Proposed Philly Bill Would Punish Mummers, Others Who Wear Blackface

The bill follows several instances when Mummers wore blackface or used other racist symbols in their New Year's Day parade

NBC10

After two Mummers were found in blackface during their annual parade on New Year's Day, a Philadelphia City Councilwoman wants to make wearing blackface a violation of the city's code, punishable by a $75 fine and banishment from a public parade for at least five years.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass' proposed legislation followed a meeting Monday among Bass, Councilman Mark Squilla and members of leaders of all six categories of Mummers brigades at City Hall.

And it follows years of incidents of Mummers wearing blackface or using racist symbols in their annual New Year's Day parade, even though a court banned blackface from the parade in 1964.

In the most recent case, the two Mummers in blackface marched with the Froggy Carr wench brigade, whose theme was based on the Flyers mascot Gritty. Froggy Carr was thrown out of the parade; however, one of the men who wore blackface defended himself in television interviews.

In 2019, one of the comic brigades showcased a black man leading a white man on a leash. The group described the display as satire. In 2016, participants in a Mexican-themed skit painted their faces brown. As recently as 1985, one brigade petitioned the city to be officially allowed to wear blackface.

"Enough is enough!" Bass said in a news release. "As a member of Council, I'm committed to putting an end to these incidents which are embarrassing to the City of Philadelphia and should be equally embarrassing to the entire Mummers organization."

Bass' proposed legislation would amend the part of the city code that prohibits certain conduct in public places. This is the part of the city code that deals with everything from smoking to skateboarding to gambling outside; the section Bass seeks to amend involves concealing identity to intimidate, such as wearing a hood.

Her bill specifically says someone who wears blackface in a public parade could be fined and banned from the parade for no less than five years.

However, Bass and Squilla discussed doing more with the Mummers, including having all members participate in sensitivity training and addressing one-day members. Some brigades allow members to join only for the day of the parade, which Mummers leadership has said contributed to past problems -- though in the most recent case one of the men who wore blackface was a full member of the Froggy Carr brigade.

Squilla, himself a Mummer, said in the news release that he beleived "Mummers leadership is seriously committed to making sure that their members understand that blackface will not be tolerated."

After January's incident, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney wrote the brigades a letter warning that if the racist behavior didn't stop, the whole parade would be in jeopardy.

“The repeated inability of Mummers leadership to control the use of blackface by some participants threatens the city’s continued support for the parade,” he wrote in the letter. “Despite your progress in recent years, every time a parade participant mocks our black community through the willful, ignorant use of blackface, it exacerbates the parade’s association with racism and bigotry.”

And incoming Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier said she wants to stop giving the Mummers a permit for South Broad Street each year and pull any city financial support for the parade.

Instead, she suggests beginning a new tradition that that takes “the best of the Mummers but offers no opportunity for this continued disrespect and racism."

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