Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner famously said, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Faulkner’s observation was in stark relief in the wake of First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks at the Democratic National Convention during which she said:
I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters – two beautiful, intelligent, black young women – playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
Like antebellum apologists for the “peculiar institution,” Fox News host Bill O’Reilly opined that slavery was benign and paternalistic. O’Reilly said, “Slaves that worked there [the White House] were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”
We must never forget that slavery is America’s original sin. Few have done more to preserve “the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage” than Charles L. Blockson, curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro‐American Collection at Temple University. A “keeper of the culture,” Dr. Blockson spearheaded the effort to recognize that Penn’s Landing was the arrival point for captured Africans in Philadelphia. The first Africans arrived in 1684 on the ship Isabella.
I attended the unveiling of “The Pennsylvania Slave Trade” historical marker on Friday.
The historical marker is a stone’s throw from the London Coffee House which was located at Front and High (now Market) streets. There, captured Africans were inspected and sold to the highest bidder.
Dr. Blockson is also responsible for the London Coffee House historical marker.
In his remarks, Dr. Blockson noted captured Africans were held in slave pens at several locations in Philadelphia. He urged us to save other historical sites. I promised him that I would do the research for the slave pen at 3rd and High streets and nominate it for a historical marker.
Dr. Blockson exhorted us to “Wake up! Speak up!” I fully intend to stay woke.