Freedom Theater. Church of the Advocate. The United Negro Improvement Association. These are institutions with valued histories and traditions.
They are historical markers that sit right in our backyard here in North Philadelphia, personifying this neighborhood that hosts Temple’s Main Campus cultural integrity.
These markers include small, family-owned grocery stores like the one Joseph Johnson’s father opened at 25th and Norris streets more than half a century ago. At the time, just before World War I, the enclave that surrounds Main Campus was a predominantly black, working-class neighborhood. Single-family rowhomes, like the ones in Yorktown – a neighborhood east of Broad Street – were the norm.
But in the same year the Johnsons opened their store, the city built a public housing development, called James W. Johnson Homes, on the same street.
“For most of the people living in that project, it was a stepping stone to owning a home,” Johnson said. “There were lots of young families and after you made too much money, you had to get out of the project,”
Today, Johnson owns Eunique Experience Hair Designers, a hair salon at 2245 N. Broad St., across from the historic Uptown Theater. In the same way that Johnson and his family’s business fit comfortably into the physical and social landscapes of this community, Temple followed suit, becoming an integral part of North Philadelphia since its founding in 1888.
It is one of the area’s largest private employers, said Councilman Darrell Clarke, a Democrat who represents the Fifth Councilmanic District, which includes Temple’s location.
Like many of its urban counterparts such as the University of Pennsylvania in University City, Temple is viewed as a power player in the growth and development of its neighborhood.
Temple’s ninth president, Dr. Ann Weaver
Hart, said that if Penn and Temple didn’t exist, the city of Philadelphia would be in “deep trouble.”
“Financially, culturally, artistically, intellectually, these big urban universities are such a force in their communities and the inverse is true,” she said.
This relationship has become an attractive
selling point for schools nestled in neighborhoods in transition.
“It’s all hype and ‘boosterism’, this notion that going to urban schools is hot right now. It is, but that’s no guarantee it’s going to stay hot,” Judith Goode, an anthropology professor here, said. In all the hype, Goode said the city’s atmosphere
has become as much of a factor in choosing a college as a school’s reputation.
“Rather than learning critical thinking skills, you’re acquiring a package and the package includes a lifestyle,” she said.