Ogontz Area Neighbors Association (Philadelphia, Pa.) Records

Collection ID: 
Acc. 879
Date: 
1959-1998
Footage: 
2.5 linear feet
Collecting Area: 

 

HISTORICAL NOTE
 

The Ogontz Area Neighbors Association (OANA) was organized in November of 1959 following a meeting between David and Florence Cohen, who had recently moved into the area, and the City of Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations. The Cohens and many of their neighbors wished to preserve their interracial neighborhood at a time of dramatic demographic transition. The boundaries of the neighborhood represented by OANA are from Ogontz Avenue to Broad Street and Olney Avenue to Chelten Avenue in North Philadelphia. OANA’s Executive Board held monthly meetings, community meetings were regularly held, and the organization’s block captains brought problems to OANA for consideration. OANA’s community meetings addressed common concerns through a variety of venues, including hosting guests, such as Officer Ricardo Maddela who spoke on "Crimes Against Women," and Bishop Alfred Dunstan of the AME Zion Church of Nigeria; showing films such as "The Jungle"; and holding a fashion show and tea to benefit neighborhood youth programs. Members of OANA paid dues, which covered the cost of leaflets, pamphlets, postage for mass mailings, scholarships for local students, buses to attend hearings, and other expenses. The flurry of activity on behalf of community causes that characterized OANA included frequent letter writing to the city government and Board of Education, meetings with city and school officials, testifying at public hearings, petition drives, and picket lines. Florence Cohen soon became the organization’s principal leader, serving as Chairman. Kelly Miller served as OANA President from 1965 until 1966. In 1966 Miller became President of the newly formed Citizens against Segregated Schools, an organization dedicated to citywide school integration. Although Vice President, Florence reemerged as the organization’s chief spokesperson. In 1963 OANA wages an unsuccessful campaign to have Cohen elected to the Board of Public Education.

The objectives of OANA were to preserve the integrated character of the neighborhood, maintain high residential standards, and improve the educational, recreational, and cultural facilities for all residents. The concerns that the organization addressed included zoning issues, the appearance and overall maintenance of the area, and the goal of equal education for all students. The first issue that OANA addressed was that of school integration. "The Board of Education has a responsibility to integrate the schools," Mrs. Cohen told a local newspaper. "They can begin to meet it by building schools in integrated areas and adjusting boundaries in changing neighborhoods such as ours." OANA pressured the Board of Education to adjust the neighborhood boundaries and transfer African-American students from the Joseph Pennell elementary school to the Kinsey school, effectively integrating the two. In 1961, the Board changed the boundaries and OANA experienced their first success, one that would influence most of their projects over the following years.

Throughout the 1960s the OANA campaigned for the integration and improvement of the Philadelphia public schools, lobbying school officials, testifying before the Board of Education and City Council, and organizing demonstrations to advance their demands. The OANA both advocated a comprehensive desegregation plan for the entire school system and pressed for specific improvements of their local schools, especially the Pennell school. The specific changes sought by the OANA for local schools included the hiring of a crossing guard to protect children attending the Howe elementary school; the building of a new gym and auditorium at the Howe school; and the hiring of additional staff, the creation of an after school enrichment program, and the renovation of the building, at the Pennell school. The OANA continued to press for the transfer of students at the Pennell school to neighboring schools, so as to relieve the overcrowding of the nearly all-Black school by allowing more of its students to attend schools with better facilities. Concurrently the OANA lobbied and protested before the Board of Education and City Council for the substantial integration of all Philadelphia schools, as being central to the equitable funding of education and the promotion of tolerance in society. The organization advocated the redrawing of school boundaries and the busing of children to achieve quality integrated schools.

In keeping with their emphasis on youth and education, OANA created a scholarship fund, awarding scholarships to area high school students entering Temple University. In 1967, they succeeded in opening Girl’s High for evening adult classes and established a Family Center and a boys gym program at the Pennell School. The OANA promoted summer youth programs at Kemble Park, established in 1957, two years before OANA was officially organized, and that continued to be a neighborhood project well into the 1980s. OANA also fought for better lighting and the creation of a mini-playground at Kemble Park. They prepared a statement for the City Council Hearings on Appropriations for the Morris Estate, lobbying the City for more acreage to be set aside for a community park and the continuation of a summer arts camp established in 1960.

