Tag Archives: Philadelphia History

New Accession Spotlight: the John Dowlin Papers

Bike for a Better City Button

“Bike for a Better City”

John Dowlin used the bicycle as a means of political, diplomatic, and environmental activism. In 1974, after recently relocating to Philadelphia, he co-founded the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition. Dowlin and the Coalition saw the bicycle as a viable, cheaper alternative to the car and the answer to environmental concerns, as well as traffic and congestion issues in the City. With a goal to increase bicycle ridership, they pushed for accommodations for bicycles on all public transit, including buses, trains and even planes, and safe bicycle lanes on city streets and even the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Dowlin was director of the Bicycle Parking Foundation, founder of the international Bicycle Network, and editor of Network News and the Cycle and Recycle reusable wall calendar. Internationally, Dowlin led Tour de Cana, bicycle touring in Cuba and Latin America, and was president of Citizen Diplomats, ‘people-to-people’ diplomacy in Cuba. In the 1980s, Dowlin participated in Bike for Peace, during which he and other bikers rode together from Leningrad to Washington, DC. He was also an active neighbor in West Philadelphia’s Powelton Village. Together with Drexel University and the Powelton Village Neighbors Association, he worked on the Westbank Greenway Project to improve the Schuylkill River banks in West Philadelphia.

A small selection of John Dowlin’s papers documenting his work is on display in the Greenfield Special Collections Research Center Reading Room, Charles Library, for the month of December 2022.

Dowlin, with the assistance of his daughter Debby, donated his papers to the SCRC in Summer 2020. Staff are preparing the collection for research use. Among his many projects, Dowlin also worked with Rick Shnitzler on Taillight Diplomacy, promoting the preservation and restoration of Cuba’s old cars. Shnitzler’s papers, also in the SCRC, were recently opened to research use.

–Courtney Smerz, Collection Management Archivist, SCRC

Battling Housing Discrimination in Post-War Philadelphia

Your Home in a Changing Neighborhood booklet

Philadelphia’s African-American population grew during World War II and in the decades that followed. Exacerbated by racial segregation, this population growth led to a severe housing shortage among the city’s Black population. In response, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Philadelphia Branch, and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations led efforts to combat racial discrimination and segregation in housing. Records documenting these efforts are on display in the latest Special Collections Research Center pop-up exhibit in the reading room.


Fair housing efforts of this period at first focused mostly on appeals to principles of justice and fairness in order to reduce barriers to housing for African Americans. In the 1950s and 60s, Philadelphia became an epicenter for fair housing activism. Notably, in 1951 voters approved a Home Rule Charter, which banned discrimination in public employment, public accommodations, and housing. The new charter also created the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (CHR), whose mandate was to enforce the charter’s prohibitions on racial segregation. Under Mayor Joseph Clark, the first Democrat to serve as mayor (1952- 1956) since the nineteenth century, the city instituted reforms on a wide variety of issues, including reforms aimed at fighting racial housing discrimination.


Filmstrip focuses attention on neighborhood integration cover

The CHR provided education about housing integration through publications, films, and neighborhood programs, a few of which are on display. Despite these efforts, racial discrimination, tension, and white flight continued. In response, the commission shifted its focus to crafting and supporting fair housing legislation more broadly at the local and state level.

What To Do pamphlet


The NAACP, Philadelphia Branch, under the leadership of Charles A. Shorter, also made important strides in extending civil rights during this period. Shorter led successful efforts to force department stores to hire black clerks, end segregated seating in Philadelphia theaters, and integrate the Philadelphia Real Estate Board and the Pennsylvania Parole Board, among other accomplishments in this era. In 1953, the Philadelphia Branch was awarded the Thalheimer Award, the NAACP’s top award given to branches for outstanding achievements.

Letter from Shorter to Letson


Included in this pop-up exhibit are a selection of items from the NAACP, Philadelphia Branch Records, the Urban Archives Pamphlet Collection, and clippings and photographs form the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection documenting efforts by CHR and the NAACP Philadelphia Branch to combat housing segregation and white flight during the economic and demographic changes of the post-war years in Philadelphia.

–Josue’ Hurtado, Coordinator of Public Services, SCRC

LGBTQ+ PRIDE MONTH: Pride in the Archives

Stonewall to San Francisco event flyer

Pride month began in 1970 and is celebrated every June. It honors the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, when members of the LGBTQ+ community responded to a June 18, 1969, police raid at Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York City, with a series of demonstrations. The demonstrations lasted six days, with many people arrested.

