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Book Reviews ...
Reviewed: Other Sheep I Have…. The Autobiography of Father Paul M. Washington
Review by: James Generic
"Other Sheep I Have…. The Autobiography of Father Paul M. Washington" is the story of Philadelphia's legendary Father Paul Washington, the reverend of the Church of the Advocate. Writing in the early 1990s after his retirement, he recounts three decades of being a force of social change in North Philadelphia. Being a Black clergyman in a predominantly WASP Episcopalian Church, he flings open the doors of the huge Cathedral doors to the events of the 1960s thru 1980s. Father Paul Washington stood side by side with Cecil B. Moore during the pickets of Girard College. He refused to back down during the many times the police brutalized young black high school students trying to better a rotten public school system. He let the Church of the Advocate be used for a Black Power conference in the 1970s, as well as a Black Panther Party conference.
He butted heads with members of his own church about the direction that the Advocate was allowed to take in the struggles for Black self-determination. Paul Washington refused any other post in the Episcopalian church structure, even turning down the chance to be a Bishop or to go to New York City, instead staying in the impoverished neighborhood of North Central Philadelphia near Strawberry Mansion, at 18th and Diamond streets. Later, he recalls the bombing of the MOVE house in 1985, and while not entirely sympathetic to MOVE, he believed that the city overstepped their bounds extraordinarily. He expressed disappointment with how Wilson Goode, who many Black clergy had hoped would be a new wave of Black Power politicians who would finally bring the city to help the impoverished Black neighborhoods, turned out to be just as bad as other mayors.
Today, there has been a proposal from community activists in North Philly to rename Diamond streets "Paul Washington Street" in the same as Columbia Ave was renamed Cecil B. Moore avenue. It makes sense. When you talk with people in that neighborhood, or you visit the Church of the Advocate, you can see the effect Washington had on the people who's lives he touched. Across the Advocate are paintings of biblical scenes transferred into Black Power messages. They are quite stunning, and I'd never seen something like that in a Church, but there they are. I first saw the Church on a class field trip across the neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and later went to it again at a Jazz and Art event.
To view the paintings and an explanation of them, please go to: http://www.churchoftheadvocate.org/paintings2.html
For anyone living in Philadelphia, visiting the Church of the Advocate should be a priority at some point. A huge gothic cathedral built in the 19th century by Scottish stonemasons, there are what appears to be angel faces carved all over the building. However, in reality, they are the faces of the Stonemason's children, since they were homesick for Scotland. Fast forward to the early 1960s, when Paul Washington become the Rector at the Advocate. The neighborhood, traditionally a upper middle class neighborhood, is quickly changing as many white families flee to the suburbs and many poor black families from the south arrive, philly's "white flight." As such, Paul Washington encounters a congregation of racially mixed members, with the white members slowly dwindling and the black members being finally welcomed into a church that had turned them away.
From here, he transformed the church into a haven for Black Empowerment activists. Washington strikes several times on the theme of balancing Martin Luther King's rhetoric of "turn the other cheek" non-violent protest with Malcolm X's "by any means necessary" Black empowerment for the improvement of African-Americans in the white supremacist United States. This debate continues today for people trying to change the world, and probably will continue for quite some time.
To see the Church of the Advocate and to donate to help them with their work, please go to: http://www.churchoftheadvocate.org/