Home News Swarthmore’s Historically Black Neighborhood works to preserve its history

Swarthmore’s Historically Black Neighborhood works to preserve its history

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Founded in 1921, Wesley AME Church grew out of the African Methodist Episcopal tradition. The denomination was founded in Philadelphia by a coalition of black congregations resisting discrimination within the church.

“The African Methodist Episcopal Church was born out of a need for justice,” said Wesley’s pastor, Katherine Brownlee. She said about 40 people come to the church each Sunday, but more people are coming from outside the neighborhood to attend than in the past.

Wesley AME Church in the historically black neighborhood of Swarthmore. (Zane Irwin/Why)

Opinions are divided at Swarthmore and across the nation as to whether and how historic communities like HBNS can be protected from rising property values ​​and adverse zoning decisions.

“We do not accept gentrification and displacement… [are] inevitable conclusion[s]. I don’t accept that,” said Swarthmore Borough Councilor Scarlett McCahill.

For solutions, McAhill pointed to an April report by Swarthmore’s Development and Affordability Task Force. The group recommended an overhaul of the borough’s zoning laws to make room for more types of affordable housing.

But Mayor Marty Spiegel says it will be difficult for the town of just over 6,000 people to swim against the tide as national market trends push up home prices.

“I don’t know if it can be abolished by law,” he said.

Spiegel said the council will consider a new comprehensive plan based on the task force’s findings in the coming months.

Mr. Spiegel and Mr. McCahill attended Saturday’s listening party. The district directed $10,000 in pandemic relief funds to be used to create a walking tour through the history of HBNS.

Despite this stance, community members say the future is uncertain. As institutions struggle or disappear, their sense of community is being eroded.

Osayande remembers family and friends gathering in the basement of Wesley AME Church. Now, she said, that foundation is crumbling and the church is struggling to get the support it needs to repair it.

“We don’t even have a place to just break bread as a community,” Osayande said through tears.

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