"P" (2014) by Melanie "CoCo" McCoy, 12" x 16", Acrylic on Cotton Canvas
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Reverend Paul Washington, a black priest in the predominantly white church in Philadelphia, Church of the Advocate said, “Those who are cowards will ask, ‘Is it safe?’ Those who are political will ask, “Is it expedient?’ Those who are vain will ask, “Is it popular?’ But those who have a conscience will ask, ‘Is it right?’.” In the early 1960’s, North Philadelphia residents also proposed the same question of morality or if the circumstances that they were facing right. The Northern city story of the Columbia Avenue Riots in 1964 often begins with the misinformation of the unjust police brutality of a black pregnant woman and white police in, but frustration and rage began to boil over and build up. The black population in North Philadelphia was not only the poorest, but also lacked decent housing. The black residents were angry, because of the visible racism and disparity. Those who were supposed to serve and protect, such as the police department, were becoming the enemy of Blacks. Racism was negating safeness and peace. Black people in a Northern city such as Philadelphia banned together in solidarity like other regions, against their white oppressors by way of both peace and violence in order to negate any further racial injustice.
Author, Hillary S. Kativa in her essay entitled “The Columbia Avenue Riots (1964)” states, “Indeed. Life in the area known as “the Jungle” was markedly poor in August 1964, as thousands occupied a marginal existence amidst the city’s worst housing and highest rates of unemployment and crime.”
Kativa also states:
Out of an African-American population of approximately 530,000, a little less than half lived in North Philadelphia, where youth generally completed only eight years of schooling and the average income, $3,352 per year, was about thirty percent lower than the city average. Furthermore, unemployment ranged between thirteen and twenty percent and was persistently high among young, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers. In addition, resentments and distrust between black residents and police fed discontent in North Philadelphia and left many residents searching for an outlet for their frustrations.
North Philadelphia residents to date are still down on their feet as many black residents are being displaced out of their homes as their homes are being placed on higher market values. North Philadelphia has always been a place for Black people that instead of outsiders considering the property blighted; they are actually referring to the Black people of the community. What happens when property owners, buyers and realtors see fit to do something humane as clean up and fix up a street, but acknowledge the most human individuals as nonhuman properties who need to immediately be vanquished?
Author, Kristin Koptiuch acknowledges the downward spiral of North Philadelphia in a reading entitled “Third-Worlding at Home” (p.90):
A quarter century ago, violent struggle wracked a North Philly African-American community reeling from the first flush of deindustrialization and the initial throes of what has by now become a wholesale extinction of labor-market options for young blacks (cf. Davis 1988). Thus was the 1964 Philadelphia riot on “Jump Street,” the once-lively business district along Columbia Avenue. The area has yet to recover from the devastation that seemed like a cancer to engulf ghettoize, and significantly depopulate it, but this lack of improvement has not been the result of self-inflicted wounds. Instead, it owes much to bankers’ redlining, realty disinvestment, middle-class black exodus, and federal cutbacks that Republican administrations have used since 1980 to starve the cities and thus undermine the traditional power base of the Democrats
In many ways, Kativa failed to mention the boiling point of the riots. The Columbia Ave. riots did not start because of false information, but started because Black residents were outraged about the police brutality and injustices that they were facing within their communities. Anything could have ensued a riot in the area, because people were that broken down and torn up.
In July of 1964, President B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The overall goal of the Act was to ban discrimination in “employment practices and public accommodations” (Civil Rights in a Northern City, Temple University). In no way could a bill stop discrimination or racism. The bill was simply a written bandage. The bill was used as a protective measure and caution for the people, Blacks in particular, but it was not going to cure society or negate discrimination. In less than three months, a riot took place at the corner of 23rd and Columbia Avenue. The riot was not about looting or taking something from an individual because these Black residents wanted or desired, but it was more about the individuals to who it belonged. When considering the riot, the underlying significance of why must be examined. These individuals were being robbed of not only their safety, but also being robbed of their humanity.
Research professor at the Graduate School of Social Work, Dr. James Jones, offers insight on the subject matter of race riots in the United States by way of author, Lenora E. Berson’s pamphlet “The Case Study of a Riot: The Philadelphia Story.”
Berson states (p.7):
Dr. Jones distinguishes a race riot from the other forms of violence in that “it is a clash between members of two ethnic groups in which the people on both sides are attacked solely because of their ethnic identification, and/or property is destroyed because it belongs to the members of a particular ethnic group.”
Black philosopher and writer, Frantz Fanon, argued in his book “Wretched of the Earth” in a chapter entitled “On Violence” or “Concerning Violence” that violence is a necessary evil for anyone trying to fight an oppressive system. In On Violence: A Reader, by editors Bruce B. Lawrence and Aisha Karim, Fanon’s “On Violence” has also been published.
“National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings use with the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon,” states Fanon (p. 80).
Fanon also states:
The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after murderous and decisive struggle between the two protagonists. That affirmed intention to place the last at the head of things, and to make them climb at a pace (too quickly, some say) The well-known steps which characterize and organize society, can only triumph if we use all means to turn the scale, including, of course that of violence.
