By Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – This week marks the 175th anniversary of the malicious burning of Pennsylvania Hall. It was an abolitionist meeting place set ablaze just three days after it opened.
Pennsylvania Hall was built in 1838 by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, a group of abolitionists openly fighting slavery. In years prior, the number of African Americans in Philadelphia increased as free and fugitive slaves flocked to the city and teamed up with Quaker abolitionists. The society’s support spread and they raised $40,000 to build the elaborate hall, which opened in May 1883.
“Three days after Pennsylvania Hall opened up, racist thugs burned it down on May 17, 1838,” says Michael Coard, founder of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition. The group commemorated the anniversary at the former home of the Hall at 6th and Race Streets.
“To add insult to injury, firemen who came here, instead of turning hoses onto Pennsylvania Houses to douse it, they turned it on nearby houses to protect the houses,” says Coard. “And then when the few firemen came along that did want to put the fire out at Pennsylvania Hall, the other fire company turned their hoses onto those fireman.”
And the Hall burned to the ground. Years later, Coard and his group says Philadelphia must remember its history.
“It’s extremely important for this story to be told or we’ll be destined to repeat it,” he says.
“I can’t believe that something that was so big and important that happened right here in Center City has alluded me for so many years,” says Taifa Ebony, a Philadelphia native. She says she was shocked when she learned of the Hall’s history.
“We need to learn that just because someone’s position is different from yours, you do not need to thwart what they are doing,” says Ebony.
A historic marker signifying the event stands in Old City.