Category Archives: Historic Preservation

No More Auction Block for Black Americans

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect.

Emancipation Proclamation - January 1, 1863

The executive order changed the legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in 10 designated states and areas then in rebellion against the United States:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English North America. There will be a year-long commemoration of 400 years of African American history.

#400Years African Ameican History

As the nation gears up to mark this milestone, K. Hovnanian Homes is gearing up to degrade Abolition Hall, a former Underground Railroad station where fugitive slaves found shelter on their journey to freedom. The purpose-built structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ignoring the reasoned opposition of Friends of Abolition Hall and allies, the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors voted to allow Hovnanian to build 67 townhouses within a stone’s throw of the historic landmark.

While the case winds its way through the courts, we’re taking the case for saving Abolition Hall to the court of public opinion. To that end, we launched VillagesatWhitemarsh.info which redirects to Abolition Hall Deserves Better. For the next 400 days, we will curate news and information to raise awareness among prospective Villages at Whitemarsh buyers that they would be buying into a cookie-cutter development that was built on hallowed ground. So caveat emptor.

Abolition Hall Deserves Better -Villages at Whitemarsh

If you have stories that you would like to share with this crowdsourced project, please contact Abolition Hall Deserves Better.

Remembering John Brown

December 2 marks 159 years since freedom fighter John Brown’s last moments on Earth.

William H. Johnson - John Brown Legend

The fiery abolitionist is near and dear to my heart. Many years ago I visited John Brown’s Fort in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

John Brown's Fort

I’ve lost count of the number of times I touched base with my hero at the National Portrait Gallery.

John Brown - National Portrait Gallery

I also regularly visit John Brown at the Metropolitan Museum and share with him what’s going on.

The Last Moments of John Brown - Thomas Hovenden

So you can imagine my reaction when I learned a development project, the Villages at Whitemarsh, would encroach on the studio where Thomas Hovenden painted “The Last Moments of John Brown.”

Abolition Hall, an Underground Railroad station where runaway slaves found shelter in the purpose-built structure and surrounding fields, was converted into a studio after the Civil War. The developer, K. Hovnanian Homes, wants to build 67 generic townhouses a stone’s throw from the historic landmark.

Hovnanian won the first round but the fight is far from over. Friends of Abolition Hall appealed the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors’ approval of the developer’s conditional use application.

John Brown’s “body lies a-mouldering in the grave. But his soul goes marching on.” Indeed, I believe to my soul that Abolition Hall deserves better.

To add your voice to those who oppose the desecration of this historic landmark and hallowed ground, please contact us.

Veterans Day 2018

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day:

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

November 11 commemorates the armistice agreement Allied powers signed with Germany bringing hostilities to an end on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

In June 1954, Congress passed legislation changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, a day to honor veterans of all wars. On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation.

Just six years earlier, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981 establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. The EO signaled the government’s commitment to integrate the military.

United Service Organizations (USO) policy expressly banned racial discrimination. However, there were separate facilities for African American servicemen in the Jim Crow South and segregated North. In Philadelphia, USO sites for African Americans included Parker Hall and South Broad Street USO. Billie Holiday entertained the soldiers at both locations.

Billie Holiday - South Broad Street USO

Parker Hall was on the top floor of the Parker Building.

Parker Hall - Germantown CDC

The Parker Building is now home to the ACES Museum whose mission is to preserve the history of World War II veterans and restore Parker Hall as a functioning USO for black veterans and their families. The ACES Museum is headquarters of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Black Veterans.

For more information, visit www.acesmuseum.online.

Philadelphia Jazz Summit 2018

The inaugural Philadelphia Jazz Summit will be held November 2-3, 2018. Spearheaded by jazz bassist Gerald Veasley, the event will bring together musicians, jazz enthusiasts, advocates, funders, and the arts and culture community.

Veasley, president of Jazz Philadelphia, said in a statement:

The time has come for Philadelphia to be recognized as the world-class jazz destination it is. Philadelphia has been fertile soil for jazz for over 100 years. The city has served as a launching pad for the careers of legends such as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Lee Morgan, Melody Gardot, Christian McBride, Grover Washington, Jr., Sun Ra and many more.

Veasley added:

Jazz Philadelphia is here to provide more opportunities for the next generation of musicians to play here, stay here, and share their talent with the world. I’ve had a wonderful career as a Philadelphia-based musician, and I want to ensure that others can do the same.

The schedule includes speakers, workshops, and panel discussions that cover a wide range of topics, including applying for grants and residencies, educating artists and audiences, and playing in unconventional spaces. I’m on the panel, “The Philadelphia Story.” I’ll talk about ongoing project to document Philly’s jazz spots from A to Z, from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.

All That Philly Jazz - Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue2

Nnenna Freelon, a jazz singer, composer, producer, arranger and six-time Grammy® nominee, is the keynote speaker. Freelon was selected in recognition of her cultural activism and commitment to social justice.

