PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The work of five friends came to fruition Saturday, as a historical marker recognizing the Black student walkouts of November 1967 was unveiled in front of the former Board of Education building at 21st and Winter streets.
Taryn Flaherty researched the walkouts in Philadelphia for her National History Day project in 2019, as a tenth grader at Masterman High School. After receiving positive feedback for her work, she decided to try and get an historical marker designated. That's when she reached out to four friends.
"It was during the summer and we just wanted to laze around but I was like, 'Hey, you want to come to my house on like a Saturday afternoon and work?' And they said yes," said Flaherty.
Her friends — Alison Fortenberry, Nia Weeks, Tatiana Bennett and Aden Gonzales — also participated in the National History Day contest through Masterman in 2019.
"Taryn and I did our National History Day projects on this topic. And then that's when Taryn had the idea to turn this into a state marker after that year," said Fortenberry, who told KYW Newsradio the girls submitted over 100 pages of research to the historical committee.
"They really only wanted 10 or so pages, but I think we wanted to hit them over the head with how significant this is," she said.
Dr. Walter Palmer, who participated in the walkouts in 1967, explained students had a list of 25 demands they wanted met for their education. He said thousands gathered peacefully while representatives negotiated inside. The board accepted their demands, he remembered.
But as Mary Seymour recounted, the jubilation quickly turned to terror and violence.
"We were all encircled by [then-Police Commissioner Frank] Rizzo and his group," she said. "When he said to get [them], I knew we were in trouble."
"Within minutes, we were attacked, unprovoked," said Palmer, "and they were fighting and being beaten in the streets."
"A police officer threw me on the ground," recalled Karen Asper Jordan. "He dragged me from that corner to here."
According to Flaherty, historical designation for the walkouts was applied for and rejected in the past, but was accepted in 2020 following the summer of protests against racial injustice.
"This event has been 50 years in a hidden history that has yet to be acknowledged," she said.
Black History Month may be over, but the conversation continues year-round.