In the 18th century, Philadelphia African Americans were buried in unmarked trenches and pits in what we now know as Washington Square at Sixth and Walnut Streets in the city. The Free African Society led by courageous Black citizens attempted to have the city government protect the graves from body snatchers and vandals. They refused so the Black community took the duty of defending the ancestors in “Congo Square” upon themselves.
Mr. Lamont B. Steptoe is a poet who took it upon himself “for five years to sit among the trees and unmarked graves [of Washington Square/Congo Square] and allow this place to speak” to him. As a result, we have a beautiful book of poetry and self-reflection. The below is from Mr. Steptoe’s 2012 Mediations in “Congo Square” by Whirlwind Press which he founded.
There were some Black men who armed themselves with guns to defend their ancestors. There are others who use just as powerful words to protect them.