Although the Old 8th Ward remained sparsely populated up until and during the Civil War, it did house a large number of black residents. By 1840, Tanner's Alley, Short Street, and South Alley were home to a large number of black Harrisburgers.
Fugitive Slave laws caused problems within the 8th Ward as it "had early become a haven of refuge for a large colored population, many of them very poor, some fugitives from Southern slavery who lived in daily dread of being recognized and hauled back to bondage." As early as April 1825, the 8th Ward was the site of riots over the capture of fugitive slaves.
In the 1850s, an Underground Railroad "station" was located in Tanner's Alley to help aid fugitive slaves. To this end, runaway slaves were hidden in the homes of Joseph Bustill and William Jones in Tanner's Alley. Also during this time, the famed abolitionist speakers, Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, were invited to speak at the Wesley Union African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, located on the corner of Tanner's Alley and South Street.
(Summarized from an article written by J. Howard Wert for the Harrisburg Patriot newspaper on February 10, 1913, and reprinted in Harrisburg's Old Eighth Ward, edited by Michael Barton and Jessica Dorman, (Charleston: Arcadia, 2002), 59-60.)