TW: Some graphic imagery of violence on 52nd street from approx. 1970.
The past couple of months I’ve had a series of engagements where I felt less like a researcher and more like someone who the archives are talking to.
I recently made a visit with the fellowship group to Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center. I started the hunt for any hints of activity in the latter 20th century that could be considered Abolitionist (in my case, looking for any activity towards liberation, specifically working against the police state). The conversation began here, where all I had to work off of was a finding aid catalogue with no details. This required a dialogue between me and the google search bar, looking out for any hints of the who, what, where, when, and how that were behind the hundreds of community newsletters, zines, and newspapers listed in the Contemporary Culture Collection (CCC) records. For obscure titles it meant falling down a rabbit hole of ebay, other archives, sparse documentation, just looking for any whispers of what the content would be. I landed on a sizable list of publications and boxes that I requested for viewing. Some picked out of guess work, others I was able to find some sparse information about. Onwards I went to the SCRC to get my hands dusty and launch a long search through the hundreds of documents.
One document I found that spoke to me was The Black Manifesto Free News. It was a publication by the National Black Economic Development organization, based in Philadelphia. There isn’t a date on the cover but I deducted that it was probably published in 1970.
A poem called “The Imperfections of Revolution” emerged, detailing a “riot” that had occurred on 52nd Street. This especially resonated with me since I have been doing community archaeology work on the 2020 Uprisings, which included activity on the same blocks.
Revolution nods is
Against a pee stained wall on 52nd street
With a scag kit stuck in its mind, talking
About, “wait ‘til I get my shit together man,”
And the sad folks keep on laughing
And the music keep on dancing
And the rich folks have gone to the moon.
The poem is accredited to Doc Long. A short bio later in the document explains that Doc Long was an ex-dean at the University of Pennsylvania. His appointment ended when he was falsely convicted of arson.
After some searching online, I learned his full name was Doughtry “Doc” Long. I stumbled upon a document titled “Free Doc Long” written by someone who was a student in 1972. It details his accusation and trial, which the author was also a suspect in: “He needed to be freed because he was arrested for plotting to burn the Astroturf on Franklin Field during the Penn Relays in the spring of 1970.” The article goes on to detail the Penn Relays story, and shed light on Black student and police dynamics during this time, Doc’s trial, even some details on the interrogation process for the writer.
We learn that Doc was acquitted. We also learn he was an accomplished poet, who unfortunately passed on January 2020. I am disappointed I can’t reach out to him to learn more about his work and who he was. Nonetheless, I was delighted to run into some of his early work and trace the Black student/faculty, West Philadelphia, and police dynamic at that time. Not to mention he has a bibliography I have yet to get to.
This was one of a few conversations I plan on having with this newspaper alone, and Doc’s poem sparked a few different directions I am taking my research next (such as – what was the context around that “riot” in 1970?). Working with broad research questions, and trying to apply an idea and terminology (Abolition) to information that might not state this directly, I have had to be open to the conversation that archives might initiate first.
Copyright 2021 by Malkia Okech. All rights reserved.