PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mayor Jim Kenney says the future of Philadelphia’s iconic Mummers Parade is “in jeopardy” in the aftermath of several mummers wearing blackface. Kenney sent a letter to Mummers’ leadership on Thursday, requesting a meeting to discuss changes to the parade.
The mummers are remaining tight-lipped about the letter from the mayor, which blasts the mummers for what the mayor calls a lack of control and oversight.
In the letter, Kenney calls the Mummers Parade “one of the city’s most unique and recognizable traditions,” but says Philadelphia will be forced to consider alternatives if leadership cannot commit to “meaningful changes.”
“Mummers groups have made commitments to avoid continued damage to the parade’s reputation caused by racial insensitivity and nuisance behavior,” Kenney wrote, “but the future of the parade is in jeopardy if Mummers leadership does not make immediate changes to better control the parade and organize yourselves.
“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. 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.”
JUST IN: @PhillyMayor sent a letter to heads of the Mummers divisions (Comic, Fancies, String Band, and Wench), requesting a meeting.
— Matt Petrillo (@MattPetrillo) January 23, 2020
Kenney says the city will propose recommendations on how Mummers divisions — Comics, Fancies, String, Fancy Brigade and Wench — organize themselves.
Alternatives to the Mummers Parade, Kenney says, could be the city holding its own New Year’s Day parade or placing conditions on the informal cost forgiveness it provides to cultural heritage parades.
On Jan. 1, the Froggy Carr Club was disqualified from the 2020 competition after two members wore blackface at the parade. The members insisted they were not blackface, saying their costume was Gritty-themed, referring to the Flyers’ mascot.
An attorney for the mummers told CBS3 the two men snuck past checkpoints and have been banned.
But the history of the Mummers Parade is steeped in controversy because of other instances of racism, including members wearing blackface during past years.
The series of incidents has others beyond the mayor upset.
The letter comes as Philadelphia City Council introduced legislation that would penalize citizens for racially insensitive conduct in public places, such as wearing blackface.
“We would not like to support such programs that are gonna be really disrespectful, racist and just hurtful towards the citizens of the city of Philadelphia,” said Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who introduced the bill.
If passed, the legislation would carry at least a $75 fine as well as at least a five-year suspension from marching in a public parade.
It reads: “No person shall, with the specific intent to intimidate or threaten another person, or with the specific intent to hide one’s identity during the commission of lawful activity wear a mask, blackface, hood or other device or means of hiding, concealing, or covering any portion of the face [for the purpose of concealing their identity] on public property or private property in this City without the express written permission of the owner or occupier of the property.”
Blackface is defined in the bill as “a form of theatrical make-up used predominately by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person, and which is generally considered offensive to African Americans.”
Mummers President John Pignotti told CBS3 they aren’t commenting until at least their leadership has a chance to get together and fully discuss the mayor’s letter.
It’s not clear when meetings between the mayor and Mummers’ leadership will begin. Bass says she plans to meet with them as soon as Monday.
The bill could be passed as soon as March.
CBS3’s Howard Monroe and Chantee Lans contributed to this report.