Black Philadelphia Memories pt. 1
on July 20, 2007
Watching Black Philadelphia Memories, a documentary put out by WHYY in 1999, yesterday, I learned many interesting things about Philadelphia and speaking modestly this is someone who considers himself pretty well informed about Philadelphia history and who lives and breathes Philadelphia air everyday. Although long and some-what boring, a lot can be taken out of this film as it explores many interesting aspects of African-American history in the city. The documentary takes many interesting events pertaining to African-Americans that happened during the twentieth century and puts into a 90-minute video history on the town of “brotherly love.”
In one piece of the movie goes into is some famous African American soul food. The movie speaks of how there was an oral history of passing down recipes and then shows the viewers a women teaching us her family’s recipe of the how to make Pepper pot soup, a famous soul food dish. The soup uses the scotch-bonnet pepper, of which is how it received its name. Being served on a regular basis underneath the sheltered markets of High Street (now Market Street), the soup gained fame, however, as the city changed and grew, the dish fell out of popularity and only in to the memories of the who experienced the once famous soup. Nonetheless, this dish is still served today in a few Olde City restaurants, using the same type of recipe as it was once served hundreds of years ago in the same part of the city.
The movie then goes into some history of the mass migration of African Americans from the South to Philadelphia. An oral historian said that employers used rail cars during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to transport hundreds, maybe thousands, of African American families to Philadelphia to work for them. Besides moving for better employment opportunities, many also moved for the public education system, which at the time was far better and consistent than in the south. The lucky families had such jobs as repairing the railroad tracks for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and for the other remaining potential workers, many had little trade skills to become trade laborers and were forced into general laborer agreements, where they paid less than their white counter-part, or into domestic service. One career that the film points out that Blacks truly excelled at was in the catering field. Once these families settled in with their jobs, many black businesses popped-up and Black neighborhoods sprung up all around Philadelphia. I will go into more detail about Black neighborhoods, venues, and the movie in my blog entry next week.