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

betsy

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!

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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.

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American Slavery: Maliciously Born 395 Years Ago on August 20th and Markedly Raised in Philly

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President’s House. Photo | G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

A version of this article ran last year.

As you take your lunch break tomorrow in Center City, stroll over to Front and Market where the historic London Coffee House once stood, and celebrate the institution that made America one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the institution born exactly 395 years ago on Aug. 20, 1619: the institution of slavery. In fact, it was at that site in downtown Philly where black men, women, and children were bought and sold like cattle and like tools.

On that fateful date nearly four centuries ago, as noted by English settler John Rolfe, a wealthy tobacco planter and the so-called husband of Pocahontas, “ … there came a Dutch man of warre that sold us twenty and odd Negars” in the Virginia Colony at Old Point Comfort (now Fort Comfort in Hampton). They were the first enslaved blacks in a land that would become the United States of America.
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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Walter P. Lomax Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, sits up in his hotel room bed in Philadelphia, Feb. 10, 1968 while being examined by Dr. Walter Lomax, a Philadelphia physician. On the physician's orders Dr. King canceled his appointments and speaking engagements for the day because of a throat ailment. Dr. King has been in Philadelphia for past two days recruiting followers for proposed march on the nation's capital in April. (AP Photo)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, sits up in his hotel room bed in Philadelphia, Feb. 10, 1968 while being examined by Dr. Walter Lomax, a Philadelphia physician. (AP Photo)

A version of this story ran last October.

On October 10, 2013, at 8:30 a.m., 81-year-old Dr. Walter P. Lomax Jr. passed away. “So what?” you ask. “What’s the big deal? Don’t old men die every day?”

The big deal, I answer, is that he wasn’t just an old man. The big deal is that he was and is a great man.

Dr. Lomax was a prominent physician, prosperous entrepreneur, and selfless philanthropist. The youngest of four children and a graduate of La Salle University and Hahnemann University Hospital, he opened his first medical office in a row house near his South Philly family home in 1958.

That small-scale clinic expanded over the years to six top-notch medical centers with 22 physicians who provided quality care regardless of income.

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