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In 2015, Philadelphia will launch the country’s largest land bank. Last week I testified before the Philadelphia Land Bank public hearing on their draft Year One Strategic Plan.
Philadelphia is changing. From the “Lost Our Lease” signs on Market Street to the “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs in gentrifying neighborhoods, the signs of change are everywhere. There is growing concern that gentrification will displace longtime residents.
Black Philadelphians have seen this movie before. African Americans were pushed out of Society Hill. South Street was once chock-a-block with black-owned jazz spots and small businesses. Black business owners were advised to leave because an expressway was going to be built. It wasn’t.
The legendary Gert’s Lounge on South Street was managed by Dorothy Smith.
On the heels of the loss of the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural, another iconic African American mural is on the chopping block. The Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to tear down the “Women of Jazz” mural in Strawberry Mansion.
The blonde next to Nina Simone is Dorothy “Miss Dot” Smith. A longtime resident of Strawberry Mansion, Miss Dot died in January 2013. Her family and neighbors are outraged that PHA is doing nothing to preserve the legacy of these jazz divas. Their outrage is shared by the community at large.
If we are not vigilant, gentrification will erase black Philadelphians’ political, civic, educational and cultural presence. A mural could be demolished – or painted over under the cover of darkness.
If walls could talk, our ancestors would say:
Really? What are you doing to preserve your heritage? We did our part. It’s now up to you.
Indeed, Attorney Michael Coard constantly reminds us that if we don’t tell our story, it won’t be told. Coard spearheads the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC), which successfully fought to tell the untold story of our ancestors who were enslaved by President George Washington.
When I brought the destruction of the murals to his attention, Michael jumped on it. I will update the community tonight at the monthly meeting of ATAC, which starts at 7:00 p.m. at Zion Baptist Church, located at Broad and Venango Streets.
Let me be clear: The fight is not over brick-and-mortar structures. The fight is over preserving our heritage and avenging the ancestors.
To get involved, call (215) 552-8751.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarks to the 1st Berlin Jazz Festival. In the foreword to the program, Dr. King wrote:
God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
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.
Twenty years earlier, a jazz drummer, Joseph Rudolph Jones, triumphed over the hard reality facing black employees of the Philadelphia Transportation Company. When the PTC proposed to hire blacks as trolley car operators, the segregated Philadelphia Rapid Transit Employees Union staged a wildcat strike. As Bart Everts wrote for Hidden City Philadelphia, the illegal strike threatened the war effort:
Seventy years ago, on August 1, 1944, a faction of white transit workers with the Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC) staged a wildcat strike for a nefarious reason: they didn’t want African Americans, employed by the transit company as mechanics and laborers, to be given the same high paying jobs driving the trolleys they had.
The strike effectively shut down Philadelphia, one of the key centers of defense related manufacturing, at a crucial moment in World War II. The action halted the city’s war production, as workers were unable to get to the Navy Yard and factories throughout the city. Philadelphia was the third largest producer of war materials (about one of every six dollars spent here), and the military and federal government quickly took notice. The threat of a major disruption was so severe that the Roosevelt Administration intervened, ending the strike after a week.
When the strike ended, Jones was among the first group of African American trolley operators (Jones is on the far left).
Legendary jazz drummer Charlie Rice recounted that Jones was a multi-tasker:
Joe had a job driving a trolley car – the 21 line that extended from Chestnut Hill, at the very top of Philadelphia at the North End, all the way through the city down to South Philadelphia. That was the longest trolley ride in the city.
It ran on 11th Street, right past the Downbeat, which was on the second floor.
Joe often stopped the trolley in front of the club. He’d grab the controls, jump out, and sit in for a number or two. The people hung out the window of the trolley, growing more and more impatient. They wanted to get home, or wherever they were going. When Joe got back to the trolley, everybody would cheer, and off they’d go to South Philly.
Joe, better known as Philly Joe Jones, went on to become a modern jazz drumming legend.
Long before Philly Joe Jones became the drummer of choice for Miles Davis and John Coltrane, his trolley route went pass Coltrane’s apartment on 12th Street in North Philly. While the rowhouse where Coltrane lived when his family migrated from North Carolina is no longer there, the tracks are still visible.
On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department is launching a new initiative to collect data about stops, searches and arrests in an effort to “reduce tensions between law enforcement and minority communities.” Holder said:
This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal justice system is a problem we must confront—not only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement. Racial disparities contribute to tension in our nation generally and within communities of color specifically, and tend to breed resentment towards law enforcement that is counterproductive to the goal of reducing crime.
Recent incidents of racial profiling have exacerbated tensions between Philly police officers and minority communities.