On June 28, 1970, the first Pride March occurred in New York City on the uprising’s one-year anniversary, with up to 5,000 marchers demonstrating against centuries of abuse and discrimination. Celebrations in the years afterward include parades, picnics, parties, concerts, workshops, and other events to recognize the impact LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations have had on history. Memorials are also held for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS.

The first gay pride demonstration in Philadelphia took place on June 11, 1972, with over 10,000 people marching from Rittenhouse Square to Independence Park. While pride events took place every year, the parades would only continue for the next three years due to the more popular New York City parades. However, on June 18, 1989, the city resumed its gay pride parade and rally with over 1,000 people marching from 10th and Spruce Streets to JFK Plaza. The parades and rallies have continued in the city ever since. This year’s parade, scheduled for June 5, will look a little different, however, with a community march instead of a parade. It will be followed by a pride festival in the Gayborhood.

1993 Pridefest flyer

The Special Collections Research Center commemorates Gay Pride Month 2022 with a pop-up exhibit in our reading room featuring selections from collections that focus on the LGBTQ+ community and their coverage of pride events around the city through the years. The exhibit includes material from the AIDS Library (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records, the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force Records, the Philadelphia Gay News, and the Scott Wilds Papers.

–Ann Mosher, BA II, Special Collections Research Center

exhibit case

Celebrating Grace Baptist Church’s 150th Anniversary

Temple University Libraries was pleased to be a part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Grace Baptist Church (now of Blue Bell), recognizing the deep connections the University has with that congregation.

In the 1870s, the fledgling congregation pitched its tent and then built its first building at the corner of Berks and Marvine—now under Temple’s Gladfelter Hall. In 1882, they called the Rev. Russell Conwell from a small congregation in Lexington, Massachusetts, to become their pastor and changed the history of Philadelphia.  Conwell’s ability to inspire, to build, and to create and recreate institutions included not only Temple University, but also Greatheart and Samaritan hospitals and the Samaritan Aid Society, among others. Starting in 1884, Grace Baptist Church facilities hosted the first night classes of what would eventually become Temple University.

Photograph of Russell Conwell, 1882
Russell Conwell, 1882

Shortly after Conwell and his family arrived, he and the congregation determined to build a larger building, and in a leap of faith, bought the land at the corner of Berks and Broad sts in 1886. Faith was also required to raise the funds to build the Temple. Groundbreaking took place in 1889, the building, an example of the Victorian Romanesque-revival style, was designed by architect Thomas P. Lonsdale, and Grace Baptist Church dedicated the building for worship on March 1, 1891.

Photograph of the Temple. 1890s
Baptist Temple, 1890s

With a seating capacity of 4600, it was at the time one of the largest Protestant church buildings in the United States. The Temple served as the congregation’s home for the next eight decades, until they sold the building to Temple University in 1974 for a little over a half-million dollars. It hosted worship services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, Sunday School classes, community meals and events. At the same time, Temple celebrated scores of commencement ceremonies there–and Russell Conwell’s life at legacy during his funeral in 1925. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the Temple in 1965 in support of the desegregation of Girard College.

The building was certified by the Philadelphia Historical Commission as an historic building in 1984, and in 2003 it was designated by the American Institute of Architects as a Landmark Building. The University renovated the Temple to become its performing arts center, opening in 2010. Restored by the architectural firm RMJM in Philadelphia, it includes Lew Klein Hall, the main-stage space, in what had been the church sanctuary, featuring a thrust stage with seating for about 2,000 on three sides. Most of the building’s 140 stained-glass windows can be seen from the theater.

Church members viewing pop-up exhibit

Sixty congregation members and friends visited Temple campus on May 1, 2022, to tour the Temple, visit Rev. Conwell’s grave, attend a reception and self-guided tour in Charles Library, and view an extensive pop-up exhibit featuring primary source material from the University Archives documenting Conwell’s life and the congregation’s early history. A selection from the exhibit remains on display in the Special Collections Research Center reading room through May.

Group photo of church members on performing arts center stage.
Grace Baptist Church members, May 2022 (May 2022 photographs courtesy of Heidi Roland Photography)

Margery Sly, Director, Special Collections Research Center



Patti Smith at Middle Earth Books

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Temple Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) is featuring a small pop-up exhibit about the publication of poet and punk musician Patti Smith’s Kodak in 1972 by the Philadelphia bookstore, Middle Earth Books. The one-case exhibit is in the SCRC Reading Room on the 1st floor of Charles Library and will be up through April, Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 5:30.

