Remarks given by Fasaha M. Traylor
at Caroline LeCount Tombstone Dedication
October 21, 2023
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be able to share in the celebration of Caroline LeCount’s life and work, and that Rename Taney has chosen to mark her contributions with a headstone and a street-naming.
My coauthor—Sissy Baker-Rogers— and I wrote They Carried Us: The Social Impact of Philadelphia’s Black Women Leaders because we were aghast at the “seen invisibility” of Black women in Philadelphia.
This contradictory phrase— “seen invisibility”—applies to all the women in our book, but especially to Caroline LeCount.
The “seen” part refers to the way that her sepia-toned skin marked her as a target on Philadelphia’s horse-drawn streetcars after the Civil War. She was noticed. She could be identified as a Black woman, and therefore prohibited from riding the streetcars like white Philadelphians. She was part of a broader national movement to desegregate public accommodations long before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.
The “invisibility” part refers to the way that her contributions to life in Philadelphia have been systematically overlooked. Her 50-year career as an educator and principal at the Ohio Street School found her guiding the education of the City’s growing African American population. She mentored those who eventually became part of the City’s cadre of Black educators during a time when mainly Black people viewed the education of Black students as a priority.
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. It should be claimed by ALL Americans-- those who value justice, equality, and democracy, and those who must learn to value them. These principles are bound together in centuries of African American insistence on fashioning “a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the Adams and Eves and their countless generations,” – as poet Margaret Walker put it. Without them, America can never be great. They structure a vision of America to which people like Justice Roger B. Taney never subscribed. They are the values that every school child should learn.
My coauthor and I believe that American heroes are all those who fight for and promote these values, and that our public celebrations should be reserved for them. Rename Taney has struck a blow against those who would cast them aside, and has honored one of the “good guys” in Caroline LeCount.
That’s something everyone in the Philadelphia region can be proud of.