For years I could not get pass the optics of Louis Armstrong, mainly the broad grin and ever-present handkerchief. Fast forward to today, my love and respect for Pops’ musical genius and civil rights activism is immeasurable. At the dawn of the modern Civil Rights Movement, Armstrong cancelled a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union in support of the Little Rock Nine. Pops blasted Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, a staunch segregationist, and President Eisenhower.
As a preservationist, I am in awe of Pops and Lucille Armstrong’s dedication to preserving his legacy in public memory. The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a National Historic Landmark, and the new Louis Armstrong Center provide a blueprint for historic preservation, as well as cultural heritage preservation.
Pops once said, “I don’t get involved in politics. I just blow my horn.” Behind closed tours, he had a lot to say about politics and racism. Decades after his death, the public will hear the full story of Louis Armstrong in the documentary, “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues.”
The legendary trumpeter got his flowers while he was alive. Pops is now getting overdue props for his resilience and resistance to white supremacy. “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” premieres October 28 on Apple TV.
Lee Morgan was killed by his former paramour at Slugs’, a New York City jazz club, on February 19, 1972. While only 33, Lee’s legacy includes collaborating as a sideman on John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’. As a bandleader, Lee recorded 30 albums for Blue Note Records, including The Sidewinder, one of the label’s best-selling albums.
Lee’s nephew, Raymond Darryl Cox, and I visited his grave on the 50th anniversary of his death. Lee was briefly united with his cherished flugelhorn.
To commemorate this milestone, All That Philly Jazz, along with Blue Note Records, Lee’s family, Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical High School alumni, business leaders, and Lee Morgan scholars and enthusiasts have nominated the legendary trumpeter for a Pennsylvania historical marker. A historical marker recognizes people, places and events that have had a measurable impact on their times, and are of statewide or national significance.
Cem Kurosman, Vice President of Publicity at Blue Note Records/Capitol Music Group, said:
Fifty years after his death, Lee Morgan’s music remarkably continues to grow in stature. There remains a high level of interest from jazz fans all over the world in Lee’s life and music, which has fueled our efforts to reissue his Blue Note catalog so that his music can keep finding new generations of listeners. The expanded box set The Complete Live at the Lighthouse was widely acclaimed and sold out shortly after its release in August 2021. A historical marker would be a long overdue public memorial celebrating one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
Raymond Darryl Cox, executor of the Estate of Lee Morgan, said:
My mother, Ernestine Morgan Cox, was Lee’s older sister. She bought Lee his first trumpet and exposed him to jazz at the Earle Theater. JazzTimes named The Complete Live at the Lighthouse the number two historical album of 2021. The flugelhorn with which Uncle Lee posed on the album cover is a treasured family heirloom. Uncle Lee lives forever in our hearts. If the nomination for a Pennsylvania historical marker is approved, Lee Morgan will live forever in public memory.
Jazz master and trumpeter Cullen Knight met Lee in 1956. Knight was entering Mastbaum AVTS and Morgan was graduating from the storied high school. Knight said:
Lee’s heart and soul went into his music, and that’s what came out. Although Lee’s life was cut short, he said what he wanted to say with his trumpet and his compositions, and that was plenty.
UPDATE: The review process for historical marker nominations ends in September with notification made shortly thereafter. This year, the review process has been extended until December. So we won’t know whether the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has approved the nomination until the end of the year. Let’s hope it’s a Merry Christmas for Lee Morgan, the Morgan Family, and Lee’s fans.
In the coming months, we will make an announcement about legendary trumpeter and Philadelphia native Lee Morgan.
It’s driving me crazy that I can’t share the good news now. Instead, I will share Stop Driving Us Crazy, an animated safe driving PSA produced by the General Board of Temperance of the Methodist Church. Released in 1959, the soundtrack was scored by another Philadelphian, Benny Golson, and performed by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers featuring Lee Morgan on trumpet.
November is Native American Heritage Month. The contributions of Native Americans were erased by the false narrative that Christopher Columbus “discovered” land on which Indigenous People have lived for thousands of years. Public memorials to Columbus are sites of resistance. The movement to remove Christopher Columbus statues gained momentum in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. According to a Washington Post and MIT Data + Feminism Lab analysis, at least 40 monuments to Columbus have been removed since 2018, the majority of which were taken down in 2020 and 2021. Their data show that 130 memorials are still standing, including two in Philadelphia – the Columbus Monument at Penn’s Landing and the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza.
Indigenous People joined Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Native Americans and African Americans have a shared history of resistance. Indigenous People and African Americans also share ancestors. Notables of Afro-Indigenous ancestry include sculptor Edmonia “Wildfire” Lewis, jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham and Jimi Hendrix.
