The Rename Taney Coalition gathered Saturday afternoon at Eden Cemetery to honor civil rights activist Caroline LeCount. She is most known for her work desegregating Philadelphia’s streetcar system in 1867 – almost a hundred years before the events of the Montgomery Bus Boycott transpired.
Visitors arrived at the memorial service in a streetcar as a tribute to LeCount and laid flowers at her new tombstone. The service was held next to the burial site of LeCount’s fiancée Octavius Catto – a fellow civil rights activist who was gunned down on his way to vote on October 10, 1871.
It’s believed that LeCount went one hundred years without a headstone because she never had children nor did she remarry after the death of her beloved. Last year, Leo Vaccaro, a high school teacher and member of the Rename Taney Coalition, discovered LeCount had been without a tombstone and launched a fundraiser to change that.
“Last year, I drove out [to Eden Cemetery], wanting to visit her gravesite and I realized we didn’t even have a tombstone for Caroline LeCount. We realized that she was buried here a hundred years ago and the grave was unmarked.”
After months of fundraising, the group raised about $3,500 and presented her with a tombstone.
Philadelphia residents Ben Keys and Samaya Brown formed the Rename Taney Coalition nearly four years ago after the murder of George Floyd. The coalition is solely comprised of volunteers and has looked for support from the community along the way.
Towards the end of 2020, the group had its first community engagement survey, targeting residents on Taney Street and neighbors one block away. Several name suggestion surveys were held in 2021, with LeCount emerging as the top choice, notching 32.4% of the total votes.
Saturday’s memorial service was the coalition’s most recent effort toward replacing Taney Street with LeCount Street. Taney Street is named after Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, the author behind the Dred Scott versus Sandford decision from 1857.
According to the National Archives, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “enslaved people were not citizens of the United States and, therefore, could not expect any protection from the federal government or the courts. The opinion also stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery from a federal territory.”
Keys said, “A big part of what we’ve done over the last three and a half years is educate the residents and neighbors of Taney Street. And teach the community about the history of the Dred Scott decision and how awful that decision was at the level of the Supreme Court and the role that Taney played as the Supreme Court Justice who wrote that decision.”
Brown was asked what she hoped others took away from the service, and she reiterated the importance of removing Taney’s name from the street.
“Anybody who has something named after them automatically is seen as somebody who has done something good. When, in this case, he is actually honored for doing something bad.
“[We’re not trying] to erase history, but correct it. Because [LeCount] is somebody who dedicated their life to making everybody’s life better. Why does [she] not have a street name and somebody who never even lived in Philadelphia, has no connection to it, and is a self-proclaimed white supremacist have a street named after them?”
History is made every day and it cannot be rewritten, as ugly as it may be. Fasaha M. Traylor, co-author of “They Carried Us,” believes African American history should be claimed by all Americans, especially those who value justice, equality, and democracy.
“Despite what growing numbers of misguided, misinformed, and reactionary politicians, led by Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, think or believe, African American history is American history.”
The Rename Taney Coalition’s biggest issue is getting City Council President Darrell Clarke to introduce a bill to the city council. Taney Street stretches through three city districts, and a potential name change would require the support of all three council members. However, councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson of the 2nd district and Curtis Jones Jr of the 4th support renaming Taney Street.
Temple Update asked Council President Clarke if he was in favor of renaming Taney Street. We have not received a response.
“Elected officials have their role to do,” says Tyrique Glasgow, founder of Philadelphia’s Young Chances Foundation. “[Changing the street name] should be a win-win, for understanding she was not only a black woman but she was an educator. She was our ‘Philadelphia Rosa Parks.’ But for some people, it doesn’t hit them or have the same impact the same way.”
The clock is ticking as Philadelphia’s City Council election is less than two weeks away. Every seat is up for grabs, including Council President Clarke who has announced he will not run again next month. If he doesn’t introduce a bill to the council before his time is up, the Rename Taney Coalition will be back at square one.
Brown has the answer for individuals looking to get involved.
“All we need is for people to call Darrell Clarke’s office. Tell him to change the street name, and it’s a done deal.”
You can find Council President Clarke’s contact information here as well as future volunteer opportunities with the coalition.