BLACK HISTORY TODAY: Philadelphia Leaders and Their Legacies

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THE FIGHT to integrate Girard College was a touchstone of Philadelphia’s civil-rights movement in the 1960s and 970s. Many leaders of that era have left a strong legacy in the city’s contemporary leadership.

The Philadelphia Public Record features profiles of Philadelphia civil-rights leaders by their descendants.

LUCIEN BLACKWELL

Lucien Blackwell

Lucien E. Blackwell was a labor leader, state representative, city councilman and U.S. congressman. His reputation included fighting against gang war in the 1970s, when his slogan was: “Help stop gang wars. Give youth something to do, something to love and something to look forward to.”

Lucien believed in helping those in need and influenced government to create the first funded City department to aid homeless people. While in City Council, he was responsible for minorities getting City contracts through the Minority Business Enterprise Council with the help of John Macklin. Lucien also passed landmark legislation forbidding discrimination based on gender.

During his political career, he was accompanied by his wife Jannie, whom he met when she taught his children at the neighborhood school. She was so influenced by him that she succeeded him in City Council. They were the first couple to be elected to public office on the same day, she to City Council and he to U. S. Congress.

Named in his honor are the Lucien E. Blackwell Homes, the Lucien E. Blackwell Regional Library and the Lucien E. Blackwell Community Center (under construction).

Lucien was an avid amateur boxer, winning the Diamond Belt Championship. He always maintained close ties with local boxers. Honoring him in the year of his passing, the Lucien E. Blackwell Annual Boxing Tournament was established as well as The Lucien E. Blackwell Guiding Light Award which recognizes community leaders.

Lucien E Blackwell will always be remembered for his love for the common man and his faith in God. Even today, people still say that they are sorry he is gone and how much they miss him!
–Jannie Blackwell

(Milton_Street)
MILTON STREET (1941-)

Milton & John Street

On the recent occasion of the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglas we reflect on his legacy and impact as orator, abolitionist, educator, historian, newspaper editor and statesman. He elevated himself from slave to one of the most important abolitionists and American figures in modern history. Ironically an embodiment of the self-made man during a period blind to his humanity and historical relevance.

My uncle, Milton Street, Sr., former state representative, then state senator for the 3rd District, and my father John Street, former City Council president of Philadelphia and mayor, have built a legacy that has also inspired me.

As young men, they fought for human rights in the 1970s and elevated themselves from hotdog vendors to political figures. Often overcoming significant barriers to their progress, whether racial, financial or otherwise. In the immortal words of Frederick Douglass, I am reminded, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”

JOHN STREET (1943-)

I serve now as senator for that same 3rd Senate District in Philadelphia proudly, a son inspired by the work I saw my father do: with more than 100,000 vacant lots cleared, $300 million anti-blight initiative replacing abandoned buildings with community centers and other community projects and $2 billion in economic services along with $350 million in budget surplus when he left office; I know progress is possible.

I look to the future hopeful and acutely aware that I am positioned to continue a legacy of service for all Pennsylvanians and especially our most-vulnerable communities.
– Sharif Street

Rev. John White, Sr.

When my grandfather, John White Sr., passed away in 1999, I vividly remember the cover of the Daily News declaring him the Godfather of Black Politics. At 13, I didn’t realize the weight of his legacy or the impact that he had and would continue to have on the political landscape in Philadelphia.

REV. JOHN WHITE, SR. C, (1924-1999) and family

In 1968, my grandfather helped to found the Black Political Forum, with the purpose of electing African Americans that were true public servants. Between the group’s founding and the election of W. Wilson Goode as the first African American mayor of Philadelphia, the Black Political Forum helped elected 10 city and state elected officials and one member of Congress.

From Hardy Williams to David P. Richardson to William H. Gray III to his son (and my father) John White, Jr., my grandfather worked tirelessly to expand the political influence and power of African Americans in Philadelphia.

Electing African Americans was not the goal but rather the means to the end. Once they were elected, my grandfather used the Black Political Forum to bring elected and community African American leaders together to consider how their combined influence could affect true change in the African American community. He served as a confidant and strategist for African American leaders seeking to influence the community in positive ways.

As an example, he was integral in helping C. Delores Tucker become the first African American woman to serve as Secretary of State in Pennsylvania and mentored Rev. Charles Quann and Rev. James Lovett, among others, as they answered the call of ministry.

My grandfather believed that the best way to uplift the community was to dedicate one’s life to public service to help others; a belief that has been instilled in the lives of all he touched and to this day remains a core value of the men that carry on his legacy, including me, my father and brothers.

The inscription on my grandfather’s tombstone reads: “Lift the Burdens of others while holding Christ above all.” It is by these words that he lived and it is the legacy he left behind – to better Philadelphia and the surrounding community.
–Kellan R. White
First Deputy City Controller

HARDY WILLIAMS (1931-2010)

Hardy Williams

Hardy Williams was the architect of the independent Black political movement in Philadelphia. He stood up to the old, Democratic establishment and created a diverse coalition to fight for change in his community. He ran for mayor in 1971 when no one thought a Black candidate could run a serious campaign.

When you speak with those who knew him, they will tell you Hardy Williams was a brilliant lawyer who left millions of dollars on the table when he went into public service. In his heart, Hardy was a grassroots community organizer and a social justice leader. His primary mission was to achieve good government for those who did not have a voice.

Hardy Williams served in the Pennsylvania State Assembly for 30 years, retiring in 1998. He died in 2010, but so many of those he touched continue his fight to this day. They met him as children at a campaign rally or a town hall meeting. Perhaps they met him because he’d heard they were in trouble. He instilled in them a sense of community, a sense of purpose, and a sense of self.

His legacy endures in his son, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. It endures in State Reps. Joanna McClinton and Jordan Harris. It endures in Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and Congressman Dwight Evans. It endures in the work of Lynette Brown-Sow, Dr. Tom Reid and so many others.

This Black History Month, we honor Hardy Williams. He spent his life in the service of his community.
– Anthony Hardy Williams

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