New generation leads the way
The parallels between 1967 and recent protests, which led to the removal of the city’s Rizzo statue, are not lost among current Masterman students.
“We were all just thinking, how appropriate that it’s happening now,” Fortenberry said. “Finally Rizzo is going down. For so long he’s been a symbol of police brutality and oppression of student voices and minority voices. Now the plaque is going up and it’s a symbol of student voices — especially Black student voices.”
“I think [the walkout] shows how much change young people now can bring and how much of a strong voice we have in our city, our state, and our government,” Flaherty said. “Now there’s a new generation. These are young people who are leading the cause and we’re leading the change.”
Countryman said the demonstration set the precedent for all kinds of landmark education reform. Firstly, the demonstration foreshadowed the ethnic studies movement, as it called for the inclusion of African American curriculum within public school districts.
Immediately after the protest, a number of the high schools in the city — at the direction of the superintendent — created working groups between students and principals, which set the stage for a culture of cooperation between Black students and school administrators. In 2005, the School District of Philadelphia finally made African American history a required course for high school graduation, a first among America’s big cities.
Rising senior Tatiana Bennett said her student activism won’t stop after the historical marker is erected.
“[We’re] looking into how we can get microgrants for teachers who teach African American history,” Bennett said. “Or maybe even corresponding with other counties in the area, or other cities, about making a mandatory African American [history] class.”
For student Nia Weeks, learning more about this history nurtured a deep sense of pride within her as a Black Philadelphia native.
“It feels really special to be … a part of something that happened before I was even alive, before my parents were alive,” Weeks said.
Countryman said the kind of Black pride Weeks describes would have been central to the organizing work that happened in the ’50s and ’60s.
“If Black folks know their own history, they’ll have pride. They’ll have strength and solidarity,” said Countryman, “and this will be part of the motivation to demand justice.”
For the students, the approval of the plaque feels like a sliver of hope amid the recent acts of police brutality across the country. Now they’re trying to figure out where the historical marker will go.
“We decided to put the marker outside the old Board of Education building, which is where the walkout took place,” student Aden Gonzales said. “We have to ask permission of the current owner of the building to put the marker there.”
Still, deep inequities persist in Pennsylvania public schools.
An analysis by the advocacy group POWER found that, even when controlling for poverty, state education spending is racially skewed — with predominantly white districts in the state getting more funding per student than those with more students of color.
During a group Zoom call with the students a week ago, Karen Asper Jordan gave the Masterman students advice for continuing to push for equality at all levels.
“We loved you before we knew you,” Jordan said. “We wanted to make the world a better place for those coming after us … When you go into battle, you’re never going into battle alone.”
“You may feel like you’re going in alone, but you got millions of people, millions of ancestors with you,” she added. “Take an ancestor, put a name in your pocket so you don’t feel that you’re alone.”
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