In the early 1970s, Patti Smith was just beginning her punk rock singing career, but she was already known in New York’s punk scene for her poetry, where she regularly did poetry readings before shows at the Mercer Art Center and at the Poetry Project in St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in the East Village. During this time, she was also doing readings at Middle Earth Books in Philadelphia. Founded in 1969 by Samuel and Sims Amico, the bookstore, located at 1134 Pine Street, began hosting readings and publishing their own chapbooks, highlighting the underground literary and art scene. The Special Collections Research Center houses a collection of the records of the bookstore from 1972 to 1979. Donated by the founder Samuel Amico in 2009, the records include materials relating to Middle Earth Books’ poetry readings, publications, and commercial activities promoting poetry and poets. It includes correspondence, posters, paste-ups, and broadsides of many well-known poets of the 1970s.

In a 1995 Philadelphia City Paper interview entitled “Seventh Heaven” by A.D. Amorosi, Patti Smith was asked about what Middle Earth Books meant to her and she responded, “If it wasn’t my first reading, it was the first out-of-town thing because I was living in New York at the time, which made it very exciting. Like a first job….I was 22 and Robert Mapplethorpe and I were living together at the time in the Chelsea Hotel and he took the Polaroid for the cover. Didn’t make any money (laughs) but just the thrill of seeing one’s work, that someone thought it worthy of printing…”.

The exhibit includes pages from the original typescript of Kodak, two photographs of Smith reading at Middle Earth Books, two letters from Smith to the owners of Middle Earth, and the published volume, one of only 100 copies printed. In one of the letters on exhibit, she writes of the impact her association with the Philadelphia bookshop had on her creative process: “That reading at Phillie was so good for me. Something snapped. Ever since then I got better. looser. Sacrifice the art for the moment. It feels so good.”

The Special Collections Research Center has numerous contemporary poetry volumes and broadsides throughout our collections. Several of our archival collections, like the Middle Earth Books records, are dedicated to documenting the writing and publishing of poetry. For more information about our collections, please visit our website or email us at scrc@temple.edu.

Kimberly Tully
Librarian and Curator of Rare Books

Smith standing on table
Patti Smith reading at Middle Earth Books, Philadelphia, circa 1972

SCRC Staff Picks Exhibit: What’s Great, New, Next?

Visit Charles Library to see our latest exhibit highlighting a few of our collections.

8 staff members; 18 stories

Zoo promotion slideCollecting and organizing collections may have slowed a little during the pandemic, but that work did not stop altogether. SCRC staff believe we consistently acquire collections with significant research value—they’re all ‘great’ by definition. These staff picks are purchases and donations from individuals and organizations that represent our collecting strengths, caught our fancy, have already been used for research and instruction—or should provide the ‘next’ research project for a fortunate user.

For more information about these materials and the  SCRC’s rich holdings, visit library.temple.edu/scrc.

FEATURED COLLECTIONS

URBAN ARCHIVES
Asian Arts Initiative Records, 1992-2018
Caroline R. Johnson Mackie Ledger and Diary, 1906-1908
Masonic Lodge, “Welcome,” No. 453, Philadelphia, Pa., Records, 1869-1890
Philadelphia Zoo Records, 1859-2017
Philco Oral History Project Files, 1930s-50s, 1988-89
Society Hill Playhouse Records, 1938-2016
Tasty Baking Company Records, 1930-2006TastyKake factory

PHILADELPHIA JEWISH ARCHIVES
Jewish Community Relations Council Records, 1920-2004
Shaindele di Chazante Collection, 1929-1968

ARTISTS’ BOOKS  Halah Khan. Love Letter II, 2021.

page from Halah Kahn book
Halah Kahn, Love Letter II

RARE BOOKS
Complete Commercial Artist (現代商業美術全集 / Gendai shōgyō bijutsu zenshū). Tokyo: Ars, 1928-1930.
Selected Broadsides. Dublin and Churchtown, Ireland: Cuala Press, 1908-1915.

