Activism and the "Save Chinatown" Movement

Chinatown residents worked to revitalize their neighborhood, once considered a "red light district." At the same time, urban developers made other plans for the downtown area. As a result, urban renewal projects began threatening the future of Chinatown's burgeoning community life in the 1960s. Construction plans for Market East, the Vine Street Expressway, and the Convention Center literally boxed Chinatown in from all sides and entailed the demolition of many homes and institutions. In 1966 community members were informed that the construction of the proposed Vine Street Expressway would destroy Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and School, an important community center. The destruction of these facilities, particularly the school, would mean the eventual demise of Chinatown as a neighborhood.

Some older organizations like the Chinese Benevolent Association were concerned about the impact of the redevelopment projects, but Chinese tradition and language barriers made them reluctant to challenge City Hall. A younger generation of American- born Chinese (known as juksin) challenged the conventional wisdom of the elders (juk), and took the lead in protesting the redevelopment plans. Cecilia Moy Yep, a young widow and mother of three, became the first woman to speak out in a public forum in Chinatown. With George Moy, Inspector Anthony Wong, Rev. Yam Tam Hoh, Mitzie Mackenzie and others, she organized the Committee for the Advancement and Preservation of the Chinese Community, later incorporated in 1969 as the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC). Members of the community, especially women and children, labored to save the church and neighborhood through a coalition of community groups including the CBA, PCDC, Holy Redeemer Church, Chinese Christian Church, and Yellow Seeds. The once voiceless Chinese became intensely involved in the American political process. They conducted demonstrations, petition drives, and media campaigns. They tirelessly met with city and state officials and exerted strong pressure on redevelopment agencies to involve community leaders in decisions and conduct Environmental Impact Statements for each proposed project. After 20 years of negotiation, the community and city agreed on a modified plan for the Vine Street Expressway in 1986, sparing the church and community.

At the same time, members of the movement continued efforts to improve neighborhood and community life. PCDC championed the creative use of blighted spaces for community gardens, opposed demolition of existing structures, and fought for rezoning to remove many bars, "flophouses," and brothels in the neighborhood. Yellow Seeds, founded in the early 1970s, took a more militant political stance, advocating solidarity with other minority groups and "Third World peoples." The organization founded a newspaper and campaigned for improved housing conditions and bilingual education.

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