of Pittsburgh. As editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, he helped to make it an international paper that pressed for rights and justice in Europe and at home.

Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou Williams. The "Little Piano Girl" of Pittsburgh was born in Atlanta in 1910. She moved here when she was about 5. Williams started playing the piano at 3 and soon became a child prodigy. She was asked to play at the homes of some of Pittsburgh's wealthiest families, such as the Mellons and the Olivers. She also played with famous jazz musicians who came to Pittsburgh. She helped to establish a jazz tradition in Pittsburgh that goes unrivaled.

August Wilson

August Wilson. He wasn't part of the Great Migration but was a product of it. His mother, Daisy Wilson, moved here from rural North Carolina in 1937. A Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Wilson has set most of his dramas in the Hill. Many of his characters struggle to make the transition from life in the South to the North.

Gus Greenlee. It isn't known what year he was born in Marion, N.C., but Greenlee, veteran of World War I, moved to Pittsburgh in 1920. Several years later, he opened the Crawford Grill, a restaurant bar and nightclub. A numbers runner, Greenlee became a millionaire. He bought the Pittsburgh Crawfords, helping to rescue the team and give the Negro baseball leagues a national reputation.

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