Systemic Racism and Historic Preservation by Faye Anderson, PhillyJazz.us

Systemic Racism and Historic Preservation by Faye Anderson, PhillyJazz.us

From the colonial era to the Civil War, Philadelphia was a center of organized resistance to slavery. The city was also home to the largest and wealthiest African American population in the country. Philadelphia’s Black elite included Henry Minton (1811-1883), a caterer and abolitionist whose guests included John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and William Still, the Father of the Underground Railroad. But this history is largely absent from the properties listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

Last year the Philadelphia Historical Commission ignored the unanimous recommendation of its Committee on Historic Designation and rejected the nomination of the Henry Minton House for listing on the local register because its façade has been altered. Midwood Investment & Development plans to demolish one of the few extant buildings in Philadelphia associated with the Underground Railroad.

Midwood CEO John Usdan signaled his biased view of history in 2017. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer Usdan said:

Because the city’s so rich in history and has all these great historic buildings and amazing places where you want to congregate, it’s exactly what the demographic moving to Philly wants [emphasis added].

That is what systemic racism in historic preservation sounds like. This is what it looks like. The Historical Commission applied a Jim Crow-like test of historic integrity that the Betsy Ross House and “historic” properties in Society Hill could not pass.

For a deeper dive, check out my essay “Henry Minton House, Systemic Racism and Historic Preservation.”

Community fights to save Casarez mural by Jason Villemez, Philadelphia Gay News

Community fights to save Casarez mural by Jason Villemez, Philadelphia Gay News, October 21, 2020

Photo: Kelly Burkhardt

LGBTQ community members and allies held a vigil at the 12th St. mural of the late Gloria Casarez Monday night. The building and mural, which was put up in 2015 to honor Casarez, are set to be demolished to make way for a 31-story residential building. A banner was hung in front of the building which read “Keep Gloria on 12th.” After the vigil, organizers held a virtual town hall to discuss further actions to prevent the mural’s demolition.

According to town hall attendees, final zoning was granted to developers last week, but there is no date set for demolition and no street closure permits have been approved yet. Also at issue is a historical designation for the Camac Baths, which is part of the building complex.

The development company for the new building, Midwood Investment & Development has told LGBTQ leaders that it would work with stakeholders to honor Casarez in some way on the new building. However, no such plans have yet been confirmed in writing.

Casarez was the city’s first Director of LGBT Affairs and a pioneer in Philly’s LGBTQ community.

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