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New Marker Of History; Community Celebrates First African-American Owned Shopping Center

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission unveiled a new marker today celebrating a historic shopping center on North Broad Street. The center helped to encourage Black capitalism.

The brainchild of the late Reverend Leon Sullivan, Sullivan Progress Plaza was constructed in 1968.

It makes history as the first shopping center in the US that is built, owned and operated by African-Americans.

“And it’s still alive,” says Wendell Whitlock, Chair Ameritus of Progress Investment Associates. He says the center was financed using the 10/36 plan developed by Sullivan where the Zion Baptist Church Community gave $10 a week for 36 weeks.

“Today is the culmination of a man’s dream, tenacity and intelligence,” he says, “he did it at a time when people told him- you can’t do that– but he did it.”

Whitlock spoke highly of Rev. Sullivan who was known for his “Sullivan Principles,” protests and support for South Africa during the apartheid, that in addition to his work as a preacher, community leader and economic innovator.

“I’m the first man that signed a contract,” says Donald “Ducky” Birts, who leased space for a clothing store in the 95,000 square foot property for six years.

Today, Citizens Bank, Fresh Grocer and others pay rent to Zion Investments, now known as Progress Investment Associations, on what has become hot real estate at Broad and Oxford.

Whitlock says it’s still more than 90 percent minority owned, but there is a lot of interest in the property.

“Of course people want to buy this property,” says Whitlock, “but it ain’t going to happen.”

progress plaza 2 New Marker Of History; Community Celebrates First African American Owned Shopping Center

Progress Plaza led President Richard Nixon to fund efforts to aid Blacks in commercial development.

“I am very happy to see this day,” says Howard Sullivan, “I think my father would also have been happy to see this– and see that the plaza was finally recognized for its contribution to the city.”

Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District Dwight Evans spoke about growing up nearby. He says Progress Plaza was a beacon of hope for the Black economy and helped lay the foundation for what he did in his district.

“There would be no Ogontz Plaza, no Ogontz Avenue, there would be no turning around West Oak Lane if it wasn’t for here,” he says.

A number of elected officials attended the unveiling, including Council President Darrell Clarke, State Senator Shirley Kitchen and others.

The historical marker is located on North Broad Street just outside of Progress Plaza.

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