Black Built Pitt highlights often-overlooked history


A website that highlights the historical contributions of Pitt's Black community went live at the start of Black History Month.

Part of the Black Lives in Focus initiative, Black Built Pitt is a digital tour that highlights historical events on Pitt’s campus, the diversity of the African diaspora and cultural contributions of Black artists.

Bria Walker, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, came up with the idea for the website in 2020, soon after Black student organizations published a letter demanding that Pitt administrators make Pitt more equitable and inclusive for Black people.

Black Built Pitt joins the other projects in the Black Lives in Focus initiative. The first project, a multimedia art exhibition, was unveiled in the fall 2021 semester with the Say Her Name Memorial Gown event following soon after.

The Black Built Pitt website was originally supposed to release in October, Walker said, but it was pushed back until the beginning of February 2022.

The website covers three main topics: the Afrolatinidad Initiative, the Kuntu Repertory Theatre, and the 1969 Black student takeover of Pitt’s computer center.

Walker and her team of researchers — Luana Moreira Reis, a doctoral student at Pitt’s Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures; Courtney Colligan, a doctoral student in the Department for Theatre Arts; and Megan Massanelli, a librarian for the University Library System’s Archives & Special Collections — developed the various components of the website.

Walker said she chose to highlight the 1969 Black student takeover of Pitt’s computer center because she felt it isn’t as widely known as it should be.

During the takeover, more than 40 students staged a sit-in at the eighth-floor computer center in the Cathedral of Learning. This protest led to the creation of Pitt’s Africana Studies program and several other improvements on campus for African-American students.

The Kuntu Repertory Theatre, founded in 1974, gave Black artists the space to write and perform plays that explored Black experiences. For example, as a young man, world-renowned playwright August Wilson “was trying things out” with his poetry and plays, Walker said.

While the home for mainstage productions was the Stephen Foster Memorial Theater, the Kuntu Repertory Theatre toured internationally, and by the time it closed in 2013, it had produced more than 100 mainstage plays, touring productions, workshops, classes and special events, according to the Black Built Pitt website.

“It is an important piece of theater history within America itself, not even just black theater history, but American theater history,” Walker said. 

The third main component of Black Built Pitt explores the Black diaspora through the Afrolatinidad Studies Initiative.

The initiative, founded in 2018 by Michele Reid-Vazquez, an associate professor in the Department of Africana Studies, highlights the experiences of Black people in Latin America.

As for the future, the organizers of Black Lives in Focus are processing feedback on Black Built Pitt and its other inaugural projects to potentially revise the initiative and help it move forward, Walker said.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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