Home Node

Journalism as Protest: Voices from Young Black Philadelphians in the Late 1960s

By Madison Arnold-Scerbo, an intern from Haverford College

“We feel the future belongs to us, but we must take action to make sure we get ‘that’ kind of future, not the kind those in power now are willing to ‘give’ to us. Nobody gives you anything, especially freedom – this you must fight for” (The Black Ghetto, Sept-Oct 1968)

The Black Ghetto was a newsletter created by young black folks in Philadelphia who called themselves the “Groovers.” The goal of the newsletter was to bring people from different Philadelphia neighborhoods together in order to address problems facing the entire black community while eliminating gang violence. The Groovers also sought “to educate Black people to a ‘Black’ point of view.” Their newsletters included coverage of current events and issues concerning the black community. As part of this coverage, the Groovers regularly touched upon a number of themes including police brutality, institutional racism, and black identity.

The Black Ghetto front page, Sept-Oct 1968

The Black Ghetto is just one example of the many different student publications created in Philadelphia in the late 1960s. Creating and circulating newspapers was one way that black young adults in Philadelphia spoke out about their lives in that period. These publications gave them a chance to convey their experiences on their own terms and to communicate with each other and the general public. As the slogan of one such publication proclaimed, “say what we wanna say the way we wanna say it!!”

The Thelma McDaniel Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania contains an impressive collection of student publications that gives a sense of the goals of young black Philadelphians and the ways that they imagined creating social change in the 1960s and 1970s.

“What would happen if the ‘gangs’ themselves took a stab at inner-city communications? What if they tried to put out a newspaper themselves? Dig it now. They did.” (Dig This Now, Vol. 1 No. 3 Monday July 21, 1969).

Dig This Now was a newspaper published by teenagers from “Francisville and the adjacent ghetto areas.” It received funding from the Urban Coalition of Temple University as well as from advertisements and paper sales (10 cents per copy or one year of 24 issues for $2.50). Dig This Now was largely a celebration of Black artists: it published  poetry, short prose pieces, photos, and illustrations submitted by young people throughout Philadelphia. The paper also alerted readers to events in Philadelphia that showcased black artists, like a weeklong Black Arts Festival or a production of one of Lorraine Hansberry’s plays.

Another notable student publication from this time was Black Torch: The Voice of Black Students, a paper put out by students at Temple University. Black Torch regularly included news, information about upcoming events, and even a crossword puzzle. When Temple University proposed an expansion in the late 1960s that would displace a number of low-income black Philadelphians, Black Torch ran an impassioned article calling for black students to organize in opposition to the project. Each issue of Black Torch also included a short description of “the mother continent” of Africa since “No knowledge of the Black American is complete without knowledge of the mother continent as it stands today.” As with the other papers, this array of content was intended to engage young black Americans with questions of identity, community, and justice.

Black Ghetto, Dig This Now, and Black Torch are just a few samples among similar periodicals in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Some of the publications primarily covered hard news while others contained a more diverse array of written and visual work, but they shared a number of common goals: broadcasting black voices that were traditionally silenced by white power structures, mobilizing young black Philadelphians, and exploring questions of black identity and community in contemporary America. At their core, these newspapers allowed students to voice their concerns and stand up for what they believed in during a period of unrest and racial tension in Philadelphia.

Fifty years later, the racial discrimination of the late 1960s persists. Where young black Philadelphians once created newspapers and journals to address the wrongs they experienced, contemporary black Americans have capitalized upon social media as a tool for mobilization and expression. Hashtags, Twitter threads, and articles shared on Facebook have brought a unique set of benefits and challenges as a new generation attempts to confront systemic racial injustices.

References:

McDaniel, Thelma. Thelma McDaniel Collection. Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Though It Failed, the Treaty of Fort Pitt Was the First of Its Kind

On September 17, 1778, representatives from the United States and leaders from the Lenape signed the first written treaty between the country and an American Indian tribe. 
 
