Race and the Roots
of Philly Transit Strikes

In this Aug. 6, 1944 file photo an armed soldier stands guard in the back of a trolley in Philadelphia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent troops to break up a strike by transit workers who were protesting the hiring and promotion of African-Americans. (AP Photo/John Lindsay, File)

In this Aug. 6, 1944 file photo an armed soldier stands guard in the back of a trolley in Philadelphia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent troops to break up a strike by transit workers who were protesting the hiring and promotion of African-Americans. (AP Photo/John Lindsay, File)

As this is being typed, the news reports about contract negotiations between SEPTA and Transport Workers Union Local 234 sound increasingly optimistic. One of the main sticking points, pensions, has been resolved, and both the transit agency and TWU Local 234 head Willie Brown have issued statements saying that they hope a strike can be averted.

Yet some issues, including health care and worker surveillance, remain unresolved, and the union still stands ready to take a vote to strike when contracts for two TWU 234 suburban bargaining units expire on April 7th.

You may recall that initial strike threat was announced with incendiary language from Brown. Many, including this writer, found that rhetoric off-putting, or worse. But, as with so much else in this city, if you dig down far enough, you might just hear the ghosts of the past raising their voices through the mouth of Brown.

In this case, the ghosts are those of a racially motivated walkout that brought the TWU onto the local labor scene — and Federal troops onto the city’s streetcars.

The two events are connected: The TWU had just won the right to represent Philadelphia’s transit workers in 1944 — right in the middle of a three-year fight to get the Philadelphia Transportation Company (which ran buses and trolleys in the city) to end discrimination against black workers.

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10 Spring 5Ks to Have on Your Radar



We did it, guys. We survived the long, cold, dreary Winter of Doom and have finally (for good?) made it to warmer weather. So in the spirit of getting outdoors, enjoying the sunshine, and sweating juuuuust a little, we’d like to bring your attention to some of fun upcoming races—all 5Ks, so they’re doable, no matter your fitness level. And these aren’t, er, boring out-and-backs on West River Drive, either. These races will take you to new running locales in our area, including a vineyard, a nature preserve, and the Philadelphia Zoo (twice!).

Happy running!

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The #CancelColbert Controversy: Should Racial Insensitivity Be a Fireable Offense?


Twitter is one of those places where there is always outrage, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which part of the outrage war really has legs.

Last week, Stephen Colbert found himself in the middle of crossfire for a tweet from the Colbert Report deemed offensive to Asians.

Quickly, a #CancelColbert hashtag gained momentum in protest. Colbert has since acknowledged the tweet (which came from the show’s account, not his) in the same brand of schtick and satire, satisfying few:

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Five Ways Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” Could Help Philly

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Photograph by Jeff Fusco

By now, you’ve probably heard about President Obama’s new “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. The collaboration between foundations, policy makers, and private businesses wants to better understand the obstacles facing black and Latino boys and young men and then eliminate barriers to success.

The initiative’s Task Force is a made up of executive departments and federal agencies that will examine policies and programs across the nation that best serve black and Latino males. The Task Force will also recommend “incentives for adoption of policy by state, local, and private decision makers in order to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.”

But perhaps you’re wondering why this this needed. According to a statement released by the White House, “As recently as 2013, only 14 percent of black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys scored proficient or above on the 4th grade reading component of the National Assessment of Educational Progress compared to 42 percent of white boys and 21 percent of black and Hispanic girls. Youth who cannot read ‘proficiently, by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school by 19.”

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Japanese Actor Makoto Hirano Calls Lantern Theater’s Julius Caesar Racist

lantern theater julius caesar racist japanese

Lantern Theater Company is in the middle of a run of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar at St. Stephen’s Theater. The setting is medieval Japan.

The City Paper didn’t like it. Inquirer critic Toby Zinman wasn’t much of a fan, calling the show “intriguing and frustrating.” And now Philadelphia theater artist Makoto Hirano, a native of Japan and samurai descendant, has deemed the show “racist.” Read more »

On Spike Lee’s Gentrification Speech, or Why Won’t They Build a Fancy New Grocery Store in Mantua?

Photo | shutterstock.com

Photo | shutterstock.com

There has been considerable ink dedicated to chronicling the ongoing battle between culture and capital as Brooklyn becomes the epicenter of hipster chic.  Of all the things that I’ve read, this and this are easily the most demonstrative of the high cost of “neighborhood revitalization.”

Brooklyn native and architect of Brooklyn Boheme Cool, Spike Lee, has been vocal on the issues surrounding neighborhood turnover, especially as it has directly impacted his parents. “We been here!” was his refrain as he spoke honestly, candidly and truthfully about the erasures of peoples and cultures that happens when someone else decides to make an “investment.”

“Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed,” he said at Pratt Institute for a lecture in celebration of Black History Month. “And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherf*ckin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294 [...] So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

What’s frustrating is that Lee’s words were characterized as a “rant,” casting his ideas as unintelligible, unfounded or otherwise easily dismissible. What Lee said about Brooklyn can be said of many newfound “business corridors” that see an influx of typically younger, monied folks that cause the displacement of existing, long-term residents.

There are some who call that progress.

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Penn Students: Stop Being Schmucks!


Dear Penn Kids:

Please, please, please, for the love of God: Would you stop being such schmucks?

Let me back up. Not all of you are schmucks. Many of you are good and earnest and smart, hard-working young people. But some of you have made a big mistake, and you need to understand that what you’ve done is a bit more than commit a PR gaffe. You’ve acted like real schmucks. You’ve made your fellow students look a bit schmucky by association. And you’ve hurt a few feelings along the way.

So I want you to understand why it’s important that you, of all people, need to not be such schmucks.

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Philly’s Octavius Catto Was the Hero of America’s First Civil Rights Movement


Octavius Catto | Image courtesy Temple University Press

Tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 22, is the birthday of a great American who raised his voice against tyranny and oppression and led a people into a new dawn of freedom.

Of course, we’re talking about Octavius V. Catto, one of the unsung heroes of the first Civil Rights Movement — the one that had a civil war in its middle.

He is unsung no more, though, for 2014 is shaping up to be his year. On his birthday, a jubilee of spirituals and praise at Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Society Hill, the nation’s oldest historically black church, kicks off a six-month long festival celebrating Catto’s life and legacy organized by the Mann Music Center and culminating in a July concert at the Mann that will feature a new orchestral work, “The Passion of Octavius Catto,” composed by Philadelphia native Uri Caine and performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra.

And this spring, a committee headed by Councilman James Kenney will announce that it has raised the funds needed to erect a statue of Catto outside City Hall. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a campaign launched in 2007 with the support of Jack Straw, the retired head of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation at the Union League of Philadelphia, and other prominent citizens.

What accounts for this sudden explosion of interest in Catto? Actually, it’s not sudden — it’s the fruit of seeds planted more than a decade ago by a number of individuals.

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