The Union League building on South Broad Street in Philadelphia (Photo via VisitPhiladelpha/The Philadelphia Tribune).
By Alec Larson
PHILADELPHIA — In response to the Union League of Philadelphia’s event honoring embattled Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a number of the city’s political leaders and advocacy groups are planning to hold a news conference and protest denouncing the move.
The “Fight Against Anti-Blackness Protest and Press Conference” is set to be held in front of the Union League’s headquarters in Center City on Tuesday, with the news conference planned for noon and the protest scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.
The event will be taking place on the same day as the Union League’s own sold-out event, where reportedly hundreds of its members and guests will be in attendance to see DeSantis receive the League’s highest honor, the Gold Award.
The groups and community leaders set to attend the “Fight Against Anti-Blackness” event include: the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP, the Black Women’s Leadership Council, Northeast Against Racism, Philadelphia NOW, PA NOW, the Black Voters Matter Fund, the National Action Network, as well as some members of City Council.
“I will be standing in protest with the NAACP, the Black Clergy, and other community activists and organizations in protest of the Union League honoring and welcoming Gov. Ron DeSantis here to the city of Philadelphia. The protest is based upon his rejection of an AP African American course, which basically focuses on African-American history. His rejection is based upon him believing that the views being taught (in the) class are radical, so to speak. But for me, I believe it’s just based upon his views of racism, and it’s just totally unacceptable. There’s no room for hate here in the city of Philadelphia,” City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, told The Philadelphia Tribune.
In September 2022, when news first came to light that the Union League was planning on extending its highest honor to DeSantis, a number of the group’s members made public and private pleas for the award to be rescinded.
The protesting members pointed out the lack of a vote involving the full membership of the club, the seemingly political timing of the award, and the socio-political history of DeSantis’ regime in Florida.
When initial protests were dismissed by then-president Craig Mills, over 100 members of the club came together to sign a five-page letter to leadership outlining their issues with the award recipient and the potential after-effects that such an award could lead to within the club’s membership. The Union League reportedly responded negatively, actively discouraging protesting members from speaking out publicly regarding the event.
According to the Rev. Robert Collier, the president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, the group is extremely critical of DeSantis’ recent political moves, such as banning AP African-American Studies from Florida classrooms, and was shocked that the Union League would go forward with honoring someone with DeSantis’ history.
“We’re all appalled that the Union League of Philadelphia would honor someone who apparently has no regard for the feelings and education of Black and brown Americans, and who opposed the African American Studies (class) in his state in the way that he did; it was a slap in the face. It takes us back to the Jim Crow days and things of that nature, and we don’t want to go back there,” Collier said.
Collier said he was hopeful that the club would do the right thing and reverse their decision to honor DeSantis, but that ultimately the Black Clergy of Philadelphia is ready to protest and stand up for what they believe is best for the city of Philadelphia.
“The (club) has the right to honor whomever they will choose. But by (choosing) someone who has publicly denied students in his state … to study African-American studies, which is a slap in the face to us, and then to honor him, it seems to us that they are in agreement with his decision to do what he did, and therefore they’re condoning it. We don’t expect that from the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. So we would hope that Philadelphia would rise to the occasion and rise to the fact that Union League has some Abraham Lincoln blood in it.”
Alec Larson is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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