Discussion Summary – City of Brotherly Love

Panel Discussion: The City of Brotherly Love
March 23, 2011, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Kim Sajet, president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, welcomed the audience and shared a short history of the society as well as its collaboration with The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.  She held up the first page of the Currents section from the previous Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, which featured Chris Satullo’s essay, “City of Brotherly Love: A Duel of Destiny vs. Irony.” Sajet encouraged audience members to attend more Encyclopedia events as well as programs at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  She then introduced Charlene Mires, Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) and Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden.

Speaking on behalf of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Mires briefly explained the goals of the project as a digital information resource and of the Greater Philadelphia Roundtable “Phrasing Philadelphia” series.  Mires mentioned the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and called attention to the evening’s featured mural by Robert Bullock titled, “Helping Hands.”  Finally, Mires introduced the moderator of the evening’s panel discussion, Jean Soderlund of Lehigh University.  Soderlund introduced the panelists: Stephen Glassman of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; Kali Gross of Drexel University; and Chris Satullo of WHYY.  Soderlund then asked the panel three questions relating to the City of Brotherly Love. (The questions are listed in bold, with each panelist’s response following).

Philadelphia has had a long history in which forces for and against brotherly or sisterly love have challenged each other.  Please briefly discuss a social/political incident or movement that helps us to understand better the record of Philadelphians in human rights.

Stephen Glassman started the conversation by citing cases of racial violence against Asian Americans incited by black youth at South Philadelphia High School in the fall of 2009.  While this situation was eventually settled by the Department of Justice, he noted that many similar conflicts are not decided so judicially.  Glassman reasoned that many racist incidents do not stand alone; they are surrounded by economic, social, political, and historic powers which erupt when combined.  He described Philadelphia as the most progressive and most liberal city in the state of Pennsylvania, yet observed deep gaps in the city’s fabric of tolerance.

Next, Kali Gross extended the discussion with comments about the President’s House in historic Philadelphia as an apt representation of the city’s complexities.  She explained the community compromise over the site as a tortured duality, which has been a constant in Philadelphia’s history.  While the city has been dubbed as a cradle of democracy, irony haunts the corner of Sixth and Market Streets, where President George Washington owned nine slaves.  Gross explained that Philadelphia is known for being a progressive city, from the American Revolution to abolition through the present, yet questions of how to represent this history equally have remained a challenge.

Chris Satullo began with a brief summary of his essay, “City of Brotherly Love: A Duel of Destiny vs. Irony,” which was printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday, March 20, 2011, to prime tonight’s discussion.  He explained, “The name he [William Penn] gave his city combined the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos), setting up the enduring civic nickname: the City of Brotherly Love…Its history can be read as a long duel between destiny and irony, each vying to seize the upper hand in interpreting City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia hosts a continuing dialogue about what brotherly love looks like in the civic sphere.”

Satullo asked the audience to examine their own relationships with brothers and sisters. Love is not always sweetness and light. It can be boisterous, barbed, and occasionally angry – but it is, despite all of that, loyal and caring.  In the same manner, Philadelphians have thought of the city’s slogan with a certain sense of irony.  A rather unusual nickname, the City of Brotherly Love has aspiration embedded in its name, which has puzzled citizens for years.  Does it reflect a sense of mockery or destiny?  Satullo’s essay argued, “Philadelphia, by its very name, is an unfinished dream of civic feeling and common purpose, an audacious wager upon the better angels of our nature.”

To comment specifically on Philadelphia’s human rights record, Satullo pointed to violence in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia, where longtime Irish Catholic residents clashed with African Americans.  In 1997, tensions peaked when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan joined marchers to protest racial violence.  While Governor Ed Rendell struggled with the politics of the situation, Satullo noted that he seemed to straddle the middle ground nicely.  The panelist remarked on the apparent irony of the situation – violence against a non-violent march to end neighborhood violence.  Here, does the City of Brotherly Love slogan mock Philadelphians?

Over the 329 years since its founding, is Philadelphia‘s record on human rights better or worse than that of other U.S. cities?  Has its record improved or declined over time?

As an employee of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Stephen Glassman spoke first to answer this question.  He compared the overall record on human rights of Pennsylvania to that of Philadelphia and commented on the future of the movement.  Before federal laws mandated it, Pennsylvania passed laws to protect citizens in employment, education, housing, and healthcare. The state showed government leadership when it defended the rights of women and disabled persons before many other states had.  Glassman applauded Philadelphia as a leading example of progressive legislation in the country and at the forefront of the defense of human rights nationally.  However, the City of Brotherly Love lacks effective protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual citizens, he said.  He cited the protection of these demographics as a cutting-edge movement and the future of human rights legislation.  Glassman urged both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia to continue their progressive social history of human rights protection for the safety and security of all.