OANA took action based on Senate Bill 612, allowing for a junior college in Philadelphia and Senate Bill 138, establishing community colleges in Pennsylvania. They lobbied and petitioned Mayor James H. Tate, Pennsylvania senators, and Governor Bill Scranton, working along with the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission. Due to their combined efforts the Philadelphia Community College opened in 1965.

OANA also took on the battle against housing discrimination. They issued statements to neighbors on how to deal with real estate agents pressuring them to sell their homes and worked closely with the City’s Committee on Human Relations. One of the mandates of OANA’s block captains was to "work for an integrated block." Beginning in 1967, they began protesting and petitioning the City against liquor licenses and beer distributorships, which they feared would lead to the decay of their neighborhood. OANA members testified before the Liquor Control Board against the Sizzler Bar and fought to clean up Gino’s Restaurant. That year, the Federation of Community Councils awarded OANA for "Outstanding Service to Community." In 1968, OANA continued their zoning battles against such businesses as a coin-op car wash and a variety store, and in 1970, they picketed against a McDonald’s Drive-In Restaurant, alleging that the restaurant would create air pollution, litter, traffic congestion, and worse, become a teenage hangout.

By 1980, OANA won another zoning battle against the construction of a building on Kemble Park. Due to their efforts, the park was renamed, by City Council Bill 1636, the Fanny Kemble Abolitionist Memorial Park. On October 5, 1985, a ceremony dedicated a plaque to all of the Philadelphia abolitionists who worked against slavery. OANA’s protests and petitions concerning zoning continued through the 1980s, upgrading their area’s zoning from C-2 Commercial, preventing increased commercialization, and from R-9 Residential to R-9A Residential, preventing multiple dwellings. OANA won almost every case placed before zoning board. Their last protest was against Hoagie City in 1992.

For over twenty-five years, OANA lobbied for a Branch Library in Ogontz. After obtaining 1500 signatures, the City included plans for an Ogontz Library in the budget and, in 1986, announced its future site would be the Old Ogontz Theater on Ogontz Avenue. However, not until after OANA organized a demonstration at the proposed site in 1994 did the groundbreaking finally occur. Mayor Ed Rendell, City Council President John Street, and Councilman-at-Large David Cohen attended the event.


COLLECTION OVERVIEW
 

The main thrust of the Ogontz Area Neighbors Association was its campaign for the integration and improvement of the Philadelphia public schools. The subseries "Integration of Schools," richly documents this campaign from 1960 until 1969 through diverse sources, revealing much about the educational beliefs of the organization, their strategies for change, their ability to mobilize support for educational demands, and the extent to which they were able to achieve those demands. The collection has a strong sense of a history of a neighborhood group who enveloped themselves in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement. This subseries comprises over one-third of the entire collection, reflecting the centrality of school integration to the organization and their concerted campaigns on behalf of local schools. Over half of the subseries concerns the organization’s protests and lobbying on behalf of the Pennell school. This campaign was the most sustained campaign ever undertaken by the OANA, involving both extensive grassroots mobilization and the persistent lobbying of the Board of Public Education and other authorities. The organization’s peak of activity on behalf of the Pennell school was in 1963 and 1964 when they organized demonstrations before the Board of Education and widely publicized and lobbied for their demands. Although the OANA won some of its demands on behalf of local schools, the organization did not meet with success in its campaign for quality integrated education in Philadelphia.

The OANA was, however, a multi-faceted community group, and this collection provides extensive documentation of its other campaigns, including those for summer youth programs, maintenance and improvement of local parks, and opposition to the establishment of a McDonald’s and other businesses viewed as potential community nuisances. Diverse sources document the organization’s diverse tactics, including numerous polite but firm letters, mostly from Florence Cohen, to city and school officials; calls for community meetings and other flyers, revealing the face the organization presented to the community; newspaper articles, indicating the organization’s ability to attract public attention; and public testimony and policy statements defining the organization’s outlook. Letters of complaints from members of the community, with the responses of OANA and the city government’s responses, indicate the dynamic between the neighborhood, OANA, and the city. OANA was not a fringe group but one that seriously contended for influence and change, as evidenced by the city and school officials who generally felt obligated to respond to Florence Cohen’s letters; the meetings held between the organization and city and school officials; petitions with signatures and membership lists; and newspaper articles detailing the organization’s activities. Newspaper articles and other sources indicate the success OANA achieved in many of its campaigns, particularly on zoning issues.

