A Tour of Abolitionism in Philadelphia
The City of Philadelphia played an important role in the effort to abolish slavery. The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage was the first American abolition society and was founded by the Quakers here on April 14, 1775. In 1784 it was reorganized as the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage (better known as the Pennsylvania Abolition Society).
In June 2016 WHYY offered members a tour of several African American historical sites here in Philadelphia. The sold out event began at the historical marker just outside our building, which marks the location of Pennsylvania Hall.
Built in the late 19th century, Pennsylvania Hall was the meeting place for abolitionists, built at a time when there was a growing anti-abolition sentiment. For 3 days it lived up to expectations drawing people of various backgrounds and races. However, the night of May 17th, 1838 anti-black rioters burned the building to the ground. When the volunteer fire departments were called, they were strictly ordered not to fight the fire. The buildings ruins were left on exhibit for a couple of years to remind abolitionists that not everyone welcomed them.
The tour was lead by archaeologist, Doug Mooney, and Justina Barrett, site manager for Fairmount Park’s historic houses. After the Pennsylvania Hall stop, it travelled to Belmont Mansion, and Strawberry Mansion, where Friday Arts spoke with Connie Ragsdale, board president of Strawberry Mansion. Ragsdale gave us the extraordinary history of the home and it’s former owner, Judge William Lewis, author of the Gradual Abolition Act.
Our last stop was 6th & Market where the very first Presidents House once stood, now home of the Liberty Bell Pavilion. The home was once occupied by Presidents Washington and Adams, and Mooney shared with tour members the history of the slaves who lived there with Washington and the story behind the decision to leave an excavated portion of the site on exhibit.
Jeri Lynne Johnson: Taking The Lead
Female conductors are still trying to catch up to their male counterparts, and African American music directors are even more rare. That didn’t stop Jeri Lynne Johnson of pursuing her dream when she founded The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra in 2008, right here in Philadelphia.
Working with many of the best musicians in the country, from a culturally and racially diverse pool, Johnson has fostered a fresh approach to community engagement that other orchestras have looked to for inspiration.
In 2010 Friday Arts had the opportunity to sit down with Johnson to discuss how music came into her life at a very early age, when she began studying piano and realized that wasn’t enough. She didn’t want to play an instrument and be just one part of it. Johnson said, “If I wanted to play the whole piece, I would have to control all of the elements.”
Jeri Lynne Johnson is very much in control as she continues to share beautiful music with as many people as possible. She has appeared on numerous programs, including being named one of today’s leading young female conductors on the NBC Today Show, and has been featured in major publications around the world.
Chicken Bone Beach
In 2014 Friday Arts went to the shore to learn more about the historic Chicken Bone Beach in Atlantic City, NJ. While many African Americans of a certain age may know it’s history, others know very little about this beach area that was “The Place to be seen” for blacks during the segregation era.
Turiya Raheem is African American and grew up in Atlantic City during the 50’s and 60’s. Her family once owned a popular restaurant in the black community there and helped build and shape the once thriving neighborhood known as Northside.
In 2009 Raheem wrote Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City, a personal testimony to what it was like growing up in a town bustling with entertainment and excitement, but where most of it was off limits to people of color, who were also restricted to bathing on a small section of the beach.
As part of Art Sanctuary’s 2014 Celebration of Black Writing, they hosted a photo exhibition about Chicken Bone Beach, featuring photos by John W. Mosley from the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University. People from all backgrounds had the opportunity to learn more about and celebrate this important piece of local African American History.
In this segment we talk to Turiya Raheem about her experiences and discuss the exhibition with Valerie Gay, Executive Director of Art Sanctuary. We also talk with Ralph Hunter, a long-time Atlantic City resident and Founder/President of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern, NJ.