Over 40 years ago, the Evening Bulletin gave extensive coverage to a sermon entitled “East Mount Airy: Slum, Ghetto or Good Place to Live?” which was delivered by the Rev. Rudolph C. Gelsey. It had become apparent that small block groups could no longer cope with the internal changes and outside attacks that faced the neighborhood; there was an urgent need for a larger organization. A series of meetings followed the sermon and the press coverage, and East Mount Airy Neighbors came into official existence on January 18, 1966. Rev. Gelsey was its first president.
In two weeks, EMAN had 200 members and two strong committees, one reporting on conditions in the schools, led by Marion Wolfert, and the other, under Arthur Sonstein, fighting real estate solicitation (blockbusting). Within six months, information on illegal real estate practices was collected. The schools committee was busy, too, as several of its members testified before the school board. Further, a program devoted to exploring and promoting racial understanding was created.
Within its first year, EMAN had won a zoning battle against a large apartment project proposed for Gowen and Germantown Avenues; initiated discussions with the mayor about a revision of the area’s zoning; worked to secure funds to renovate the tennis court and worked with Fairmount Park to sponsor tennis lessons; created tutoring programs in conjunction with the school district; and set up community recreation at Roosevelt Junior High School. Additionally, many concerned neighbors worked to resolve the complicated set of issues presented by area youth. Gang activity troubled the shopping districts, and police harassed all neighborhood youth.
In May, 1968, the first “Community Day” was organized, and was held at Pleasant Playground. This event has evolved into the annual event that is now known as Mt. Airy Day. During the same year, a relationship was forged with the newly-arrived Northwest Mental Health Center, and a movement for an alternative high school was building. (Parkway Delta High School opened in 1975.)
In the early 1970’s EMAN bought and renovated 820 Vernon Road as a community center. It remained a center of EMAN activity for 15 years. During the early 1970’s, the Zoning Committee, under the leadership of Mary Aspin, completely remapping the zoning in East Mt. Airy. In 1972 EMAN established the Edgar Baker Memorial Award to honor the memory of one of EMAN’s first members. This award is given annually to a person in Northwest Philadelphia who shows dedication to the community (click here for a list of the awardees).
EMAN has long served as a leader in building coalitions with other community organizations. In 1976, EMAN along with WMAN hosted the Annual Conference of National Neighbors. This organization was a coalition dedicated to multi-ethnic living. Eversley Vaughan served on its board and as secretary and president of the organization. Later, EMAN helped establish the Philadelphia Council of Neighborhood Organizations, where Vaughan again served, for a time, as president. EMAN was a founding member of the Germantown Avenue Coordinating Committee which worked with the business associations to improve conditions on the Avenue, and the Mt. Airy-Morton Neighborhood Advisory Council which assisted neighbors to take advantage of city, state and federal assistance to improve their housing.
During these years, EMAN established the Together Blocks program and helped organize 100 neighborhood blocks. Working through existing city programs, EMAN helped ensure that many of these blocks received home improvement materials including paint, other home supplies, and street trees.
Also in the 1970’s, EMAN and other groups opposed Germantown Savings Bank’s redlining by protesting their opening of a South Philadelphia branch. GSB agreed to return more mortgage money to the area.