The bulk of documentation involves the organization during the 1960s. The activist edge, momentum, and idealism of OANA clearly reflected the Civil Rights Movement and the social tumult of the 1960s. In subsequent decades, the organization appears to have been smaller and far less active, although its members from time to time rallied the community with some success around local issues. Generally absent from this collection is an insider’s view of the OANA, reflecting the changing morale, internal dynamics, and inner tensions of the organization. How successful did its members consider the OANA to be, when weighing their specific victories with their broader vision? What long-term impact did they have on their community? How did the community view them? To what degree did Florence Cohen dominate the organization? Why did Kelly Miller leave to form Citizens against Segregated Schools? In other respects, the activities, achievements, and public vision of an activist community group are documented in depth. Interviews with OANA members, other community residents, and the school and city officials who responded to their demands could largely overcome this weakness, providing together with this collection a vivid window into 1960s community activism and its aftermath. Such an oral history should be done soon, as many of the participants are quite elderly.


ORGANIZATION AND ARRANGEMENT
 

This collection is organized into eight series:

  1. Administration
  2. Correspondence
  3. Projects
  4. Scrapbook and Clippings
  5. Certificates and Awards
  6. Photographs
  7. Publicity
  8. Publications

Series I: Administration (15 folders): Includes the organization’s by-laws, correspondence 1969 - 1998, letters to neighbors, a list of members of the Town Watch committee and volunteer forms, copies of testimony for public hearings 1967 - 1969, financial statements 1960 - 1967, clippings and brochures about OANA’s achievements and goals, mailing lists of individuals and organizations, notices of membership drives and applications, notices for meetings and agendas 1967 - 1998, and letters to members concerning OANA projects.


Series II: CORRESPONDENCE (11 folders): This series contains four sub-series--general correspondence, the correspondence of Florence Cohen, hate mail, and the correspondence of Kelly Miller. The series contains a number of letters regarding complaints that residents of the Ogontz area wished addressed by OANA, and OANA’s response to some of these complaints.

Included in the general correspondence 1960-1969 are letters from United States Senator Hugh Scott thanking the organization for their support of the Civil Rights Bill; condolences sent from OANA to Coretta Scott King on the murder of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King; and wishes from OANA and various community residents for the speedy prosecution of King’s assassin.

The sub-series for Mrs. Cohen contains correspondence dating from 1959 through 1980, mostly to city and school officials. Included are, once again, letters of complaints on neighborhood issues, and OANA and the city’s response to these complaints. The sub-series also includes Mrs. Cohen’s letter to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin chastising them for running a segregationist ad, and her request to and acceptance from a member of the World Affairs Council to come and speak to the community about the war in Vietnam.

The sub-series hate mail contains two letters denouncing the work of OANA due to the amount of attention given to African Americans and the call for integration.

The sub-series, the correspondence of Kelly Miller 1964-1970, includes letters to KYW requesting air time to speak on behalf of integration of Philadelphia public schools, and a letter to the Department of Justice to actively pursue all those involved in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Series III: PROJECTS: This series consists of the many campaigns of the OANA. These distinct campaigns are best described as sub-series. The documentation, although often with a wide span in years, is largely from the 1960s.

The sub-series crime prevention (2 folders) Includes notices of meetings, a proposal made to the Department of Public Welfare, letters to the Crime Prevention Association, statement to City Council (1964), mailing lists, notices to the Area Youth Committee, correspondence including a letter from Mayor Tate (1967), notices of meetings concerned with gang violence. The sub-series spans 1964-1970.

The Sub-series family career conference (1 folder) includes programs, flyers, clippings, press releases, correspondence, information on scholarships, a list of the education committee members, all relating to the October 1963 conference.

