The first enslaved Africans were brought to Philadelphia in 1639. Philadelphia was the center of organized resistance to slavery. A visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture shows that the African American story cannot be told without Philadelphia.
In a city with Black National Historic Landmarks and National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom sites, gentrifiers in the most gentrified neighborhood have proposed that six blocks – 1400 to 2000 Christian Street – be designated Philadelphia’s first “Black-themed” historic district. The notables who lived on this stretch of Christian Street are largely unknown but they lived in elegant townhouses. The 1300 block of Christian Street is not included in the proposed historic district because it is lined with basic rowhouses. The Bessie Smith House is located at 1319 Christian Street.
Philadelphia has a demolition crisis. Gentrifiers are exploiting Black history to preserve the historic fabric of the blocks from which African Americans have been displaced. If it is about Black history and culture, how do you exclude the Empress of the Blues? Download my statement on the proposed “Black-themed” historic district here.
On December 8, 1956, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) performed at the Blue Note. The set was featured on the Mutual Network live remote radio broadcast, Bandstand, U.S.A.
That same night, the police raided “the town’s swankiest jazz emporium.” The Blue Note was a “black and tan” club, an integrated nightspot where blacks and whites socialized on an equal basis. As such, it was the target of police harassment.
From the beginning, jazz was a tool for social change. Jazz musicians’ unbowed comportment created a cultural identity that was a steppingstone to the Civil Rights Movement. In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said jazz is “triumphant music”:
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
On April 21, 2018, All That Philly Jazz and Black Quantum Futurism will present the “Blue Note Salon” which pays homage to jazz musicians’ legacy of resistance. The community discussion will feature creative change makers who work on social justice issues. Their work is at the intersection of art, community engagement and social change.
The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, go here.
On November 11, 1966, John Coltrane gave his final performance in Philadelphia at Mitten Hall.
Mitten Hall will again be filled with joyful noise as the community tells Temple University: We Shall Not Be Moved.
Some background: On March 6, Temple will hold an “informational town hall” to discuss its proposal to put a 35,000-seat football stadium in the heart of an African American residential neighborhood. Temple has been planning this project for nearly two years. President Richard Englert claims Curtis J. Moody, lead architect with Moody Nolan, met with community members “to hear their concerns and has worked to integrate those comments into the designs.” Unless Moody has designed a stealth stadium, there is no way he has integrated the concerns of a community that understands a football stadium is displacement by design.
Temple’s first-ever public forum comes on the heels of a community town hall meeting convened by Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Philadelphia NAACP and Stadium Stompers.
Between chants of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” there was testimony from diverse stakeholders, including Mary Stricker, a sociology professor. Prof. Stricker noted the Faculty Senate passed a resolution by a 24-1 vote opposing Temple’s fantasy football scheme:
I really think this is a bad idea not only because it is a financial risk, but also because it’s in the worst interest of the surrounding community. Temple owes something to the community that has been hosting it for all these years.
Temple Faculty say no new stadium. We are strong, united and determined in this fight.
Pastor Jay Broadnax, president of Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said:
We love football but we’re calling a timeout. We love football but the people in this community will not be a football, passed, punted, kicked and carried across the city line in order for institutions to score profit points or get land grab wins.
For 40 years, they have disinvested in North Philadelphia. You couldn’t get a mortgage. You couldn’t get a loan. You couldn’t get a home improvement loan. You couldn’t get a loan to start a business. But however today, they got all the money to make a stadium right in your backyard.
There’s something wrong with that. Whenever they start to pour money into a neighborhood, they want to push out black folks. … Race is dug deep in this thing. Race is a factor in this thing. This stadium is about moving black folks from North Philadelphia.
Rev. William Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, captured the mood of the hundreds who turned out in the rain for the community meeting. Echoing a local resident who said the stadium design is akin to “putting a whale in a goldfish bowl,” Rev. Moore said:
If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.