By LorettaRodgers and DesireGrover
A first-ever parade celebrating Black History in Delaware County was held in Chester last Saturday to kick-off a month-long exhibit at the Museum of the History of Delaware County, 408 Avenue of the States in Chester.
The event featured a number of key people and activities including re-enactors of historical military figures and current-day people described as “living history.”
Sponsored by the Delaware County Historical Society (DCHS) and organized by Paul A. Bennett, publisher of the Chester/Community Spirit and DCHS board member, the parade featured Revolutionary War hero Ned Hector, members of the 3rd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, members of the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club and contemporary groups including the Kollective Talent Drill Team, the Delaware County Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women; and the Chester Club of the National Association of Negro Women’s Business and Professional Clubs, Inc.
It also featured “living history” sitting public figures including James “Jimmy” Johnson, Chester’s first African-American fire commissioner; Nicole Whitaker, the first African-American and first female president of the Upper Chichester Board of Commissioners and the first Black and female leader of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Commissioners for first-class townships.
Also featured was John Easton, Upland Borough’s first African-American police chief, and state Rep. Margo Davidson (D-164), the first African-American and first female to represent Upper Darby in Harrisburg.
The parade also featured former Chester Clippers basketball coaches Juan Baughn, Cliff Wilson and Fred Pickett, who are also part of a Black History exhibit at the museum sponsored by the Delaware County Athletes Hall of Fame.
Serving as parade grand marshal was triple Purple Heart recipient, Chester resident William R. Hilton. Now 79 years-old, Hilton joined the military at age 16 and went on to fight in the battle of Heartbreak Ridge, one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War.
Hilton was driven by his son, Steve, and accompanied by his wife, Edith, and granddaughter.
“I am so honored and proud today,” said Hilton. “It is wonderful to be recognized with such great people.”
The parade was Bennett’s brainchild to help promote the exhibit and it began at Memorial Park and ended at the museum.
Wilson, who was born and raised in Chester, coached the Clippers from 1974 to 1985, amassed a 239-60 record and, in 1983, took to team to its first state championship. He said the parade was excellent and “long overdue.”
“I think it’s fantastic that they’re having an African-American celebration,” said Wilson, “and to think that it’s all starting off at the Martin Luther King Memorial, it’s just fantastic.”
Chester resident Sheila Walls watched the parade at 7th and Kerlin sts. with her granddaughter.
“Today was a day for my granddaughter and me,” she said proudly. “My granddaughter wanted to see the parade, so we came out here. I’m very glad we did.”
Re-enactors of Black soldiers from the 3rd Regiment carried the colors and sang the song, Glory as they marched through the streets in the parade.
“The regiment was raised outside of Philadelphia in (what is now) Cheltenham,” explained Private Earl Weeks, “because they didn’t want colored troops to be trained and march through the city with weapons.”
At the museum, Bennett served as master of ceremonies for a program that also featured a host of guests including singer Pamela Gordon who offered rousing renditions of God Bless America, Lift Every Voice and Sing and one of her own original songs.
DCHS Chairwoman Jayne Garrison welcomed guests to the event, and both Chester Mayor John Linder and Davidson, the state rep., spoke briefly. She presented citation awards to Bennett and Garrison.
Davidson told hundreds of guests attending the indoor program she was proud of the heritage and vast contributions African-Americans have made to society. In her case, she talked about her own journey to history. “It was the love of God, the love of my family, tenacity and strategy,” she said. “Strive for your dreams and never, ever let anybody tell you can’t.”
Noah Lewis, the Upper Darby resident who portrays Ned Hector, told the audience, “Always remember that African-American history IS American history.” He said, “If you are an American, you share an African-American history.”
Lewis said initially Gen. George Washington was hesitant to permit African-American soldiers to join the Revolutionary Army, but by the end of the war, Washington’s army consisted of 10 to 25 percent African-American troops.
“We made an ultimate difference,” said Lewis. “Without the contributions of African-Americans, this country would not be free.”
Former Chester-Upland School District employee Charlotte Beverly said Lewis is a personal friend of her brother and she had seen his Ned Hector portrayal at another event and enjoyed it very much.
“This is such a wonderful day,” said Beverly. “It is so important for our children to not only learn about their history from books, but to understand that heroes walk among us.”
In addition to artwork by African-American artists Van Buren Payne, Frederick West and Courtlandt Craig, and intricate displays honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Buffalo Soldiers, the special display of the Chester High School Clippers basketball team drew a large crowd of admirers.
From posters to old programs, band and basketball uniforms, the Clippers display brought back vivid memories.
Former CHS basketball coach Fred Pickett said he enjoyed the exhibit, but especially seeing other former coaches Baughn and Wilson.
“This is a fantastic affair,” he said. “Something I think is long overdue, not for myself but for the history of our City of Chester. Hopefully, this is the first of many to come.”
Former Chester High School basketball player Earl Williams also agreed that the recognition was “a long time coming.”
“When I first heard about this I was elated that finally the City of Chester would have something positive said about it in light of everything else that goes on in our city,” said Williams.
In thanking participants and others who helped him execute the event, Bennett, whose mother, Ruth, was the first African-American and first female ever nominated for a seat on the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, said without much support and cooperation, the event would not have been possible.
“The parade might have been my idea, but it is YOUR life, YOUR work, YOUR mission and YOUR dedication to all people that we celebrated,” Bennett said. “Many of you who attended and participated, and even helped us plan this, are living history and it is OUR life, OUR work and OUR mission to honor and celebrate yours.”