Kali Gross responded next.  She spoke about the duality of the progressive, yet conservative, history of human rights in Philadelphia.  In the nineteenth century, as abolitionists rallied for the rights of African Americans, nativist groups rioted in opposition.  While African Americans were granted the right to vote with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, many were disenfranchised under Jim Crow laws.  More specifically, the criminal justice system in Philadelphia illustrates the stark inconsistencies in the city’s human rights record.  The penitentiary movement originated in the nineteenth century as an expression of humanitarian and democratic ideals which shifting away from previously accepted forms of corporal punishment.  This is most visible at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which initially aimed to reform criminals, rather than punish them.  However, Gross described the how the penitentiary system has transformed to a symbol of corruption, abuse, crime, vice, and fraud.  She concluded by noting the city’s uncanny ability to initiate both trends and failures in defense of human rights.

Chris Satullo began by referencing two human rights enshrined in the First Amendment: freedom of worship and freedom of conscience.  He noted how these ideas are embedded in the idea of the City of Brotherly Love as well as William Penn’s charter for Philadelphia.  Using Richard Allen and Absalom Jones as examples, Satullo argued that a strong history and tradition of religious activism has become part of the city’s DNA.  Through the failures of some aspirations, the ambition to secure freedoms is born, creating a cycle of hopes and disappointments.  Then, the panelist commented on the role of economics as part of the story of human rights.  Since World War II, general progress for the country has mostly meant a relatively stable, sometimes shrinking, economy for Philadelphia.  As a result, the immigrant or ethnic working class has been regarded as a threat to long-term white working class Philadelphians, who feel victimized by the unfavorable winds of the working class economy.  This conflict, Satullo said, has been hashed out as a battle for human rights, rather than economic equality.

Glassman briefly expanded on Gross’s discussion of Philadelphia’s prison system.  He noted that when looking at prison demographics for the city and the state, the most marginalized populations are more often found in prison.  He remarked that Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, has the most disproportionate prison numbers in the nation.  Statistically, there are more than 5.8 times the number of African Americans and Hispanics in prison in the state, relative to their percentage in the population; that number jumps to 6.8 for the under twenty-five demographic.  He argued that this is a clear indicator for the subtle and institutionalized racism that still exists in both Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

In his article, at the bottom of page 2, Chris Satullo writes, “Like the nation that chose this city (and not by accident) as the spot to declare, then define, itself, Philadelphia has struggled to define brother. Who is inside the circle, who not?”  What examples do we have of this struggle to define who is a brother or sister?  Over time, what does it mean to be inside the circle or not?

Starting the conversation, Stephen Glassman looked to the founding documents signed in Philadelphia – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Who was inside the circle at that time?  Certainly, the Founding Fathers would not have included all who we include now.  Today, the circle has expanded its definition of brother considerably.  Legally, the law protects all.  But, how are they protected?  Glassman identified a disconnect between what is written in the law and what is enforced.  The results of this detachment often end in inequalities for minority classes.  For example, those who are overweight receive no federal protection under the law in education, employment, public accommodations, or any other aspect of society.  A person may be legally fired, or not hired, because of his weight.  Glassman remarked that while the circle of brothers and sisters in Philadelphia has stretched since 1776, deep fissures between the law and the lived equality or inequality of all citizens still exist.

Kali Gross supported Glassman’s comments, especially in reference to the founding documents.  She spoke about the boundaries of inclusion within the circle of the City of Brotherly Love.  It is the character of individuals, she said, that sets an example to others.  Despite exclusion from the circle, some groups have fomented incredible change in the city.  She cited W.E.B. Du Bois as an excellent example of this struggle; he produced a seminal work, The Philadelphia Negro, at a time when the urban lives of many African Americans living in Philadelphia were less than desirable.  Gross returned to her original point – in spite of omission from the coveted circle of brotherly love, many Philadelphians have pushed past obstacles to widen the boundaries of inclusion.

In order to define brotherly love, Chris Satullo began, one must first define love.  After all, it is all about love.  It means we’re stuck, bound, and tied together, no matter what.  It means we don’t give up on each other.  It means we are loyal through the end.  Philadelphia has created such a tight circle of brothers and sisters because it represents so much to be inside.  If admission were undemanding, what would it mean?  He referred to the 2010 census results, which showed an increase in Philadelphia’s population, mostly immigrants from Central American and Asian nations.  Satullo observed that these statistics point in the future direction of the city.  So, Philadelphians must ask themselves how they would like the City of Brotherly Love to look in the next ten years.  In his essay, he concluded, “We, the heirs and inhabitants of a city named for love, remain quick to anger, prickly and prideful, wary of the new.  It is our way, and God knows we have some reason for it.  But we are also stubborn in love, fierce in loyalty, and our embrace of those we let inside the circle is warm, protective and unfailing.  We need to let more in, and more easily, with fewer tests.  But we Philadelphians are young, still, in this Holy Experiment, and still learning.  May the Spirit that inspired civic heroes such as William Penn, Absalom Jones,  Barnard Gratz and  St. Katharine Drexel to the heights of brotherly love and sisterly affection continue to guide us.”

