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January 23, 2020

Mayor Kenney threatens to end Mummers Parade amid blackface controversy

The parade's organizers need to make some changes or risk forever being 'known for hatred and bigotry,' he says

Mummers leadership must make improvements to the annual Mummers Parade in order to keep the New Year's Day tradition from being canceled, Mayor Jim Kenney wrote in a letter to the five presidents of the mummers groups on Tuesday.

In a copy of the letter obtained by WHYY, Kenney went far enough as to threaten to "explore options such as hosting the city's own New Year's Day Parade or changing the city's policies regarding informal cost forgiveness applicable to cultural parades."

"The Mummers Parade is one of our city's most unique and recognizable traditions. However, the behavior of a few participants has once again cast a shadow over that tradition," Kenney wrote.

"This parade has an infamous history of using racially and culturally insensitive themes, and the repeated inability of Mummers leadership to control the use of blackface by some participants threatens the city's continued support for the parade," Kenney said. "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."

Kenney's letter comes just weeks after the 2020 Mummers Parade when at least two mummers with the club Froggy Carr were seen wearing blackface while marching. It resulted in the South Philly-based wench brigade being disqualified from the competition portion of the annual event, and a strong rebuke from Kenney via Twitter that day.

The leaders of the Froggy Carr club condemned the two men who wore blackface and vowed to put procedures in place to prevent future incidents.

Froggy Carr's theme for the parade was based on Gritty, the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, and members wore orange and black costumes. Many even painted their faces various combinations of orange, black, and white, while some did not paint their faces at all.

The club said that the two men who wore blackface broke from the ranks and applied the paint after the parade started once costumes had already been checked by club leaders. Saying that their actions were not approved, Froggy Carr's leaders said  the two men will never be allowed to march in the Mummers Parade again, and that they will make sure that the men are never permitted to be part of the tradition with other mummers groups.

Kenney, who was member of a mummer club earlier in his life and participated in the parade, wrote that the city will be suggesting recommendations to the mummers groups on how to better organize themselves and to improving the working relationship between the city and the mummers.

The mayor has also asked the city's managing director to organize a meeting with the five presidents of the mummers divisions to address these issues.

"Our diversity is Philadelphia's greatest strength," Kenney wrote. "In a proudly diverse city, you simply cannot alienate fellow Philadelphians who may see these hurtful things. You must understand the anger and frustration of those who feel strongly that taxpayer dollars and corporate funds should not be devoted to supporting this event."

"It is therefore critical that you take decisive steps to end this behavior for good," Kenney continued. "If you fail to make these necessary changes, the parade will forever be known for hatred and bigotry, not the hard-work, dedication, and celebration that I once enjoyed as a participant."