Before this event, colonial settlers entered into informal truces with American Indian tribes. Take, for example, the oral agreement between William Penn and the Lenape in 1682. Penn met with Lenape leaders underneath an elm tree near Shackamaxon (present day Kensington).  Penn entered into a mutual promise of friendship and peace with the tribe’s representatives. This oral treaty proved enduring. The French philosopher Voltaire wrote about the treaty’s success, calling it “the only treaty between those people [American Indians] and the Christians that was not ratified by an oath, and was never infring’d.”
 
This informal style of truce typified relations between European colonists and American Indian tribes for nearly 100 years. By 1778, however, the diplomatic complexities caused by the Revolutionary War prompted representatives of the United States to try a different approach. 
 
Draft of Pittsburgh by Lieutenant Hutchins, manuscript drawing (1759), Thomas Hutchins papers (Collection 308), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
 
In Western Pennsylvania, Fort Pitt (present day downtown Pittsburgh) served as a key stronghold for the colonial army. The British held Fort Detroit (present day Detroit) several hundred miles to the northwest. In anticipation of a campaign against the British in the Ohio Valley, colonial representatives met with Lenape leaders representing the tribe’s communities in Western Pennsylvania. Lenape leaders White Eyes, Captain Pope, and John Kill Buck met with US dignitaries Andrew Lewis (an Irish born colonial soldier) and Thomas Lewis (an Irish born lawyer). 
 
The two sides hashed out the Treaty of Fort Pitt, which permitted colonial forces to peacefully pass on Lenape land. It also allowed for the strengthening of Fort Pitt’s defenses. In return, the United States would formally recognize the sovereignty of the Lenape and ensure their territorial rights. Both parties signed the document, resulting in the first treaty of its kind.
 
The agreement also alluded to the potential for the Lenape and other tribes present in the Ohio Valley to incorporate as a state within the new country and receive representation in the nation’s legislature. Whether because of duplicitous intent on the colonial side or the political impossibility of such a state, this plan never came to pass. This dismayed the Lenape leaders, who quickly soured on the deal. A contingent from the tribe spoke before the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1779, airing grievances about the treaty. The United States’ political leaders largely ignored their complaints, and the truce fell apart shortly thereafter. 
 

Philadelphia N.O.W Motivates Women to Fight for Equality

By Gina Reitenauer, Intern from Syracuse University, and Nina Kegelman, C. Dallett Hemphill Undergraduate Intern of the McNeil Center for Early American History

In 1966, a group of feminists established the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.) in order “to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” By the late 1960s, the Women’s Liberation Movement had spread across the country to cities such as Philadelphia, which became a seminal spot for feminist activism.

On January 11, 1968, Ernesta Ballard and former N.O.W. president Wilma Scott Heide founded the N.O.W. Philadelphia Chapter. Their primary objectives included adding the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Pennsylvania Constitution, repealing Pennsylvania’s abortion ban, and eradicating sex discrimination. Two organizational slogans captured the chapter’s aspirations of ERA ratification and securing reproductive rights: “We won’t be satisfied until the ERA’s ratified” and “Keep your laws off our bodies.” Philadelphia N.O.W. also spurred the creation of systems and networks that would support and empower women in the community.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s “National Organization for Women: Philadelphia Chapter Records” documents the chapter’s activities between 1968-1977 through photographs, newsletters, articles, correspondence, posters, and pamphlets.

Philadelphia N.O.W. sent the largest delegation to the ERA ratification march in Washington D.C. in July 1978, and assisted other chapters in local ratification. A brochure about the benefits of the ERA states that ratification would “Declare women full persons under the law.” While the ERA was never ratified, HSP’s collection highlights N.O.W.’s impressive and persuasive efforts.

Posters in HSP’s collection show N.O.W.’s fight to remove limitations on abortion and hold rapists accountable. Proclaiming “Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide!” and “Sisters Unite, Disarm Rapists!”, these posters demonstrate the organization’s commitment to gender equality by promoting women’s physical agency. Records show that the chapter created a full network of support by providing mental health counseling, divorce referral forms, and listing sexual assault crisis lines. 

