Thirty Years Later, MOVE Still Hurts

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Peter Morgan | AP

On May 13, 1985 — 30 years ago today — a city decided to selectively bomb its citizens. On Mother’s Day 1985, residents on a block at the edge of the city of Philadelphia were ushered out of their homes, assured that they would soon return to the quiet lives they’d previously known. Days earlier, 6200 Osage Avenue residents had demanded City Hall take action about the radical anarchist group — MOVE — that had relocated to the block. City officials were perplexed — the earlier 1978 bloody takeover of MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia had left one policeman dead and nine jailed — and decided to evict the group from its house. The next day, then-police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor approached the barricaded neighborhood and bellowed through a bullhorn: “Attention, MOVE. This is America.” Read more »

No, Ira Einhorn Is Not the Founder of Earth Day

Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 celebration of EarthDay in Philadelphia.

Ira Einhorn at the April 1970 celebration of EarthDay in Philadelphia.

Today is Earth Day, which means it’s time once again for an old story to make the rounds. Multiple news sources today have reported that Ira Einhorn founded Earth Day. Einhorn, convicted twice (once in absentia) for the 1977 murder of Holly Maddux, is serving a life sentence for his horrific crime. But he was not the founder of Earth Day.

Time, in 1970, cited Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson as the founder of the event1. He “casually suggested that all Americans set aside April 22nd as a day for serious discussion of environmental problems” in 1969, and the idea went viral. (Or however ideas spread in the late ’60s and early ’70s.) Large observations were held around the country — 1,500 college campuses and 10,000 schools planned events, per Time — 45 years ago, with notable rallies in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park and in New York City.  Read more »

Was the Term “African American” Coined in Philadelphia?

Screen Shot 2015-0ll4-22 at 1.09.00 PMTo be honest, we thought the term “African American” was a relatively recent coinage, one of a million hyphenates to spring up in the post-Civil Rights era as a means of displacing older terms that had come to sound like slurs on minority groups. We were wrong: “African American” is actually a pretty old term.

In fact, it’s older than anybody knew. The New York Times says new research has discovered that the first known use of the term “African American” happened in Philadelphia — a half-century earlier than anyone thought.

The Times says the discovery was made by Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro: Read more »

I Went to a Nazi Concentration Camp on Saturday

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Crematorium at Majdanek concentration camp.

I really didn’t want to visit Majdanek, a former Nazi concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. Like most people, I found Schindler’s List pretty difficult to watch; I couldn’t finish my tour of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington D.C. And so, when I wound up in Poland for a very short visit with my band this past weekend, I was thinking more about beer and pierogi — not about confronting the worst evil that mankind has to offer. Read more »

Behind the Flag: An Interview With Betsy Ross

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I’m sewing for the first time, and it’s with Betsy Ross.

I’m helping Betsy stitch a final ring onto one of the bed curtains she’s been sewing. Or, rather, the linens Carol Spacht and two other women who portray the character at the Betsy Ross House have been sewing. Yes, the women who portray Betsy Ross at her eponymous house actually hand-sew — just like Betsy would have.

Most of the rooms at the Betsy Ross House used to be protected by plexiglass barriers. A few years ago they took down many of the barriers and made a room in Betsy Ross’s house into an actual workshop. For the last year, Spacht and two other women who portray Betsy Ross have been sewing the dressings for Betsy’s bed.

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This Is the Monster We Celebrate on Columbus Day

Sebastiano del Piombo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sebastiano del Piombo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A version of this story ran in 2012.

Imagine, if you will, that the man who murdered your entire family, raped your daughter, sister, and mother before killing them, tortured your son, brother, and father before killing them, and then robbed you of your home before moving in is celebrated with a party each year by his friends whom he had later brought in to take over your neighborhood. Well, that’s exactly the outlandishly evil shit that Columbus did and the outlandishly racist shit that his friends in Philly and America are doing. Read more »

Remembering the Great Charles Bowser on His 84th Birthday

A version of this story ran in 2010.

Many prominent, as well as not-so-prominent, Philadelphians have important stories to tell about the preeminent Charles W. Bowser, Esquire, a giant who passed away in 2010. Here are some that I decided to share in honor of the man born October 9, 1930.

In 2000, which was five years before he retired, Charles W. Bowser, Esquire called my small solo practitioner law office and left a voice mail message. At the time, I didn’t know him personally but I certainly knew his great reputation. And that was because, in the mid-1970s when I was a young elementary school kid at Masterman, my mom and grandmom used to always brag about him as some kind of local Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Malcolm X all rolled up into one. Ever since then, I read everything I could about this thoroughly impressive man and his thoroughly impressive work.

In his phone message, Mr. Bowser simply said, “Hey, Michael. This is Charlie Bowser. I haven’t met you before, but I’ve heard some good stuff about your legal and social activism on behalf of Black folks. And I’d like to meet with you to discuss the possibility of you working with me at the Bowser Law Center.” I couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be happening. That couldn’t have been “the” Charles Bowser calling me. I wasn’t worthy. He was a legend. He was a giant. He was larger than life. He was calling me? No way!

Read more »

Philly Brothels: 1849 and Now

Last month, Slate‘s Rebecca Onion unearthed pure gold from the depths of the Library Company of Philadelphia‘s digital stacks. Guide to the Stranger or Pocket Companion for the Fancy is essentially a personal review of every brothel in the city worth mentioning circa 1849. The gentleman who compiled this data was pretty much the Roger Ebert of mid-19th century Philly whorehouses.

Addresses are listed for several of the brothels. So, as maturely as possible, let’s find out what’s become of these properties. Besides, how much can change in 165 years?

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Nat Turner: Maniacal Murderer or Virtuous Visionary?

Source | Wikimedia Commons

This 1831 woodcut purports to illustrate stages of the rebellion. Source | Wikimedia Commons

A version of this column ran in 2011.

October 2, 2014 — or thereabout — will be the 214th birthday of Nat Turner. I say “thereabout” because blacks, like him, who were born enslaved in this country, including Philadelphia, were considered inanimate objects and therefore were not bestowed the dignity of an official birth certificate. Despite that, most historians agree that he was born on that date in 1800.

It was in Southampton County, Virginia, that his rebellion took place on August 21, 1831, when he and others killed 55 persons to bring about an end to slavery. Did those killings mean that he was a maniacal murderer like Ted Bundy or a virtuous visionary like the colonial patriots such as the Sons of Liberty and the Boston, New York City, and Providence activists who beat, shot, and killed Brits?

Well, let’s talk first about who he was and what he did before we determine what he was.

Read more »

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