Audience Discussion: The City of Brotherly Love

Following the panel discussion, Jean Soderlund invited questions from the audience to broaden the conversation.

The first question came from an audience member who has promoted the city of Philadelphia, both nationally and internationally, for years and said he did not recognize the city described by the panelists.  He criticized the panel for speaking poorly of Philadelphia and asked them to think of the positive aspects of the City of Brotherly Love.

Stephen Glassman answered first by telling the audience that he moved to Philadelphia seven years ago and chose the city over all others in Pennsylvania.  In fact, he has lived in many cities in the country and around the world and favors Philadelphia above all.  He argued, however, that if a person is going to proclaim his love for a city, he must also be willing to admit its flaws.  Life experiences will shape the way you see a city, Glassman proposed.  For example, the public school system in Philadelphia is more racially segregated today than when Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1955.  Philadelphians must ask questions of themselves and their city in order to understand these differences and what sets the City of Brotherly Love apart from other urban centers. Why do some people not want to live near others?  Why are some neighborhoods still divided by friction and a sense of hostility to newcomers?

Next, Kali Gross responded by finding beauty in both side of the discussion.  Love and struggle combine in Philadelphia to create an admirable perseverance in spite of hardships.  Yes, she confirmed, we will fight and we will disagree, but this will strengthen the bonds of brotherly love in the city.

Chris Satullo spoke briefly about young people moving to Philadelphia and living in neighborhoods like Bella Vista, Fishtown, and Northern Liberties who have extremely positive views of the city.  He recently attended an event called “Ignite Philly” at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown, a youthful celebration of everything that is great about the city.  The tweet of the night declared, “If Portland OR had a love child with New York City, it would be Philadelphia.”

Next, an audience member proposed a thesis.  He observed that every generation has the responsibility of defining civil rights and that Philadelphians have a wonderful history of making their definitions clear.  All panelists agreed and noted that the statement was well-spoken.

Another audience member observed that the program’s discussion has left out much of William Penn’s original idea of brotherly love.  Penn’s idea of love also included the refusal to bear arms and to create war, which has long divided Philadelphians along the Susquehanna River.  In a discussion of brotherly love, one must not neglect Penn’s insistence on pacifism and how that has changed today.  The panelists nodded in agreement.

The next questioner asked the panel to consider the differentiation between education and class in terms of human rights knowledge.  She wondered how many have managed to progress despite shortcomings in the law or prejudices in others’ opinions.  The audience member said that she is not originally from Philadelphia and always tells her friends that it is the least pretentious city in which she has ever lived, yet many claim difficulty linked to their level of education, rather than race or ethnicity.

First, Stephen Glassman remarked that the statement is generally true, with exceptions.  For example, at a state school board meeting nearly three years ago, it was proposed that October should be named LGBT history month.  He described how this plan turned into a melee of bias, prejudice, and bigotry, much of which came from a highly educated group.  Glassman was shocked by the lack of an intersection between one’s education and one’s ability to appreciate, understand, and receive difference in life.  Tolerance is not enough, he said.  The conversation must be elevated to respect and acknowledgement of others’ contributions.  Does anybody only want to be tolerated?  In this situation, an audience member commented, the brotherly love had disappeared, even though those being hateful were well-educated.

Kali Gross quickly commented that education certainly provides a different level of access to opportunity, but this advantage cannot be divorced from issues of race and class.

Lastly, an audience member requested that the panel speak historically about the definition of the City of Brotherly Love.  What did William Penn mean exactly and when did the slogan first appear?

Jean Soderlund, who has written on William Penn, answered this question.  She explained that the name appeared in a single sentence in a letter that he wrote to one of his aides stating that Penn would have the city named Philadelphia.  It is clear from his records that he wanted peace with the Native Americans and he wished to welcome people of all religions and ethnicities to the city, although he did establish restrictions for participation in government based on belief in Christ.  Anglicans established a church in Philadelphia under the provincial charter and challenged both Penn’s authority and that of the government.   While many of Penn’s expectations for the city were quickly disabused, he managed to set a standard for Philadelphia, most clearly for religious freedom.

Connecting the Past with the Present, Building Community, Creating a Legacy