Friday, August 12, 2005

Everyone should get a Howard Zinn's A People's History for Christmas this year. At least everyone in my family. Shhhh, don't tell.

Speaking of a people's history, the intention of this blog was to really start to collect and document information about this house I live in. I haven't quite done that yet. Part of that work is done already on the website that is linked here. The street that I live on currently, which is named Waverly now, used to be called Ohio Street according to the map found at this site. This site seems to be a research project of a student at Bryn Mawr, and it is linked to a larger project of the Philadelphia Historical Society about the Washington West Neighborhood where I live. The data here was put together based on an African-American census from 1838.

I found it one day by searching simply for my address in Google.

Where I live is a historically important African American neighborhood. Today it is almost entirely white, this side of South Street. But in the mid-1800's it was the hub of the black community and there are signs all along the streets around here that show where important leaders in that community lived and work. The church around the block was the first African-American catholic church in the city (and possibly further ... I have to check on that again).

What I understand from this website is that in 1838, a "Committee to Visit the Colored People" was established by the Abolitionists and Quaker community in town. Apparently at the time there was continuing debate on whether or not freed blacks (men) had the right to vote. This committee was established to document that community and show how African-Americans were contributors to the community, and hence entitled to the vote.

This site is fascinating actually. Click on the map of Ohio Street and you will actually see a contemporary pictures of the courtyard. Click on the documentation to see a transcription of the data that was collected. You can find the names of the people who lived here, how many members there were in the household, what work they did, where they came from, etc.

My neighbors houses, on Eisemenger Street, actually have double basements ... part of the Underground Railroad.

During this next week, when I have time off from work, I might try to find out a bit more about this place. I would love to do a puppet show here with Spiral Q, one that would dig into the history of this place and retell some of its stories. An oral history project seems like just the thing to do, actually.