On Jan. 7, 2014, Darrin Manning, a 16-year-old honor student from a good family, was minding his own business. On a record cold day in Philadelphia, he was wearing a hoodie on his way to play in his school’s basketball game. That was enough for a Philadelphia police officer to stop him for “acting suspiciously.” Less than 24 hours after the illegal investigatory stop and violent pat down by a white female officer, Darrin underwent emergency surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Fast forward three months. Philippe Holland, a 20-year-old black man from a good family, is in critical condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania after two plainclothes police officers fired 14 shots into his car. Three of the bullets hit him. Holland is a pizza delivery man who was on his second job when he was shot. This hard-working man may lose an eye because two Philly cops deemed a black man wearing a hoodie with his hands in his pockets is acting suspiciously.
The two illegal stops run amok, coupled with the decision not to prosecute rogue Philly cops caught on camera, have sparked outrage.
A Philly.com reader, Willphill1, commented:
Reminiscent of the Frank Rizzo regime, he must be smiling from the grave. Just another gang of thugs with no regard for the law and rights of citizens they are sworn and paid to uphold… ‘Tainted justice’? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The cops are shooting innocent people in the streets like animals. That pizza delivery guy didn’t choose to be in that neighborhood at that hour. It was his job. He was just trying to get home to his family. The fact that an innocent man with not even a traffic warrant ran for his life in that situation definitely indicates that there was something seriously wrong in the way they approached him. In his trying to protect his life they shot him down like a dog. It has to stop. Truly the worst of times have arrived when law-abiding citizens need protection from so-called ‘law enforcement.’
Indeed, from former Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo to current Commissioner Ramsey Charles, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
The new National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice should collect data about Philadelphia, where it’s always Groundhog Day. In 1979, the Justice Department accused then-Mayor Frank Rizzo of “condoning policies to commit random beatings, unjustified shootings and other flagrant civil rights violations.” The lawsuit noted the victims of police misconduct were overwhelmingly black or Hispanic.
But we don’t have to wait on the feds to hold officials, including the next mayor, accountable. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch recently wrote:
Ask the men and women who want to be Philadelphia’s next mayor after Nutter leaves office in 2015 what they will do to change the current system where so few allegations of police misconduct stick (remember this guy) and the end result is so often that the officer accused of wrongdoing gets his job back with back overtime pay (what is that, even?).
Sure, we can complain but to have an impact we must do something. So with a hat tip to the New York Police Department, we will use #myPhillyPD to tell the story of the Philadelphia Police Department’s pattern or practice of racial bias in law enforcement. The crowdsourced interactive map will help citizens hold officials accountable for their failure to end the culture of corruption that taints Philly police officers and breeds resentment and distrust in communities of color.
To get involved, post a photo to Twitter with the hashtag #myPhillyPD. Not on Twitter? No problem. Go to http://bit.ly/myPhillyPD and upload your photos.
To stay informed, follow us on Twitter: @myPhillyPD.
I am spearheading All That Philly Jazz, a digital history project that’s mapping Philly’s rich jazz heritage. While jazz enthusiasts know about John Coltrane’s Philadelphia, the map tells the rest of the story.
From the organ joints on 52nd Street, aka “The Strip,” to Columbia Avenue’s “The Golden Strip” (now Cecil B. Moore Avenue), there was a jazz spot on nearly every block. South Philly was known as the Harlem Quarter. There was so much jazz happening that folks in West Philly didn’t venture into North Philly and vice versa. Time after time I’ve heard, “You stayed in your neighborhood.”
But there were two legendary spots that no matter where folks lived, they went – Pep’s Musical Bar at Broad and South streets and the Showboat on Broad and Lombard. The World Communications Charter School now sits in Pep’s footprint. Given Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s appreciation for jazz, it may be more than coincidence that the Roots’ mural is on one of the school’s walls.
The building that housed the Showboat is still there. The jazz club was in the basement of what was then the Douglass Hotel. The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”
Last fall, I visited what used to be the Showboat with Yasuhiro “Fuji” Fujioka, founder of the Coltrane House of Osaka and co-author of “The John Coltrane Reference”; Lenora Early, founder of the Philadelphia John Coltrane House; and Dr. George E. Allen, former chair of Overbrook High School’s Art and Music Department and author of “I Was Not Asked.”
Until that visit, I assumed the Showboat was in the basement space with the two windows facing Lombard Street. As we descended the stairs, Dr. Allen said something was wrong. Back then, there was no landing between the steps. Instead, the club was down a steep set of stairs. And sure enough, after a bit of snooping, we found what remains of the original steps that led down to the Showboat.
So imagine the likes of Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington, Ramsey Lewis, Ray Charles, Lee Morgan, Percy, Jimmy, and Tootie Heath (the Heath Brothers) and Nina Simon descending those steps to take up their place on the stage that was behind the bar.
As we build out the All That Philly Jazz interactive map, we will have images, video and audio that will take you back to the day when jazz and blues giants were live at the Showboat.
A new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows that women rule social media. Women were five to 10 percent more likely to use social networking sites compared to men.
But not all social networks are created equal. According to data compiled by Alex Hillsberg.
So if you hear any noise on Facebook, “it ain’t the boys, it’s ladies night.”
Image 3 Mar
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