The Sub-series Girls' High adult school (2 folders) includes surveys, course descriptions, petition samples, brochure, flyers, correspondence, clippings, letter from PA Governor William Scranton, letter from PA representative Bill Green, letters from PA Rep. Eugene Gelfand, PA Sen. Martin Silvert, and Philadelphia School Board President J. Harry Le Brun. Dated 1961-1963.

The Sub-series housing discrimination (2 folders) includes statement of policy to West Mount Airy neighbors, extracts of the Real Estate License Law, information on how to cope with real estate pressure, mailing lists, statement from and correspondence with the Committee on Human Relations, summary of laws pertaining to non-discrimination, sample petitions, summary of Investigative Hearings on Real Estate, practices in Racially Changing Neighborhoods (1960), copy of City Council Bill No. 90 (June 16, 1960), clippings, and correspondence. Spans 1958-1986.

The Sub-series Kemble Park Apartments (1 folder) i
ncludes clippings, letters to tenants, inspection reports, correspondence, and tenant complaints, all dated 1968.

The Sub-series La Salle College program (1 folder) includes a study by the Department of Sociology, La Salle College on the Ogontz neighborhood, "A Changing Neighborhood" (1962), a brochure, correspondence, and a report on the Upward Bound Program (1966).

The Sub-series: Library (1 folder) includes flyers, correspondence, Bookmobile petition, clippings, copy of PA H.R. 2587 Bill to amend the Library Services Act (1963), letters from Philadelphia Councilman Henry P. Carr, Councilman William J. Green (1963), letter to City Planning Commission about City Budget (1985), mailing lists, and a press release.

The Sub-series Parks and Recreation (7 folders) is made up of four sub-sub series: The sub sub-series Parks and Recreation includes planning guides, statement of purpose for the recreation committee, flyers, clippings, correspondence, letters to City Councilman Carr (1961, 1962), letters to Board of Education (1962), Deputy Commissioner of Department Recreation, a Report on Youth Problems in the North West (1963), programs, flyers, and a press release for a Fashion Show and Tea benefiting youth (1964), testimony for public hearing on capital budget (1967), and a list of recreation centers. Spans 1962-1968.

The sub-sub-series Kemble Park includes correspondence, clippings, letters from Fairmount Parks Commission and City Department of Recreation, copy of City Council Bill 1636, an ordinance changing the name of Kemble park to Fanny Kemble Abolitionist Memorial Park (1983), copy of quotations by Fanny Kemble, notices of summer programs, invitation to dedication of plaque honoring abolitionists, program of dedication ceremony, and mailing lists. Covers 1978-1995.\

The sub-sub-series Morris Estate includes a flyer for summer arts camp, proposition against Morris Estate being re-zoned for a shopping center, correspondence, a letters from Mayor Richardson Dilworth and Congressman Green, a statement for City Council Hearings on Morris Estate Appropriations, brochures, and clippings. Spans 1960-1968.

The sub-sub-series Pennel School includes clippings, correspondence, and mailing list, dated 1964-1965.

The sub-series campaign against McDonald's (3 folders) contains the 1969 and 1970 protests of the Ogontz Area Neighbors Association against the building of a McDonald’s in their neighborhood. OANA disapproved of the Bellis Bill which allowed for the area of Broad Street, Green Lane, Old York Road, and Sparts Street to be rezoned from a C-2 Commercial and R-9 Residential District, to simply a C-2. This would allow for the building of the eating establishment. Included are letters to the Philadelphia Planning Commission, letters to the construction company in charge of building the restaurant, calls for the neighbors to join the fight against McDonald’s and attend the zoning board meeting, letters of support for OANA from local churches, and newspaper clippings describing the groups protests.

The sub-series school board campaign (3 folders) dates from February 1963 through May 1969, and contains letters of support from judges, Congressman William Green, Congressman Herman Toll, for Florence Cohen’s nomination to the School Board of Philadelphia; and letters from Florence Cohen, asking the community’s support in her nomination to the school board in order to promote integration. Signed statements from the members of OANA in support of Cohen, newspaper clippings, and a biography of Cohen are also included.

