Open top menu
South Street should be sacred space for Black Philadelphia. Now it’s been tarnished by gun violence

South Street should be sacred space for Black Philadelphia. Now it’s been tarnished by gun violence

Share this article:

On Saturday, as the in-person return of The Roots Picnic made national news, with the music of Mary J. Blige, Kirk Franklin and so many more, we were about to make headlines of a different kind.

Some brothers started arguing on South Street, and moments later, while police were nearby, shots rang out from at least five guns, bodies dropped, and when the smoke cleared, 3 people were dead, 11 more were injured, and the national story of Black Philly’s artistry shifted to Black Philly’s pain. The shame of it all is that it happened on South Street.  

Why does that matter? Because when William Still and his wife were leaders in the underground railroad, risking their very lives to help Blacks escape from slavery, they lived on the 600 block of South Delhi St., just a half block from South Street. When Octavious Catto was rallying Black men to vote after the Civil War, he was murdered on election day just a block from his home on the 800 block of South Street. When the fight over gentrifying property took off in recent years, it was centered on the building that held the Royal Theater on South Street.

When Richard Allen and Absalom Jones got tired of the racism in the white church, they bought the land for Mother Bethel just a block and a half from South Street. Black Philly was centered on South Street. Boys II Men sang about South Street.  

Now we kill each other on South Street, and I’m angry. We’ve raised up generations who don’t know our sacred spaces, and if you don’t know where you’ve been as a people, you can’t know where you’re going. 

But the murders in our community are about much more than South Street. They’re about a people so traumatized that we would look in our brother’s face, see our own image, and shoot. Black men must stop hating each other. But to do that, we must learn to love ourselves.

Photo: Philadelphia By. Peter Miller

Creative Commons License