Tag Archives: #DisappearingBlackness

Preservation Month 2019: Gentrification and Displacement

May is Preservation Month, a time to celebrate historic places that matter to you. What matters to me is the loss of historic places that hold the ancestors’ stories of faith, resistance and triumph.

#DisappearingBlackness - Where's Our Story

A recent report by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that Philadelphia has the fourth highest rate of gentrification. The 34-page report is encapsulated in a statement by Midwood Development & Investment CEO John Usdan who lays bare that gentrification and cultural displacement go hand-in-hand:

Because the city’s so rich in history and has all these great historic buildings and amazing places where you want to congregate, it’s exactly what the demographic moving to Philly wants.

The demographic moving to Philly does not look like the demographic that is being displaced. At the same time Usdan gushes over Philadelphia’s rich history, he plans to demolish the Henry Minton House. For Usdan, black history apparently is not American history.

As I commented before the Philadelphia Historical Commission when the property was nominated for listing on the local register, this places matters:

Henry Minton belonged to an elite guild of caterers and was a leader in the free black community. In The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. DuBois wrote that Minton “wielded great personal influence, aided the Abolition cause to no little degree, and made Philadelphia noted for its cultivated and well-to-do Negro citizens.”

There is not much more to add other than Minton provided freedom fighter John Brown “with bed and board” shortly before his raid upon Harper’s Ferry. It should also be noted that Minton is listed on the iconic Civil War poster, “Men of Color, To Arms!” Clearly, the nomination satisfies Criteria A and J for Designation.

The provenance of the front façade is a distraction. The property is not being nominated because of its architectural significance. So the National Register roadmap for evaluating integrity is irrelevant. Viewed through the African American lens, it’s not about bricks and mortar. It’s about recognizing that our stories matter. African American history matters.

Commission members acknowledged the property does indeed meet the criteria for designation. Still, they reversed the unanimous decision of the Committee on Historic Designation and voted to toss the building on the trash heap of history.

Henry Minton Residence - Committee on Designation Vote

#PhilaHistorical Commission Vote to Decline Designation - April 12, 2019

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to British North America. While African American history is more than slavery, our story begins with the arrival of “20 and odd Negroes” in Virginia. So whether one focuses on 1639 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Philadelphia or 1939 when Billie Holiday first recorded “Strange Fruit,” the African American story cannot be told without Philadelphia.

So where’s our story? I will talk about disappearing blackness on WHYY Radio Times on Thursday, May 9, 2019, 10:00 – 11:00 am. The station can be heard in Philadelphia and New Jersey. You can join the conversation on Twitter (@whyyradiotimes) or call 888-477-9499.

Ironically, WHYY is in the footprint of Pennsylvania Hall, a purpose-built meeting place for abolitionists that was burned to the ground by a pro-slavery mob three days after it opened. Philadelphia’s mayor, firefighters and police stood by and did nothing.

Pennsylvania Hall Marker

Pennsylvania Hall - WHYY

Fast forward to today, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney does nothing as black presence is erased from public spaces.

Remarking African American History in Philadelphia

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.

W.E.B. DuBois Collage - Faye Anderson

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.

London Coffee House Collage - Faye Anderson

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.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Collage

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.

Blue Horizon Collage2

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.

#DisappearingBlackness2