The sub-series integration of schools (24 folders) contains two sub-sub series, Integration of Schools General and Integration of Schools, Pennell School; the first concerns OANA’s general educational activism and advocacy of changes in local schools, including the Pennell School; the latter primarily or solely concerns their campaign on behalf of Pennell. The documentation in both sub-sub series is similar, including many OANA flyers; several signed petitions and lists of residents who attended meetings with school officials; policy statements, including those made before the Philadelphia Board of Public Education; press releases; and newspaper clippings. There is a large correspondence between Florence Cohen and leading school officials, including Allan Wetter, Superintendent of Schools, and his successor C. Taylor Whittier; J. Harry LaBrum, President of the Board of Public Education, and his successor Richardson Dilworth; and Ernest O. Kohl, Superintendent of Schools for District 6, which along with District 7 included the schools in the Ogontz area. Numerous letters by Florence Cohen seek to enlist the support of community groups, local business associations, rabbis and ministers, and such citywide organizations as the American Jewish Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Cohen also corresponded with city officials including Mayor James H. Tate and City Council President Paul D’Ortona. The correspondence sometimes includes responses from these individuals and organizations to Cohen’s appeals.

The sub-sub series on the OANA’s general educational activism also includes clippings and statements from other pro-integration organizations; several letters to school officials and statements before the Board of Education and City Council by Kelly Miller, while serving as OANA President 1965-1966; several leaflets and letters document the activities of Citizens against Segregated Schools, founded by Miller in 1966.

The sub-series Philadelphia Community College (1 folder) Includes notices, correspondence including letter from Mayor James Tate (1961) and letter from Governor Bill Scranton (1963), papers from Philadelphia Fellowship Commission, information on Senate Bill 612, Senate Bill 138, and brochures. Covers 1961-1963.

The sub-series petitions & protests (4 folders) chronicles various protests and petitions spearheaded by OANA. The protests and correspondence between parties often involve the Liquor Control Board. Many letters request that the Liquor Control Board not grant Liquor Licenses to businesses within the community. Also included are letters to the Department of License and Inspection regarding concerns about illegal uses of space. The sub-series dates from 1960-1992.

The sub-series zoning (6 folders) includes maps, residential districts, notices from Zoning Alert Service, housing inspections, a flyer, mailing lists, a sample petition, correspondence, copy of zoning code, document from Philadelphia Planning Commission (1962), a zoning manual, bulletins, clippings, recommendation to City Planning Commission, list of liquor, license transfers, letters to neighbors, and testimony before Advisory Committee for Economic Development (1985). Covers 1957-1992, although as in often the case with project sub-series, documentation is largely from 1960s.

The sub-series undated petitions (1 folder) contains a number of signed and unsigned petitions for various protests throughout the years of OANA.

IV. Series: SCRAPBOOKS AND CLIPPINGS (2 folders) includes newspaper clippings of OANA’s activities, press photos of picket line and of President Florence Cohen. Covers 1960-1969.

V. Series: CERTIFICATES AND AWARDS (1 folder) includes a resolution honoring Reverend Edward F. Holley, a certificate of outstanding achievement, and a citation to Madie Johnson from Philadelphia City Council. Spans 1961-1984.

VI. Series: PHOTOGRAPHS (1 folder) includes five B&W photographs, two polaroid photographs, and four mounted color Polaroid photographs depicting a strip mall. Dated 1969.

VII. Series: PUBLICITY (2 folders) includes mass mailing copies, press releases, letter from the Frank Ford Show, letter from WRCV about "Integrated Living," promotion for various projects such as a local library, zoning issues, a career conference, and Florence Cohen’s bid for School Board. Span 1961-1978.

VIII. Series: PUBLICATIONS (2 folders) includes posters, flyers, pamphlets promoting an Ogontz library, brochures listing OANA’s achievements -- "Profile of Progress" and "Success Story," membership brochures, and a career conference program. None are dated.


