Cecil B. Moore to Diamond: Our street names have meaning

You might think that we would come to appreciate the streets we walk every day. They are our home, temporary for some, permanent for many. Though often, we don’t. So, forgive me if I think

You might think that we would come to appreciate the streets we walk every day. They are our home, temporary for some, permanent for many. Though often, we don’t.

So, forgive me if I think it should be a requirement that we all know why Columbia Avenue was renamed after activist Cecil B. Moore in 1987. Some know the story well.

Moore was an influential, if controversial, civil rights attorney in Philadelphia. The Temple Law graduate led the city’s chapter of the NAACP in the mid-1960s, but he is best remembered for leading an eight-month picket of then-segregated Girard College, highlighted by a hot August visit by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There is so much meaning in our streets. It is meaning that goes well beyond names, but introductions are a fine start.

Susquehanna, at the northern extreme of Main Campus, is often regarded as rough and dirty, regardless of the homes it supports. The irony, I guess, is that like many of North Philadelphia’s east-to-west streets, Susquehanna is named after one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. To some unfamiliar with Philadelphia, Susquehanna is a rural place rolling near New York state.

Likewise, Montgomery, which halves main campus, and Berks, which is an operating street outside of campus, are reflective of suburban counties to the north and northwest.

Stomping the pavement everyday will often make us forget the meaning behind these street names. How often do you walk past Diamond Street without recalling Temple founder Russell Conwell, who is defined by noting Philadelphia for its “acres of diamonds”?

Norris Street is named after the man whose land was once cut by the road, Isaac Norris, a well-to-do Quaker politician from the first half of the 18th Century. His estate was called “Fairhill,” now the name of the neighborhood that exists between Main Campus and Temple Hospital, according to “Mermaids, Monasteries, Cherokees and Custer,” a 1990 book about Philadelphia street names by Roberta Alotta.

Carlisle Street, named so for 250 years, is increasingly housing Temple students. I doubt many residents know the street was named after the county seat of Cumberland, a northwestern county in England, according to a representative of the history and social sciences department at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Oxford Street, just south of Cecil B. Moore Avenue and home to the University Services Building, is a relative newcomer, not getting the name until the very end of the 19th century. The name is a common reference to the city in southern England, but it wasn’t until 1897 that a number of disjointed roads were connected, paved and formed into the road we know now, according to a 2001 book by Jefferson Moak called “Philadelphia Street Name Changes.”

While the 15 or so streets that cut up Temple’s campus can be found on maps and atlases, there are distinctions that are less formal but should carry no less importance. A portion of Broad Street running north of Main Campus is dedicated to Georgie Woods, as denoted by a red sign beneath the official street name. Woods, who died in 2005, was a radio disc jockey who became legendary for moving past the music he played. He spoke at length about racial politics, was one of the first broadcasters to have Malcom X on air and led hundreds of activists to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Alabama and Washington, D.C., according to a profile afforded him by the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia.

Similarly, a portion of 12th Street south of Cecil B. Moore Avenue is named for Bill Gray, a senior minister of the Bright Hope Baptist Church, located at that intersection. He was a U.S. congressman during the 1980s, the head of the United Negro College Fund until 2004, and was tapped in early 2006 to help revive the interfaith community in the post-Katrina Gulf region, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It says something. These streets that largely define our campus have been named, despite our 123-year presence here, mostly without Temple in mind. That awareness can serve well to remind us that many of us are guests here.

We should carry ourselves as such.

Christopher Wink can be reached at christopher.wink@temple.edu.

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