Events in Germantown this week mirror 1920s integration effort

When David Young spotted the new Fest for the Quest program, he couldn’t stop himself from grabbing it to see it for the first time.

“This is going to be so cool,” said Young, the executive director of Cliveden of the National Trust. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but oftentimes it rhymes.”

The fest starts today and runs through Saturday with a series of community events. It parallels the Negro Achievement Week from April of 1928, which took place in Germantown.  That little known event brought speakers W.E.B Du Bois, NAACP president James Weldon Johnson and nationally known artist Laura Wheeler Waring, among others.

An article by Young about the week titled “The Biggest Event of Its Kind Ever Held in Germantown” was published in the spring 2009 Germantown Crier and mentioned how black and white groups, such as the YWCA and its Colored Branch, worked together in a time of segregation.

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“It forced participating organizations to consider their roles in something larger than a celebration of Germantown, namely a consideration of another race,” he wrote. “Germantown in 1928 was not exactly the place where one would expect to find a dazzling assembly of African American artistic and cultural talent for the broad public.”

Young believes that the event took place in Germantown because it was home to the largest branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Philadelphia, he said, not because it was the picture of integration.

The article sparked the interest of teachers at Germantown High School and Germantown Friends School, who started working with Young a few years ago through smaller projects, such as poetry readings. This year will be the first time all those events are coordinated to mirror the week in 1928.

Earlier in the school year, the two schools met to arrange the festival.

Students were able to decide what the theme and logo of Fest for the Quest would be and how the design would be inclusive of all the residents in the neighborhood, said Elisabeth D’Alessandro, event organizer and a teacher at Germantown High.

One goal was to feature the same art, music, poetry and dance components of the original event. The group also invited the same kinds of speakers, such as J. Whyatt Mondesire, the current president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, and used the same venues. GFS and Center in the Park, previously the site for the Germantown Public Library, will be hosting activities, said Kathy Paulmier, director of community involvement for GFS.

“We’re really happy to be involved,” Paulmier said. “It’s such a positive thing for Germantown for different organizations to join together. I think it’s such a beautiful thing.”

The groups have also partnered with the Lucien Crump Gallery Art Education Resource Center, Inc, which is displaying art by the students until Friday.

The works are divided by woodwork, graphic and traditional art in the intimate studio.

While Loretta C. Tate, executive director, talked about how talented the students were, she also noted that it was impressive to see many girls’ work as part of the woodwork art, such as a castle piggy bank on display.

A main goal for Tate was to give the children an opportunity to share their work on Germantown Avenue, like the artists did in 1928.

“From a stand point of being a nonprofit, my goal is always to be a resource to the community,” Tate said. “It’s really for the kids.”


Fest for the Quest event schedule:

A Celebration of Art: The week of April 11, noon to 4 p.m. daily at the Crump Gallery, 6378 Germantown Ave. Featuring Artwork from the classes of: Dianne Vaughn, Germantown High School; Susan Lowry, Germantown Friends School; Adam Blyweiss, Germantown High School
Choral Program, Thursday April 14, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Germantown High School. Presided by Richard Wale, head of School, Germantown Friends School. Performances by The Dance Institute of Philadelphia. Music and song led by Steve Kushner, of Germantown Friends School, and Jerome Lang, of Germantown High School.
Germantown Speaks, Friday April 15, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Center in the Park, 5818 Germantown Ave. Presided by Dennis Creedon, director of Comprehensive Arts Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Music and Song led by Steve Kushner, of Germantown Friends School, and Jerome Lang, of Germantown High School.
A Celebration of Dance, Friday April 15, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Germantown High School. Dance led by Carl Farris, Germantown High School.
Great Day on the Great Road, Saturday April 16, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Vernon Park, 5818 Germantown Ave. A festival hosted by Historic Germantown featuring youth poets and a historic reenactment.
A Celebration of Jazz, Saturday April 16, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Germantown Friends School, 31 W. Coulter St. Presided by J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP. Student jazz led by Brendan Cooney and Germantown Friends School.

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