MANUSCRIPTS
“Great Britain Statement of Conditions Permitting Trade with the West Indies,” December 15, 1801
“Stratto del pagamento dello gabella delle porti della citta di Firenze,” after 1423
Jazūlī, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān (1404-1465), جزولي، محمد بن سليمان “Dalāʼil al-khayrāt wa shawāriq al-anwār fī dhikr al-ṣalāh ʻalá al-nabī al-mukhtār,“
دلائل الخيرات و شوارق الانوار في ذكر الصلاة على النبي المختار, Egypt, 1801

page from Jazuli manuscript
Dalāʼil al-khayrāt; دلائل الخيرات.;

CONTEMPORARY CULTURE COLLECTION
Craig Lentz Public History Ephemera Collection, 1952-2015
Youth Liberation Press Records, 1967-2002

UNIVERSITY ARCHIVES/URBAN ARCHIVES/
CONTEMPORARY CULTURE COLLECTION
John Groutt Commune Research Materials, 1969-1971

 

With thanks to SCRC staff members Casey Babcock, Brenda Galloway-Wright, Josué Hurtado, Katy Rawdon, Margery Sly, Courtney Smerz, Kim Tully, and Holly Wilson for their ‘picks,’ and to Ann Mosher for graphic design and production.

 

–Margery Sly, Director

 

Uptown Theater

Exterior of Uptown Theater, April 7, 1972
Exterior of Uptown Theater, April 7, 1972, Philadelphia Daily News, Sam Psoras, Photographer

The Uptown Theater, located at 2240 North Broad Street, opened on February 16, 1929. The five-story Art Deco theater was designed by the noted architectural firm Magaziner, Eberhard and Harris, and featured a terracotta façade, high ceilings, stain-glass windows, plush carpets and velvet seats. The theater was originally owned by the Stanley Theater/Warner Brothers chain, and movie-goers included wealthy industrialists and working-class immigrant families that resided along the bustling North Broad Street corridor.

In the decades following the Great Depression, with the collapse of Philadelphia’s manufacturing base, and rising unemployment and crime, many white residents moved out of Philadelphia and into the suburbs. By the 1950s, North Philadelphia had become the center of African American culture as the Black population grew significantly due to migration from southern states, and the pervasive practice of housing discrimination that limited the mobility of many African Americans to inner city neighborhoods.

Theater mogul Samuel H. Stiefel purchased the Uptown Theatre in 1951, where he promoted live rhythm and blues, gospel, and soul music shows that targeted African American audiences. The theater became a pivotal player along with the Apollo Theater in New York, the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, and Regal Theater in Chicago, on the “Chitlin Circuit.” This nationwide network of performance venues helped to advance the careers of Black singers, musicians, and comedians in the era of Jim Crow and racial discrimination at white mainstream entertainment spots.

newspaper clipping
Public Ledger, February 10, 1929

In its heyday, the Uptown featured performances by Ray Charles, James Brown, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, Patti Labelle, and the Temptations, to name a few. Comedians such as Redd Fox and Flip Wilson also performed at the Uptown Theater. The theater hosted amateur nights where local artists could compete for prizes. The Uptown was also unique in that it had its own house band. The longest tenured band director, Sam Reed, led the band from 1963 to 1971.

From 1957 to 1972, WDAS personality and civil rights activist Georgie Woods produced the groundbreaking shows at the Uptown and played a key role in the economic growth of the neighborhood as theatregoers shopped and dined in the surrounding businesses. Georgie Woods also organized “Freedom Shows” held at the Uptown. The money raised from these events funded various civil rights organizations and causes.

newspaper clipping
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 1962

The Uptown Theater closed in 1978 due to continued neighborhood decline following the riots, “white flight,” and changes in the music industry. It was used as a church in the 1980s before storm damage and neglect forced the building to close in 1991. In 2001, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC) headed by the late Linda Richardson purchased the building. In the years following UEDC’s acquisition, they secured funding from private and public resources , beginning renovations on the building to include a theater, technology center, artist lofts, and office space. In 2019, the Uptown commemorated its 90th anniversary by relighting the marque. The organization envisioned that the Uptown would serve as a hub for the cultural and economic regrowth of the neighborhood, and play an important role in the ongoing revitalization of the North Broad Street corridor. The Uptown is scheduled to reopen sometime in 2022.

The Uptown Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

–Brenda Galloway-Wright, Associate Archivist, Special Collections Research Center

The Church of the Advocate

Church of the Advocate Interior, 1953
Church of the Advocate interior, 1953

The George W. South Memorial Church of the Advocate was built between 1887 and 1897, honoring a Philadelphia merchant and civic leader. Noted church architect Charles M. Burns (1838-1922) designed the impressive structure in the Gothic Revival style, adorned with intricate stone carvings, flying buttresses, and striking stained glass windows. The church compound located at 18th and Diamond Streets in North Philadelphia included a chapel, parish house, clergy residence and baptistery.