This shared history and heritage came to mind when I read George Bochetto, attorney for Friends of Marconi Plaza, asked, “Why can’t they put up another statue right here to honor Indigenous People?” In an op-ed published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I proposed a third way:
Rather than remove the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza, George Bochetto, attorney for Friends of Marconi Plaza, recently suggested erecting an additional statue to honor Indigenous People? You let everybody celebrate their ethnicity,” he said. My response: Why not? Why not tell the full story of the ancestral land of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, on which the Columbus statue sits, and the layered histories of Marconi Plaza?
The recently released National Monument Audit produced by Monument Lab found that only Abraham Lincoln (193) and George Washington (171) have more public statues than Christopher Columbus (149).
At the height of the George Floyd protests, calls grew louder for Philadelphia to remove the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza. So far, Mayor Jim Kenney has been stymied in his plan to remove the statue which has been encased in a plywood box since June 2020. On the eve of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a judge issued an emergency order that the plywood covering must be removed immediately.
Mayor Kenney tweeted that statue supporters should do nothing until the City’s appeal is heard.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden issued the first-ever White House proclamation commemorating Indigenous Peoples’ Day:
Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.
Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to. That is especially true when it comes to upholding the rights and dignity of the Indigenous people who were here long before colonization of the Americas began. For generations, Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures. Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society. We also recommit to supporting a new, brighter future of promise and equity for Tribal Nations — a future grounded in Tribal sovereignty and respect for the human rights of Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world.
On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation announcing that enslaved people in states still in rebellion would be free within 100 days, i.e., January 1, 1863.
On September 22, 2021, the Emancipation and Freedom Monument was unveiled on Brown’s Island, a public park in Richmond, Virginia, capitol of the states in rebellion. During the Civil War, the island was the headquarters of the Confederate States Laboratory which manufactured ammunition for the Confederate war effort.
Philadelphia is the best place to discuss race relations because there is more race prejudice here than in any other city in the United States. — W. E. B. Du Bois, 1927
City Council passed a one-year demolition moratorium for six blocks of Christian Street in the most gentrified neighborhood in Philadelphia. The mayor is expected to sign the bill which is sponsored by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson who is under federal indictment.
The purpose of the moratorium is to give the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia time to prepare the nomination for the proposed Christian Street Historic District. Architect Julian Abele and Rev. Charles Tindley are the most notable residents of that stretch of Christian Street. Abele and Tindley lived on the 1500 block but gentrifiers are pushing to designate six blocks. As I told a reporter with PlanPhilly, the proposed historic district trivializes Black history in an effort to preserve the historic fabric of blocks from which African Americans have been displaced:
However, Faye Anderson, a local historic preservationist who has focused on saving vulnerable Black historical sites, said she opposed the effort.
She said the district was an “excuse” to preserve some statelier buildings in a gentrified neighborhood that has become majority-white in recent decades. Anderson said a blanket designation for a thematic district based on the presence of some wealthier African American residents for a period of time in an otherwise segregated neighborhood was “trivializing” to the city’s wider Black history.
Historic preservation is about storytelling. The period of significance of proposed Christian Street Historic District, aka Doctor’s Row, spans the Great Migration, the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and World War II. Doctor’s Row would memorialize a minuscule number of Black professionals who moved on up from racially segregated blocks in the 7th Ward to racially segregated blocks with nicer rowhouses in the 30th Ward.
While the elites of Doctor’s Row were serving tea, NAACP Executive Secretary Carolyn Davenport Moore was serving justice. Prior to 1944, Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) consigned Black workers to jobs as porters, messengers or tracklayers. The positions of motorman and trolley operator were for white workers only. Moore organized protest marches. The NAACP filed complaints with the Fair Employment Practices Committee on the grounds PTC’s hiring practices violated Executive Order 8802 which banned discrimination in the defense industry.
The NAACP prevailed in the first civil rights battle of the modern era. Legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones was a drum major for justice. He was in the first group of eight African American trolley operators.
Philly Joe later moved to New York City where he likely spent time on Striver’s Row. The two blocks of rowhouses were home to, among others, jazz luminaries. Striver’s Row was designated the St. Nicholas Historic District in 1967 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Striver’s Row represents a Who’s Who of Black America. By contrast, Doctor’s Row has Black folks asking: Who dis?
There are new documentaries (here, here and here) and a hip-hop tribute.
On June 2, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Smithsonian magazine will hold a virtual panel discussion, “Historically Speaking: In Remembrance of Greenwood,” focusing on the development of Black Wall Street, the events leading up to the one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history, and the Black community’s resilience. The event is free but registration is required. To register, go here.