Earlier this year, I wrote about the unmarking of African American history in Philadelphia. Historical markers associated with black achievement and seminal events are missing, damaged or desecrated. The conversation about the erasure of black presence from public spaces began at a Kwanzaa celebration. Since then, Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) formed the Historical Marker Monitoring Committee of which I am chairperson.
The overarching issue is whose story is told and whose story is preserved in public memory. In 1990, Dr. Charles L. Blockson led the fight to get our stories memorialized on historical markers. We now have to fight to preserve them.
We must be vigilant to ensure public memorials are respected. When I saw the South Street Headhouse District (SSHD) had chained a trash can to the W.E.B. DuBois historical marker, community activist Joe Cox and I were prepared to use bolt cutters to remove it. But SSHD removed it before we got there.
On March 2nd, I noticed UPS had placed a drop box within inches of the London Coffee House marker which notes the place where African Americans’ ancestors were sold on the auction block. After a “trial by Twitter,” UPS saw the error of their ways and moved the drop box a respectable distance from the marker.
The historical marker program is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical Museum and Commission (PHMC). The agency is responsible for maintaining a marker once installed. The marker honoring Sister Rosetta Tharpe is being refurbished.
PHMC lacks the resources to replace missing markers. So it’s imperative that we identify who removed the public memorial and hold them accountable. The Legendary Blue Horizon historical marker was removed between May 5, 2018 and November 17, 2018. The construction companies working on the north and south side of the historic landmark, Ernest Bock & Sons Inc. and Tester Construction Group LLC respectively, point the finger at each other. We know the marker didn’t walk away. Ray Charles could see equipment was used to remove the pole from the sidewalk.
While the construction companies play the blame game, ATAC is not playing. At the group’s March meeting, it was decided that members will call and write Councilman Darrell Clarke in whose district the Legendary Blue Horizon is located. If he continues to ignore his constituents, we will show up at the April 25th meeting of City Council. Perhaps then Clarke will see the problem of disappearing blackness and hold developers accountable.