We start this school year a few months after one of the largest eruptions of mass protest this country has ever seen. The gruesome video of a white police officer murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, set off a national rebellion. To truly understand this uprising, you need to go much deeper than investigating Floyd’s death, or even police brutality: You need to understand Black history.
In Philadelphia, for example, one of the main targets of the protests was the statue honoring former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. Why did protestors target this statue?
To answer that question, you need to go back to November 17, 1967, when more than 3,500 Philadelphia high school students poured out of their school buildings and marched to the Board of Education building to protest conditions for Black students. Among their list of 25 demands was an infusion of Black history into the curriculum. The students were greeted by 350 police officers under the command of then Chief of Police Rizzo. As the number of demonstrators continued to grow, the police grew increasingly uneasy. Suddenly, Rizzo yelled “Get their Black Asses!” and police began clubbing and stomping the students. The police charge was so vicious that many witnesses were brought to tears. Forty-two students and 15 adults were arrested, and dozens were injured. Despite Rizzo’s harsh treatment of children peacefully protesting, he went on to become Mayor of Philadelphia and a statue honoring him stood across from City Hall until protestors forced the city to take it down this summer.
The 1967 walkout and the harsh police response also became a catalyst for the creation of Black history courses and Black studies departments in universities throughout the U.S. and eventually in 2005 Philadelphia became the first city in the country to make African American history a requirement for graduation.