Although peaceful civil rights organizations such as the NAACP under the leadership of Cecil B. Moore did exist, Black North Philadelphia residents were becoming restless.
Author, Matthew J. Countryman of Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia speaks of how Black North Philadelphia residents were becoming skeptical of civil rights movements and the civil disobedience campaigns, especially after the 1964 riot.
By the mid-1960s, many residents within the Philadelphia movement had begun to question the efficacy of civil rights protest and the desegregation agenda,” says Countryman (p.2). “Even Leon Sullivan, the driving force behind selected patronage, decided to shift this focus from protest to self-help strategies.”
During the latter part of the 1960’s a realization came to the younger Black population internationally that maybe the fight to negate racial injustice was not by creating self-help strategies. Instead of asking for justice, many came to an understanding that Blacks should take it by force, because nothing was working. The next phase of the civil rights era was the Black Power movement.
Countryman states (p.7):
The third aspect of the civil rights narrative that is transformed by community 1study the Philadelphia movement is our understanding of the reasons for the emergence of Black Power its impact on the civil rights movement and the broader context of racial politics in United States. In both popular memory of the historical literature of the civil rights movement, Black Power is usually depicted as an outside ideological influence whose incursion into the civil rights movement disrupted the movement’s sense of common purpose and goals. Often Black Power activists are described as sacrificing the movement’s commitment to mass protest and organizing strategies for the sake of ideological purity and an expressive politics of race pride and unrestrained rage at all things white.
Editor, Peniel E. Joseph and various other writers in The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era, address the writer, Walter Mosley’s perspective about the riots that were effecting the nation in the preface. “The riot was a rebellion,” says Mosley. “…a naturally formed revolution, an unconscious expression of a people who had lived entire lives, many generations, in a state of enforced consciousness.”
Radical political organizations such as the Black Panther Party, were surfacing all over the nation, including in Philadelphia. According to a conversation between Harold Treegoob and Nathan Agran in 1970, Philadelphia’s Black Panther Party had a chapter located at 35th Streeet and Haverford Avenue. The Black Panther Party was under the watchful eye of arguably racist, former Police Chief and Mayor Frank Rizzo. According to Koptiuch, the “era succeeding the 1964 riots witnessed both an emergent national movement for the extension of civil rights and, in Philadelphia’s urban jungle, an intensification of repression under the direction of police chief/mayor/ party turncoat (now Republican) Frank Rizzo)” (p.90).
The 1964 Columbia Ave. riots were a cry of distress for unjustly discriminated against Black North Philadelphia residents. The residents had enough of what little assistance they were being offered. They were going ignored and attempted to make themselves memorable through acts of violence. The Black United States as citizens were going through this together and it was only a matter of time before people started to rise up. Whether it was by way of peaceful protest, civil disobedience, or violence, Blacks shared the same goal, which was and still is to negate racial injustice.
- Berson, Lenora E. Case study of a riot: the Philadelphia story. No. 7. Institute of Human Relations Press, American Jewish Committee, 1966
- Civil Rights in a Northern City, Temple University
- Countryman, Matthew. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Univ of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.
- Joseph, Peniel E., ed. The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era. CRC Press, 2006.
- Lawrence, Bruce B., and Aisha Karim, eds. On violence: a reader. Duke University Press, 2007.
- Kativa, Hillary S. “The Columbia Avenue Riots (1964).” Civil Rights in a Northern City. N.p., n.d. Web. 2013. http://northerncity.library.temple.edu/content/collections/columbia-avenue-riots/what-interpretative-essay.
- Koptiuch, Kristin. “Third-worlding at home.” Social Text 28 (1991): 87-99.
The AfroFuturist Series… No. 1 “Android Androgyny” (2014), 14” x 18”, Acrylic on Cotton Canvas
Strong woman. Amazon.
Wear your scars like jewelry
cause they were bought with blood.
- Assata Shakur
"We have nothing to lose but our chains"
- Assata Shakur
"BADu" (2014) by Melanie "CoCo" McCoy, 14" x 18", Acrylic and Spray paint on Cotton Canvas
Oh hey Badu
It’s a true story in the city in the rain she fell in love for five minutes and I mean truly sick with love
Rain drops falling just as she is for him
For five minutes he seemed full of promises
Five minutes before that she was infatuated with him
With His hair dyed red it was like staring into the eyes of Malcolm
She was breaking past the people on Walnut St.
“I’m sorry,” she would say merely bashing someone in the head with her umbrella
She receives a message, “Where are you?”
“Around the corner,” she answers with creases forming on the sides of her mouth
High cheek bones are suddenly rising
The high rain suddenly falling
“I’m all wet up” she says
He stood there dryly underneath the Capital Grille awning posted on the wall in his James Dean stance smoking a cigarette
A man passing by stops and stares
In fact the world was
The boy with the red hair smiles and she looks away and two seconds later he flicked his cigarette and gently kissed her
He walked away
She was sick with love, but for only about five minutes