Philadelphia N.O.W. increased access to childcare, education, employment opportunities, and support systems that enabled women to engage with their community as men did. One of the local organization’s most impressive achievements, ensuring the official preclusion of job listings separated by gender in Philadelphia newspapers, came in 1973. The N.O.W. Newsletter advertised “underground childcare services” for working mothers and promoted groups like the Society of Women Engineers that positioned women to gain work experience and mentoring.

Women protest outside Sears over employment issues (no date).

The chapter was unafraid to call out companies and individuals who criticized or obstructed their feminist goals by putting them on a “Not Now List.” They also hosted “The Barefoot and Pregnant Award,” an ironic means of “honoring” someone who deliberately thwarted women’s rights. Remarks from a Barefoot and Pregnant Award Ceremony are in HSP’s collection. These tongue-in-cheek style designations perhaps prefigured the ways women confront sexism today, often taking to Twitter in order to belittle perpetrators of sexual assault or harassment.

By encouraging women to take matters into their own hands, stand up to sexism, and engage politically, NOW has played a significant role advancing legal and societal changes in favor of women’s rights. However, many of the same issues—poverty, lack of healthcare and childcare, sexual assault and harassment, threats to reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, and negative media representation—that appear in the Philadelphia Chapter records still affect women today. Recently, worldwide women’s marches, political participation in record numbers, artistic activism, and increased intersectionality all combat gender discrimination, giving more attention to factors such as race, class, sexuality, and ability.

As we revisit the Women’s Liberation Movement during the 50th anniversary of 1968—its pivotal year—HSP’s collection of N.O.W. Philadelphia Chapter records provides interesting insight into the history feminism in the United States and the evolving debates on the subject of women’s rights.

References:

Toll, Jean Barth and Mildred S. Gillam, ed. Invisible Philadelphia: Community through Voluntary Organizations. Philadelphia: Atwater Kent Museum, 1995.

National Organization for Women. Philadelphia Chapter Records (Collection 2054), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


 

John Wanamaker’s Summer Camp

From early August through Labor Day weekend, Philadelphians abandon the sweltering city and head for the beaches. 
 
This tradition stretches back to the middle of the 19th century when developers connected Philadelphia to the coastline via rail. Hotel operators marketed the health benefits of escaping the congestion of the city to the region’s growing middle class. As beach recreation grew in popularity, more resorts opened. Even church groups followed suit, purchasing plots of land near the shore to serve as retreats for their congregants. 
 
One such plot of land attracted the attention of wealthy Philadelphia businessman John Wanamaker. In 1899, the department store mogul purchased 13 acres at Island Heights in New Jersey, a resort area founded by Methodists. He designated the property as the location of Camp Wanamaker, a summer camp for the boys and girls who worked at his stores.
 
 
John Wanamaker with George W. Stull, Wanamaker's store General Superintendent
 
The camp was a spinoff of the John Wanamaker Commercial Institute, an educational initiative founded by Wanamaker that trained his employees in a variety of school subjects ranging from writing to arithmetic. According to Wanamaker, the idea for the institute emerged from his reflection on “the full and sacred obligations of employer and employee.” 
 
 
Camp attendees swimming 
 
While providing young employees with the opportunity to see the ocean, Camp Wanamaker also served as an extension of Wanamaker’s particular social and educational vision. Campers marched in unison, slept in military tents, were expected to keep their quarters spotless, trained in rifle exercises, and attended mandatory religious instruction. The camp was as much a bootcamp as it was a summer getaway.
 
 
Camp attendees playing in a concert band
 
Wanamaker sympathized with his workers and contributed to their enrichment more than the average Gilded Age tycoon. His motivation for creating the institution and camp, however, was not purely public-spirited. Wanamaker was vehemently anti-union, and the military-style indoctrination of young employees helped preempt labor organizing by providing them with a group identity and access to recreational activities.
 
 
 Competition trophies in front of one of the camp’s military style tents
Signature Image: 

Explore Philly app on smartphone

Explore the the African-American struggle for freedom and equality through a mobile-friendly walking tour developed by Philadelphia high school students.

Pages

Subscribe to Historical Society of Pennsylvania RSS