“Voices from the African Diaspora: the Black Experience of Bethlehem, PA”


A Reflection by M. Rayah Levy

As I reflect on this serendipitous experience that led to receiving the LVEHC grant, my mind wanders like a pendulum through time. The project was an educational and enlightening from incubation to birth. Receiving the award letter from the committee at the LVEHC was a gift that made a vision came through.

The evolution of “Voices from the African Diaspora: The Black Experience of Bethlehem, Pa began when a group of Moravian students came into the Bethlehem Area Public Library seeking historical information about African Americans living in Bethlehem, little could be found! The books available were few and sparsely documented. Being disheartened by the outcome, I made a promise to myself that such a scenario much not occur again. It was also the spark that ignited me to stay focus and steadfast.

The first part of the project was very tedious, and there were times when I needed to rethink tactics. For instance, I had to broaden my scope on the recruitment process. At first, the individuals that I thought would be the most logical subjects for the interviewing process, were at times, a roller-coaster ride. Therefore, I had to step back and think outside the box. Once I came to this realization, that the path led outside of Bethlehem and then back again, the subjects for the project finally congealed. However, it was still a work in progress, but I refused to let this get me down. Additionally, the highlight came when some individuals agreed to donate original documents for us to be housed and digitized.

Finally, this project has embedded me into a community from which I was once removed. I discovered a close-knit community in which families came from the South in the 1860s, and their generation continues today. Others came in the 60s and 70s and enriched it even further. I learned about their organizations that kept them grounded. They celebrated their joys and sorrows as they all became extended families. It was an honor and a privilege to have worked on this oral and digital history project, and the experience will be forever stitched into the fabric of my being.

Because of this project, I composed the following two poems.


Unheard Voices
M. Rayah Levy
February 06, 2020

I saw you but couldn’t hear you.
Like a child, I looked in your eyes with deep anticipation.
I wanted to hear your sweet voices about once upon a time.
Why can’t I hear you, even though I see you?
Are you a figment of my imagination, or are you afraid to speak?

Speak aloud so I can hear you – look out yonder beyond this space – look they await.
It is not the first time that someone came – there were others before me – and you did not share.

Do not let your stories go on heard.
Tell them about the journeys you made from far and near
Tell them about the town you decided to call home.
Tell them about your struggles and triumphs, your love and lost, your births and rebirths.
Tell them about how deep your roots are, in the village that’s now your home.

Speak up, speak up, I can’t hear you!
Come closer and whisper in my ear. I will write yours stories and stitch them down into the fabric of our beings. I will cement them into the walkways of time. I will memorize them and share them with our children.

Come, come, I have a story to share about the unheard voices.
Once upon a time in a village in Bethlehem, Pa there live a close knit African American Community and their stories go like this…


The Drums
M. Rayah Levy
Feb. 29, 2020

Do you hear them? The drums!
Their voices are the beating of the drums
They are beating in unison. The drums!
They are telling a story, they are playing loud and strong
Hey you! Listen! do you hear?
Their stories are the beating of the drums.
Their unheard voices now boom like the drums.

Written by: M. Rayah Levy
Completed Feb. 29, 2020 @ 12:45

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