 

Front of Church of the Advocate, 1979
Church of the Advocate, 1979

From its founding, the church leaders believed that religion should be “free for all time” and eliminated the widespread practice during that period of renting pews. This action made it possible for parishioners to attend services regardless of financial or social status. The church also provided missionary services to a growing middle and working-class immigrant community that lived and worked in the surrounding neighborhood. During the 1950s, the evolving social and economic factors in Philadelphia would eventually lead to a change in the church’s social mandate to address the needs of a previously white but now predominantly African American community in North Philadelphia.

 

Rev. Paul M. Washington, 1969
Rev. Paul M. Washington, 1969

Paul M. Washington served as rector for the Church of the Advocate from 1962 until his retirement in 1989. Under his leadership, the church played a significant role in the civil rights movement in Philadelphia. The church hosted major events including the Third National Conference on Black Power in 1968, the Black Panther Party Convention in 1970, and the rally to raise money for the Angela Davis Defense Fund in 1971. The church also offered a variety of social services and outreach programs to the surrounding neighborhood including The Advocate Café (soup kitchen) established in 1983 to provide meals and coordinate the distribution of gently used clothing to those in need.


In support of women’s rights, the Church of the Advocate hosted the ordination of the first eleven women deacons into the Episcopal Church priesthood on July 29, 1974. Episcopalian leadership mounted a challenge to the legitimacy of the ordination which ultimately failed under worldwide public scrutiny and mounting pressure from women’s advocacy groups. The ordination of women priests was approved at the denomination’s General Convention in 1976. Barbara Harris who served as a senior warden at the Church of the Advocate during that historic service would eventually become the first woman consecrated as a bishop in the Anglican Communion in 1989

Ordination of women priests, 1974
Ordination of women priests, 1974


Between 1973 and 1976, Reverend Washington commissioned local Black artists Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson to paint fourteen murals installed in the main sanctuary. These murals depict scenes from slavery to the civil rights movement and offered a connection between biblical themes and the Black experience in Africa and America.


The church building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and designated a National Historic Landmark on June 19, 1996.

Church of the Advocate remains a showpiece of architectural design with a legacy of social activism amid the ever-changing landscape of North Philadelphia communities.

–Brenda Galloway-Wright, Associate Archivist, Special Collections Research Center

Photographs from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection, SCRC, digital.library.temple.edu

In Memoriam: Tom Whitehead

Whitehead at podiumTemple University Libraries mourns the loss of Thomas Whitehead, who worked for 45 years to  grow the extraordinary archives and special collections held by the Libraries today. 

Tom’s long and distinguished career in special collections librarianship began at Syracuse University, where he served in the Rare Book Department, first as cataloger and then as bibliographer. A native of Jamestown, New York, Tom received his BA from Bucknell University with a major in history and a minor in mathematics. He received his MLS from Syracuse University, where he also spent time as a lecturer in the School of Library Science, teaching a graduate course entitled “The Library and the Adult Reader.”

On August 14, 1967, little more than a year after Paley Library opened, Tom came to Temple as Rare Book Librarian.  Through the years, Tom’s titles changed but his passion for rare books and manuscripts remained constant. Over the course of five decades, he acquired amazing additions to special collections, ranging from a stunning William Morris Kelmscott Chaucer, to illuminated manuscripts, to a wonderful Holinshed’s Chronicle. One of his final endeavors was completion of an extraordinary lithographic manual collection, including an 1818 edition of Aloys Senefelder’s classic work on lithography, considered one of the most important books published in the nineteenth century.

Whitehead in rare book vault
Tom Whitehead with the Kelmscott Chaucer, 1986

Tom  brought many wonderful manuscript collections to Temple ranging from the literary papers of poet Lyn Lifshin, to the records of the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to the papers of Father Paul Washington and the papers of Franklin Littell, a father of  American Holocaust Studies. Other significant collections expanded by Tom include the Contemporary Culture Collection; the Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection; printing, publishing, and bookselling collections; and the list goes on and on. One of Tom’s lasting legacies is our Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection. Temple is the home of this incomparable resource documenting 20th century Philadelphia because of Tom’s single-handed efforts to save the material and house the archives here.

