Paul Lawrence Peeler Papers and Photographs

What's online?

The Paul Lawrence Peeler online photograph collection includes depictions of Peeler with various choirs and ensembles throughout his career as a musician and educator. Additionally, this collection contains photographs of the Peeler family as well as the Carnegie Institute of Technology campus (now Carnegie Mellon University).

What's in the entire collection?

The Paul Lawrence Peelers Papers and Photographs span from the 1880s to 2010 and document the life of Paul Lawrence Peeler, the first full-time African American school teacher in Pittsburgh Public Schools. This collection consists of professional and personal correspondence, musical performance programs, personal writings, a music composition book, photographs, news clippings and other materials pertaining to Peeler’s professional, educational, and civic activities.

About Paul Lawrence Peeler

Paul Lawrence Peeler was born on July 17, 1908 in Shelby, North Carolina to Zella Neal Peeler and David Leander Peeler. From an early age, Peeler was influenced by the Italian, Polish, and German folk songs he witnessed firsthand as the son of David Peeler, a lumber yard foreman. As a student at Peabody High School, Peeler excelled in music and was selected for All-City Chorus and Orchestra. In addition to performing, Peeler also began to pursue musical composition and conducting. Peeler was the recipient of a Pittsburgh Honor Scholarship and attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University), majoring in violin. Peeler graduated in 1932 with a degree in music education. He received an additional degree in violin from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1933. Peeler and his contemporary, James Miller, were the first African American students to graduate from the Carnegie Institute of Technology School of Music. Peeler holds the distinction of being the first full-time African American teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Peeler received this appointment to Watt School (later renamed Robert Lee Vann Elementary School) in 1937. In the decades preceding Peeler’s appointment, Pittsburgh Public Schools administration discriminated against African American educators, refusing to hire them on a full-time basis. They claimed that such candidates were not qualified and that white students could not learn from teachers of a different race. In April 1937, Homer S. Brown, an African American state representative, began a legislative investigation into the matter that sparked the school administration to announce the appointment of Peeler to a full-time position. After spending many years as a vocal and instrumental music teacher, Peeler was appointed Supervisor of Music for 45 of the 90 grade schools in Pittsburgh. He retired from teaching in 1970. During his career with Pittsburgh Public Schools, Peeler also served as a critic teacher for undergraduate and graduate students from Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University. Beginning in 1970, Peeler coordinated the Centers for Musically Talented, a federally-funded weekend program of the Pittsburgh Board of Education. Paul Lawrence Peeler died on October 7, 1992.

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