Philadelphia woman perseveres to honor MLK memory and message

A new marker commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 visit to a South Philadelphia housing project was unveiled Wednesday. On hand was the longtime resident who was instrumental in getting the marker erected.

Louise Hanible, 72, has lived in or around the housing project at 13th and Fitzwater streets all her life. She can remember the day King came to her block like it was yesterday.

“It was a beautiful day. There were so many people here you couldn’t even see, but you could hear his message,” said Hanible.

Following King’s visit, the city renamed the project in his honor. It hoped the four tall towers of low-income housing would become symbols of MLK’s fight against poverty.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

But, instead, by the early ’90s the consensus among the community was just the opposite — that the project merely created “vertical slums.” In 1999, the city imploded the towers with the promise of recreating a more dignified low-income community. The final phase of that project was completed last summer, and the new project now calls itself home to more than 500 families.

With all the changes around her, Hanible felt her neighborhood needed a constant. She and her friend began to think about the importance of King’s visit.

“There was nothing around here to remember that King ever stood there. So that’s why it was important to me and Mrs. Taylor that they put a marker there and give us a little bit of our history back,” she said.

Once the idea caught her, she couldn’t let it go. She stubbornly made her case to the city, and kept at officials until they agreed and worked out all the details.

On Wednesday, as the marker was unveiled, those gathered -—including Mayor Michael Nutter and Congressman Chaka Fattah —- gave Hanible a standing ovation for her persistence.

She said she hopes the commemoration will ultimately bring her community closer.

“I hope this marker will stand as a symbol. In the old days, this neighborhood was together. It was like family — doors were always open. I would like to see that come back,” said Hanible.

Wednesday’s event marked the 44th anniversary of King’s assassination.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal