In this city of “brotherly love” there has been little love shown to the brothers and less to the sisters. Philadelphia is a mostly Black city and yet Black residents are virtually absent from the public history and monuments of the city. I am calling on you to help me change that!
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We the undersigned residents for the the city of Philadelphia hereby petition the council to pass an ordinance requiring an immediate street name change. We request that Wallace St. (between 7th and 8th streets) be renamed “Mumia Abu-Jamal Way.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an activist, journalist, scholar who was raised on Wallace St. in a close knit Black community in the 1950s and 60s. Throughout his life as a radio personality and writer, Abu-Jamal worked tirelessly to assure safety and just treatment for Black residents in Philly and in other major cities around the nation. He used his voice as a powerful tool for change during his career as a journalist for notable outlets such as WHYY. Throughout his 39 years of political incarceration and constant censorship, he has consistently written and published more than a dozen books about issues of social justice including a recent book, Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? (2017). He is one of the leading figures of contemporary Philadelphia Black history across media, politics, and letters and he tackles issues of racial injustice, policing, prisons, labor and international politics.
In this city of “brotherly love” there has been little love shown to the brothers and less to the sisters. Philadelphia is a mostly Black city and yet Black residents are virtually absent from the public history and monuments of the city. African Americans are 45% of the city’s population and the largest of Philadelphia’s minority groups. Yet, in this mostly Black city, which boasts over 1500 public sculptures and monuments, only two of those sculptures pay tribute to Black history and life in the city. Those only recently constructed monuments included that of an unnamed school aged Black girl which stands in South Philadelphia’s Smith Playground (2019) and the statue Civil of Octavius Catto at City Hall in 2017. In this historic city, monuments and memorials are central to making important history public and accessible. The renaming of Wallace St. is a crucial symbol that will mark the history and future of movements for social justice in the city that claims to be the birthplace of liberty.
Black people have consistently struggled to survive in Philadelphia since the dawn of this nation-- across generations of racist violence, oppression, and displacement at the hands of non-Black residents. This history of Black Philadelphia life and struggle has not been documented to any acceptable degree. In fact, that history has been mocked through the 2018 renaming of a portion of 59th St. W. Wilson Goode Sr. Way, in spite of the fact that he committed unprecedented acts of intraracial violence in his first mayoral term after dropping a bomb on the Black neighborhood of Cobbs Creek, destroying 61 homes and murdering 11 members of the MOVE organization, including six young children. Similarly, Christopher Columbus has a major boulevard named after him, as well as a statue, which, until very recently stood looming as a violent symbol of his and other colonizer’s violent massacre of Native peoples in the Americas. These statues and street names in our city must more accurately convey the history of Black residents who have lived here and produced for generations
In the wake of continued racism and violence against Black people and activists in Philadelphia and across the country, it is imperative that we honor those community histories and Black lives that have pushed to transform our society into one that is truly free for all. Mumia Abu-Jamal is just that person who pushes to make sure Black lives truly matter in our city.