Nnenna Freelon

The Philadelphia Jazz Summit is free but you must register.

#ThisPlaceMatters: The Painted Bride

When I launched All That Philly Jazz five years ago, the Painted Bride Art Center was one of the first places added to the database. Jazz on Vine was the longest, continually running jazz series in Philadelphia.

So when I read the Magic Gardens had nominated the Painted Bride for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, I had to weigh in because 230 Vine Street is one of the few extant buildings associated with Philadelphia’s jazz history. I gave public comment at the Committee on Historic Designation, which voted unanimously to add the building to the local register.

Fast forward to September 14, the nomination was before the full Commission. The room was packed with passionate people for and against the nomination. I, again, offered public comment which reads in part:

It is telling that the property owner does not dispute the historical significance of the building. Instead, their objection is based on fear that historic designation will reduce the market value of the property. However, “financial hardship,” such as it is, is not the issue before the Commission today. If the owner wants to claim “financial hardship,” a review process must be followed.

The issue before the Commission is whether the Painted Bride meets one or more criteria for historic designation. The Committee on Historic Designation got it right when they voted unanimously to add 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

The property owner’s concern about the safety of 230 Vine Street is situational. For historic designation purposes, the owner has taken “interim measures” and put out yellow caution tape. For programming purposes, the Bride puts out the welcome mat.

After three hours of testimony from the Bride, Magic Gardens and the public, the Commission voted on the nomination. The vote was 5-to-5. Chair Robert Thomas voted to add 230 Vine Street to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

It was obvious no one knew what to do in the event of a tie vote. Thomas was overheard saying a tie vote “creates problems.” But rather than take a recess to figure things out, the political hack called for a second vote. The second time around the vote was 5-to-4 to reject the nomination. Thomas told the Magic Gardens’ lawyer that he abstained “to avoid a tie vote.” In so doing, he consigned the Painted Bride to the trash heap of history.

While I am disappointed the Painted Bride will not have historic designation, I am outraged that Thomas changed his vote from “yes” to effectively “no.” Why would the chair of a commission whose mission is to preserve buildings abstain knowing the outcome of the vote is the inevitable demolition of an historic resource wrapped with Isaiah Zagar’s iconic mosaic!?

Martin-Brown-Painted-Bride-4b

It’s always shady in Philadelphia. As I walked home, the Temptations’ song with the shattered glass came to mind. It’s just a matter of time before the sound of shattered glass is heard at 230 Vine Street.

Tribute to the Life and Music of Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul will be laid to rest this week. During her final performance in Philadelphia, Aretha Franklin told the audience:

I started, really in Philadelphia. I worked at Pep’s on Broad Street and I worked at the Cadillac Club. I’ve worked all over Philadelphia.

Indeed, she did. Ms. Franklin worked her magic at the Uptown Theater, where on Friday, August 31, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation will host a tribute to the life and music of the Queen of Soul. The event will take place in front of the historic theater.

Uptown Theater Tribute to Aretha Franklin2

The program will begin at 6pm with musical tributes to Ms. Franklin, followed by a candlelight ceremony at 7pm. For more info, contact Linda Richardson at (215) 236-1878.

Message in the Music

Black Music Month was first observed on June 7, 1979 at the White House.

#BlackMusicMonth - June 7, 1979

As B.B. King observed, African Americans first got the blues when “they brought [us] over on a ship.”

Enslaved Africans used the message in the music to plan their escape.

Music helped runaways navigate the pathway to freedom.

On their quest for freedom, some of our enslaved ancestors found sanctuary in Abolition Hall and the surrounding fields. A developer’s plan to develop the fields struck a discordant note with Sydelle Zove, convener of Friends of Abolition Hall, and Avenging The Ancestors Coalition. ATAC Founder Michael Coard recently wrote:

Abolition Hall was built in 1856 by George Corson, a Quaker abolitionist. It, its adjacent family home, and purportedly its adjacent fields were where Black men, women, and children took shelter in courageous attempts to flee slavery. Zove says the developer proposes to “subdivide and reconfigure” this historic homestead to construct 67 townhouses on the open fields directly next to the hall. Once divided, notes Zove, the developer plans to sell the hall, the stone barn, and the Thomas Hovenden House – all listed on the aforementioned National Register. She continues by pointing out that it’s not just the hall that’s in jeopardy but also the “fields where cornstalks hid fugitives”—fields she describes as an “integral part of the site.”

The developer’s proposal would box in the national historic landmark. So Friends of Abolition Hall and ATAC are asking concerned citizens to raise their voices and tell Whitemarsh Township: Abolition Hall deserves better. The Board of Supervisors will meet on Thursday, June 14, 2018, at 7pm, 616 Germantown Avenue in Lafayette Hill.  If you need a ride, holler.

#AbolitionHall - ATAC - June 14, 2018