INVENTORY
 

SERIES I. ADMINISTRATION

BOX 1

1 Block Captains 1963-1986
2 By-Laws 1978
3 Community Meetings 1960-1966
4 Community Meetings 1967-1969
5 Community Meetings 1970-1979
6 Community Meetings 1980-1989
7 Community Meetings 1990-1998
8 Correspondence 1969-1998
9 Financial 1960-1967
10 History 1967-1979
11 Mailing Lists 1963
12 Mailing Lists 1964
13 Membership 1963-1968
14 Membership 1969-1986
15 Testimony for Public Hearings 1967-1969

SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE

16 General 1960-1964
17 General 1965-1969
18 Florence Cohen 1959-1960
19 Florence Cohen 1961-1963
20 Florence Cohen 1964, 1966
21 Florence Cohen 1967
22 Florence Cohen 1968-1974

BOX 2

1 Florence Cohen 1978
2 Florence Cohen 1979-1980
3 Kelly E. Miller 1964-1970
4 Hate Mail n.d.

SERIES III. PROJECTS

5 Crime Prevention 1964-1965
6 Crime Prevention 1966-1970
7 Family Career Conference October 1963
8 Girls High, Adult Evening School 1961
9 Girls High, Adult Evening School 1962-1963
10 Housing Discrimination n.d.
11 Housing Discrimination 1958-1986
12 Kemble Park Apartments 1968
13 LaSalle College Program 1962-1967
14 Library 1961-1985
15 Parks & Recreation 1962
16 Parks & Recreation 1963-1968
17 Parks & Recreation Kemble Park 1957-1960
18 Parks & Recreation Kemble Park 1961-1970

BOX 3

1 Parks & Recreation Kemble Park 1978-1995
2 Parks & Recreation Morris Estate 1960-1968
3Parks & Recreation Pennell School 1964-1965
4Philadelphia Community College, 1961-1963
5 Campaign Against McDonalds 5/69
6 Campaign Against McDonalds 6/69-2/70
7 Campaign Against McDonalds 3/70-7/70,1/71
8 School Board Campaign 2/63
9 School Board Campaign 3/63-4/63
10 School Board Campaign 5/63-1969
11 Integration of Schools General 1960
12 Integration of Schools General 1961
13 Integration of Schools General 1962
14 Integration of Schools General 1/63-4/63
15 Integration of Schools General 5/63-12/63
16 Integration of Schools General 1964-1965
17 Integration of Schools General 1966
18 Integration of Schools General 1967

BOX 4

1 Integration of Schools General 1968
2 Integration of Schools General 1979
3 Integration of Schools, Pennell n.d.
4 Integration of Schools, Pennell 1960-1961
5 Integration of Schools, Pennell 1962
6 Integration of Schools, Pennell 1/63-6/63
7 Integration of Schools, Pennell 11/63
8 Integration of Schools, Pennell 11/63
9 Integration of Schools, Pennell 12/63
10 Integration of Schools, Pennell 1/64
11 Integration of Schools, Pennell 2/64
12 Integration of Schools, Pennell 3/64
13 Integration of Schools, Pennell 4/64
14 Integration of Schools, Pennell 5/6412/64
15 Integration of Schools, Pennell 1965-67
16 Integration of Schools, Pennell 1968-69
17 Pennell Family Community Center
18 Philadelphia Community College 1961-1963
19 Petitions and Protests 1960-65
20 Petitions and Protests 1966-67

BOX 5

1 Petitions and Protests 1968-1969
2 Petitions and Protests 1970-1992
3 Zoning n.d.
4 Zoning 1957-1962
5 Zoning 1963-1965
6 Zoning 1966-1967
7 Zoning 1968-1969
8 Zoning 1970-1992
9 Undated Petitions n.d.

SERIES IV. SCRAPBOOKS AND CLIPPINGS

10 Scrapbooks and Clippings 1960-1961
11 Scrapbooks and Clippings 1962-1969

SERIES V. CERTIFICATES AND AWARDS

12 Certificates and Awards 1961-1984

SERIES VI. PHOTOGRAPHS

13 Photographs 1969

For photographs see Miscellaneous Photograph Collection (PC-49).

SERIES VII. PUBLICITY

14 Publicity 1961
15 Publicity 1962-1968

SERIES VIII. PUBLICATIONS

16 Publications of OANA n.d.
17 Publications of OANA n.d.