On history, struggle and triumph


February is Black History Month, and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. (the same people who brought us Philadelphia’s groundbreaking gay tourism campaign) held an opening-night party at the National Constitutional Center for the world-premiere exhibit “America I AM.” The exhibit, not to be missed by anyone with even a passing interest in our history, takes a look at the African-American experience from the 1600s to today.

It is a remarkable display, which will at times bring you to tears and other times bring a smile. Too often slavery is the only narrative told about the pre-Civil War black community in this country, but that is only part of the picture. Black Americans were part of the fabric of this country before it was a nation.

For those who think about pre-emancipation blacks only as slaves, they will be surprised to see lavish household items such as fine china and elegant clothing from the homes of free blacks. Another section shows the rich culture of the African heritage with intricate carved masks from the 1700s. The exhibit takes us back through time to the present, where it shows the influence of African Americans in sports and entertainment, including artifacts such as original gowns and suits owned by the likes of James Brown, Gregory Hines and Michael Jordon. The last item in the exhibit is a signed copy of President Obama’s speech on race given at the center during his presidential campaign. I personally believe it was the best and most poignant speech of his career to date.

Our community is still fighting for its rights. Seeing this exhibit will help you better understand that struggle. …

I cannot count the number of restaurant openings we’ve had in the last couple of months. And I’m thrilled they know that you — our community — really care about good restaurants in this city. And, to your credit, you are the trendsetters.

Last week’s opening was Union Trust, a new steakhouse at 717 Chestnut St. You’ll be wowed the minute you walk in and see the renovations they’ve done on this stately building from the early 1900s. It’s great to see these elegant buildings brought back to life. And better yet, they enhanced what was the original building rather than just putting up sheetrock and a drop ceiling. You can feel the elegance, from the four-story open room with a painted ceiling to the marble and stone walls. And the food? The cocktail shrimp were larger than some lobsters I’ve seen.

If anyone wonders if Philly is keeping its title as a restaurant city, three upscale new steakhouses have opened in the last two months. Two of them claim to be the largest restaurants in the city. This doesn’t even include the great Prime Rib or The Palm. Philly’s going through its second restaurant renaissance.

Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at [email protected].