Underground Railroad House Landmarked in Philadelphia


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how important it is to know the history of Black people taking control of their own fates. Yesterday, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added 625 South Delhi Street to the local Register of Historic Places. The house, then owned by abolitionists and Railroad leaders William and Letitia Still, sheltered hundreds of refugees from enslavement, as well as their aides including Harriet Tubman. I am ashamed to say I'd never heard of the Stills before, but they wer as important to the movement as Tubman herself.

This story from PlanPhilly cites historians who supported the petition to landmark the house. I was particularly interested in Eric Foner's statement that, rather than tearing down Confederate statues, we add new ones to honor those who fought to end slavery. I wouldn't condemn anyone for trying to remove, but campaigns to add new commemorations strike me as a great culture shift strategy that centers the fightback. Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report asserting that American students are getting such inadequate and inaccurate information about slavery that many have no idea of its role in building the economy, the brutality of its arrangements, and that it was the central conflict of the Civil War. Clearly we have work to do.

I grew up near Philadelphia. My sister and I spent our best teenage Saturdays wandering South Street, right near this house. When relatives came to visit, we always took them to the Liberty Bell but this is real liberation, right here. I hope that everyone, and especially today's immigrant families add this house to their list of must-see places. Indian Americans take note, the address is (awesomely) on Delhi Street.

From the article:

The story that the advocates use to bolster their case focuses on William Still, who moved to Philadelphia in 1844 and later began working for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.

As the chairman of the organization’s Vigilance Committee, he orchestrated the Underground Railroad activities in Philadelphia and across the country. One historian described him as “second only to Harriet Tubman in Underground Railroad operations." Between 1850 and 1855, in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Act — which required that Northern states assist in capturing escaped slaves — Stills and his wife Letitia sheltered hundreds of escapees in their home.

In one case cited in the preservationists’ brief, Still rescued a woman and her two sons from enslavement within sight of the white Southerner claiming ownership. The encounter happened as the party was about to cross from Philadelphia to Camden on the ferry. African-American dock workers barred the white Southerner from making contact with the family while Still and an accomplice spirited them back into the city. The case made national news when Still and his allies were arrested. The story was eventually novelized as The Price of a Child.

Read the rest of the story here.