One of Philadelphia’s native sons — television journalist Ed Bradley — will be the subject of a public mural in West Philadelphia.
Bradley was a longtime correspondent on the news magazine show “60 Minutes.” He died in 2006.
Mural Arts Philadelphia has designed and executed over 4000 murals in Philadelphia. This will be the first one about a journalist.
“Let’s face it, everybody. We live in very turbulent times, when journalistic integrity is more important than ever,” said Mural Arts director Jane Golden, speaking at St. Ignatius school in West Philadelphia. “It’s my hope that our tribute to Ed Bradley will inspire a new generation of journalists and encourage people to speak up and pursue the truth at all costs.”
The mural is still in the design phase; it will likely feature a 25-foot tall portrait of Bradley in the foreground, with sepia-toned images of his life as a journalist behind him. And — yes — it will feature the iconic gold earring in his left ear.
Bradley was born and raised in West Philadelphia, in the neighborhood then called the Black Bottom. It was a poor, African-American neighborhood, where Bradley was taught by the nuns of the St. Ignatius parish.
At the unveiling event, the current principal of St. Ignatius produced Bradley’s report card from the first grade. It shows he began his academic career as an average student but quickly learned the ropes of the whole school thing: he ended first grade strong, earning excellent marks.
After graduating from Cheyney State College (now called Cheyney University, t he oldest historically black university in America), he returned in Philadelphia to teach elementary school, moonlighting as on-air talent at radio station WDAS. He would move on to work for CBS in New York.
Bradley sustained injuries while reporting on the Vietnam War from Cambodia. He returned to the states to be the first African-American journalist to cover the White House. Eventually, he became a regular contributor to “60 Minutes” for 26 years.
He died of leukemia in 2006 at age 65.
“He never forgot that he was from this place called The Bottom,” said Bradley’s widow, Patricia Blanchet. “He always played against that: ‘Oh yeah? You think I’m from a place called The Bottom? You think I’m about The Bottom? Let me show you what Bottom people are about. We’re about integrity, we’re about grit, we’re about hard work, we’re about excellence and intelligence.'”
Bradley already has a street named after him; in 2015, a section of City Avenue was renamed Ed Bradley Way.
The man behind that effort — Leroy McCarthy — was also the driver of the mural. McCarthy, a fellow Cheyney alumnus (though he never knew Bradley personally), who works in the film industry as location manager. He doggedly pursued Golden and city Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to greenlight the project.
The mural, to be started this summer, was designed by artist Ernel Martinez and will be painted on the side of a rowhome above a vacant lot near on Belmont Avenue near Girard. That particular house has no significance to Ed Bradley’s life, other than being in the general neighborhood where he grew up.
“Murals are really the autobiography of Philadelphia,” said Golden. “I think a city is made up of the people who live there. We need to honor our heroes in big, bold, tangible ways, and Ed Bradley is one of our heroes.”
Mural Arts will invite the public to help paint the mural on selected days. At those events, members of the National Association of Black Journalists will be on hand to talk to young people about careers in journalism. In the fall, planned workshops in area schools will expose students to the possibility of working in the arts and journalism fields, using Bradley as a role model.
“I think an image has to be enlivened, and it has to be activated,” said Blanchet. “The way you activate a mural on the street is to have the neighborhood engage with that mural.”
The mural is expected to be completed by November.