Monday, April 29, 2013

Commemorating Abolitionism in 1830s Philadelphia

“Black Butterfly” and “The Burning of Pennsylvania Hall″. Lenticular prints by Nadine Patterson. Fabricated by Silicon Gallery’s Rick De Coyte. Part of the Freedom, Fire & Promiscuous Meetings exhibition at the Painted Bride Art Center until May 18, 2013.

Library Company staff members Krystal Appiah and Nicole Joniec had a chance to attend two recent events related to Pennsylvania Hall and 19th-century abolitionist efforts in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Hall was erected in May 1838 on the 100 block of North 6th Street (site of WHYY building today) to serve as a meeting hall and marketplace for abolitionist supporters, whose radical views often made it difficult to rent venues. Only a few days after the dedication ceremonies, a mob, angered by the mixing of races and sexes, looted and set fire to the building. While police and firefighters stood by without intervening, the building burned to a skeleton. The gutted shell stood for several years after the blaze, becoming a pilgrimage site for abolitionists, who refused to let this act of violence deter them from their cause. 

On April 23rd, Beverly Tomek, a former Library Company fellow, took part in a panel discussion on her upcoming publication on the Pennsylvania Hall entitled Pennsylvania Hall: A ‘Legal Lynching’ in the Shadow of the Liberty Bell, to be released by Oxford University Press in December 2013. Along with Tomek, the panel consisted of Richard Newman, a history professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Director of the Library Company’s NEH summer seminar on abolitionism for K-12 teachers, and Michael Coard, a Philadelphia attorney, blogger for The Philly Post, and community activist. This stimulating discussion explored the history of this event as well as ties to current events.  Tomek hopes to develop a digital component of the research she’s done and the Library Company looks forward to assisting her with this endeavor. More information about Tomek’s upcoming publication can be found on her blog, Universal Emancipation.

Ain Gordon and Nadine Patterson have been researching the Library Company’s collections culminating in a play entitled If She Stood, written and directed by Gordon with an accompanying exhibit Freedom, Fire and Promiscuous Meetings, curated by Patterson. In the exhibit, Patterson uses the lenticular printing process to create movement in several reproductions from the Library Company’s collections, including a striking image of Pennsylvania Hall before and during the conflagration. The lenticular printing process creates images that vary depending on where you stand, actively engaging the viewer and bringing the burning of the building to life. Gordon’s play focuses on the lives and activism of 19th-century female reformers who formed the interracial Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. For those interested, more information about the play and exhibition can be found here:

Krystal Appiah
Reference Librarian & African Americana Specialist

Nicole Joniec
Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager

1 comment:

  1. I very much look forward to working with you both to establish a website to help get this important story the exposure it deserves. Thanks for all you've done already!