Celebrating the home of the movement

 

 

PHILADELPHIA, Apr. 18, 2011 – The Washington Community Outreach Foundation recently announced a 12-month campaign to recognize and document the role of Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate in the Black Consciousness/Black Political Movement under the leadership of the late Father Washington.    

 

            Led by Washington’s sons Kemah and Michael, the campaign, “Celebrating the Home of the Movement: Restoration of the Village,” will consist of a series of events to commemorate and document the history of the church and its tie to the Black Consciousness Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

 

            The campaign will be kicked-off with the first event, Saturday, May 21 , “Skin on Skins: Where it All Began,” a salute to the elder African drummers who began playing/teaching African drums at the church and in Philadelphia during that time.  Those being honored include Robert “Bobby” Crowder, Robert Artis, Robert Kenyatta, John Wilkie and Leonard “Doc” Gibbs.

 

            The extraordinary history of the Church of the Advocate began in October 1897 when it first opened.  A national historic landmark, the church was intended to be the Episcopal Cathedral of Philadelphia and is one of the best American examples of Gothic Revival style and the only major one of its period based on French sources. It was built as a memorial to the merchant/civil leader George W. South and is one of the few churches in the nation constructed on a grand scale specifically for a working class community.  The early church leaders decided that community mission work would be as important as its architectural splendor.

 

            That mission expanded greatly under the leadership of Father Paul Washington who began his tenure at the church in 1962.  Washington and the church became an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement of the early 60s and its evolution into the Black Consciousness Movement in the late 60s into the 1970s.  Washington become nationally known for his dedication to civil rights for all and Black empowerment.  He was a dedicated advocate of empowering people who “were hopeless and discouraged because they lacked power, political power.”

           

Although many are aware of our father’s contributions to the Black Consciousness Movement in Philadelphia, the average person is unaware of the central role and importance of the Church of the Advocate in the national Black Consciousness Movement under his leadership,” explained Kemah Washington.  “The church was the home of movement activities in Philadelphia and was known nationally as a haven for those seeking justice and empowerment. The primary focus of the campaign is educating the public to why it’s imperative that this important legacy be reactivated and restored.”

 

            Several historic events were held at the church. The 3rd National Conference on Black Power was held there in 1968 and drew young people and Black nationalists from throughout the nation. As a result, Washington became a respected leader in the Black Power Movement. In December 1969 when Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered by Chicago police, Washington hosted a memorial to the slain men at the church that drew some 1,000 mourners.  In 1970, the church hosted the Black Panthers’ Revolutionary Peoples Constitutional Conference that drew speakers such as Huey P. Newton.  In 1971, the Church of the Advocate became the organizing site for the rally to raise money for the Angela Davis Defense Fund. 

 

            In 1974, the Church of the Advocate hosted the ordination of the first Episcopal women priests.  Although the national Episcopal Church had not yet approved the ordination of women, 11 women were ordained at the church.

 

            It was known throughout Philadelphia and the nation that when others turned their backs, Washington and the Church of the Advocate would welcome you with open arms if you needed a place to host an event or house a program.

 

            During that time the church became a leader in providing needed services to the community.  Many young people came to the church to enjoy the city recreation programs housed at the church. Others came to learn about African culture – drumming and dancing.  Groups like the legendary Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble practiced and performed in space provided by the church.  The Philadelphia Black Panther chapter adopted the church as its second home.  In the 1960s, the church began operating a daily soup kitchen and providing clothing and counseling to those in need. That operation continues. The Advocate Community Development Corporation, founded in 1968, successfully rehabilitated homes in the surrounding community to provide decent, affordable housing to low-income residents and is one of the most successful programs of its type.

 

            “We want to commemorate and document the history of our father’s work at the church during the Black Consciousness Movement and raise funds to restore some of those programs back to the community,” said Kemah Washington. “During these turbulent times, our youth need programs like those that drew young people to the church during the movement.  We also must pass on the history that took place at this blessed location during that special time. This is their history. This is part of American history that they should know and we should never forget.”

  

Washington’s strength, courage, tenacity and the church’s unwavering dedication to freedom and justice under his leadership must never be forgotten.  As Father Paul Washington said, “There comes a time when we must act – not because it’s traditional, not because it’s acceptable, but because conscience says it is right.”

 

Tickets for the May 21 salute to the African drummers can be purchased at the Church of the Advocate, located at 18th & Father Paul Washington Avenue (Diamond Street). For ticket information call 484/466-6151 or go to www.fatherpaulwashington.com.

 

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