Starting in 1968, Tom was active in the Philobiblon Club of Philadelphia, serving as its secretary and on its board.  As collector with wide reaching interests and a printer, “Amber Beetle Press,”  he had a natural affinity with the Philobiblon members who are collectors, dealers, and curators. 

Tom also served as Temple’s representative to the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) from the organization’s inception in 1985 until 2006. He retired as Senior Curator for Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts in January 2013.  His retirement occasioned donations to the collections in his honor, and SCRC again plans to acquire an appropriate item dedicated to his memory.

Tom made an indelible impact on our special collections and the scholars and researchers who use them–a legacy that will continue to benefit future generations. 

–Margery Sly, Director, Special Collections Research Center 


Around North Philadelphia : Progress Plaza

Progress PlazaProgress Plaza is the oldest shopping center owned and controlled by African-Americans in the United States. The two-million-dollar development located in the 1500 Block of North Broad Street opened in 1968, and was a dream realized by civil rights leader Reverend Leon Howard Sullivan and members of the Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. Throughout its more than 50-year history Progress Plaza remains a shining example of the power of self-help through community investment, job training, and entrepreneurship.

Reverend Leon Howard Sullivan became pastor of Zion Baptist Church located at Broad and Venango Streets in 1950. From his pulpit Sullivan organized social and economic initiatives designed to uplift the lives of African-Americans and other disadvantaged groups, including the “selective patronage” campaign which boycotted Philadelphia area businesses that followed discriminatory hiring practices; the creation of the job training program Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC); and the 10-36 Investment Plan.OIC classroom

Rev. Sullivan believed that both social and economic activism must exist to address inequality in America. On Sunday, June 15, 1962, he introduced his “10-36 Plan” to his church parishioners. He asked his members to invest 10 dollars per month for 36 months. The Plan generated much support, receiving 200 membership donations in one day. The Plan would eventually grow to include more than 3,000 shareholders. The 10-36 Plan established two organizations, Zion Non-Profit Charitable Trust (ZNPCT) and Zion Investment Associates (ZIA), which became Progress Investment Associates (PIA) in 1977. With $400,000 dollars in investor’s money and a negotiated deal with the Philadelphia Council for Community Development (PCCD) and the Redevelopment Authority to secure land on Broad Street, PIA received a loan from First Pennsylvania Bank to start construction of Progress Plaza.

Rev. Sullivan at dedication
Reverend Leon Sullivan at dedication

The dedication ceremony for Progress Plaza took place on October 27, 1968, and nearly 10,000 people attended the historic event. The Plaza officially opened on November 19, 1968, and leased space to nine African-American small businesses and six white owned establishments, including an A&P Supermarket. The large-scale project created numerous construction jobs for graduates from the OIC Training Program and, under a negotiated contract, the chain store tenants at the Plaza agreed to offer managerial opportunities to African American applicants. The ZNPCT also secured funding from the U. S. Department of Commerce, the U. S. Department of Labor, and the Ford Foundation to establish at Progress Plaza the Entrepreneurial Development Training Center to instruct 200 African Americans annually on how to start and manage new businesses.

The Plaza attracted many national figures. In 1968, Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon toured the facility as part of his campaign to encourage “Black Capitalism.” President Barrack Obama held a campaign rally there in 2008, and Michelle Obama visited Fresh Grocer at Progress Plaza to promote her “Let’s Move” campaign in 2010.

Progress Plaza struggled to survive amid the urban unrest and mass exodus of businesses and population from blighted areas of Philadelphia to the suburbs. After the SuperFresh Market at the Plaza closed in 1999, it would be 10 years before PIA brought in Fresh Grocer to anchor a 22-million-dollar renovation and expansion of the Plaza. The Plaza was later renamed Sullivan Progress Plaza in honor of Sullivan who died in 2001.Women shopping

In September 2016, the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission (PHMC) erected a historical marker on Broad Street to acknowledge Progress Plaza and its founder Reverend Leon Howard Sullivan’s contribution to this nation’s history.

Progress Plaza celebrated its 50th anniversary on October 27, 2018. It remains a symbol of economic resilience and pride in the surrounding North Philadelphia community.

To learn more about Reverend Sullivan and his work worldwide, view the following finding aids found in the Special Collections Research Center.
https://library.temple.edu/finding_aids/opportunities-industrialization-centers-of-america
https://library.temple.edu/finding_aids/opportunities-industrialization-centers-international
https://library.temple.edu/finding_aids/international-council-for-equality-of-opportunity-principles

– Brenda Galloway-Wright, Associate Archivist, SCRC