A Chestnut Hill church has asked the neighboring Philadelphia Cricket Club to get rid of its feathered American Indian head logo because it projects “a painful racial insensitivity into our neighborhood.”
The response from the country club: silence.
The impassioned national discussion over the use and misuse of Native American images, names, and statues has come now to a green swath in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, where the club and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church have long stood side by side. The church wants the 166-year-old club to retire a logo similar to that worn by the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks — one that harkens back to an era when white settlers romanticized Native Americans, even as they were killing them and taking their land.
The use of a Native figure on the club sign that borders church property “represents the white supremacist legacy of our neighborhood,” and “for a club founded for white Protestant elites during the height of the genocide against Native peoples to continue with this logo is to deny our horrific past,” the vestry and the rector, the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel, wrote to Cricket Club president F. John White. “We ask you to retire the offensive logo and replace it with something more benign.”
The neighborhood’s growing diversity demands consideration of “what it means for children and families — especially children and families of color — to be exposed to your logo every day,” the June 29 letter said.
Efforts to reach White and other Cricket Club leaders were unsuccessful. Emails and phone messages were not returned.
“It’s bewildering to me that people who are not Native embrace [the images] so much,” said Ann Remy, a Penndel activist of Lenape descent who works to end the use of Native-themed logos. “It’s kind of incredible how non-Natives believed they were ‘honoring’ the Natives.”
Today, she said, more people are learning that the logos and mascots are psychologically harmful, not merely discomfiting, to Native people. Where earlier generations might have tried to ignore the insult and pain, “my generation and my kids’ generation are looking at it in a different light, and saying, ‘That just ain’t right.’ ”
The church has received no response to its letter, a spokesperson there said. Clergy members declined to comment further on the logo.
As the Black Lives Matter movement drives debates and reforms around systemic racism in America, the appropriation of Native iconography is getting fresh, stern attention in a Philadelphia region rife with problematic team names, signs, and monuments.
The Lenape name of the original inhabitants has been stamped on everything from steel mills to pizza shops. In South Jersey, high schools are named Lenape (its teams nicknamed the Indians), Shawnee (Renegades), Cherokee (Chiefs), and Seneca (Golden Eagles). The Neshaminy School District has spent at least $435,000 on its fight to keep its Redskins name.
The Philadelphia Cricket Club bills itself as the nation’s oldest country club and one of its finest, offering sports, dining, and social events. It had revenues of $15.3 million and expenses of $14.9 million in 2018, according to a public tax filing, and held net assets of $17.5 million. It was founded in 1854 by a group of University of Pennsylvania alumni who played the game as students and wanted to continue their competitions.
“Why the Native American face or head is on the Cricket Club logo, nobody knows,” said Chestnut Hill College history professor David Contosta, an authority on the club and the area. “There are no records. At least, none have surfaced so far.”
Timing offers a clue. The mid-1800s was an era when whites idealized Native Americans, or rather, their own imaginings of Native Americans, believing Indians to be a vanishing race. For instance, the Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow appeared in 1855, while Natives were being forced onto reservations by settlers who wanted property and minerals.
By the late 19th century, Contosta said, cities like Philadelphia were becoming crowded and smoky. People yearned for an earlier, more natural time, and Native Americans seemed emblematic of that.
“A lot of Cricket Club members feel the Black Lives Matter movement has awakened us all to the insensitivity of the logo,” said one member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But then there’s a lot of people who feel tradition is important, and since the logo was originally meant as an homage, it can still be viewed that way.”
The club leadership, which had been resistant, now seems open to considering change, the member said.
A petition circulating inside the club declares that more and more members find the logo “ethically and professionally problematic, for ourselves, as well as for our diverse staff, who are required to wear racist imagery. We want to be proud of a place that we love.”
Keeping the logo “serves as a regressive and inflammatory choice,” the petition stated. Given the speed of revisions among pro sports teams in places like Washington and Cleveland, it’s “just a matter of time before the PCC comes under public pressure to make the same change.”
The club recently joined a community statement affirming belief in racial justice and equality, the petition noted, and retiring the logo now would offer a chance to educate members, their children, and grandchildren on racism, symbols, history, and change.
Both the Cricket Club and the church were largely the creations of the same man, Philadelphia railroad executive and property developer Henry H. Houston, once the city’s largest landowner.
He gave a low-cost, long-term lease to the then-homeless Cricket Club, offering permanent grounds on West Willow Grove Avenue in 1884. Five years later, he commissioned and paid for the construction of St. Martin’s Church, explained Contosta, author of The Philadelphia Cricket Club, 1854-2004, America’s Oldest Country Club. Houston’s daughter, Gertrude Woodward, held a particular fascination for Indians, and gave large amounts of money to Native missions in South Dakota, Contosta said. Among her prized possessions was an authentic birch-bark canoe.
She told people, “I must be part Indian.” She wasn’t.
But she persuaded her developer father to name the local streets after tribes, which is why Chestnut Hill has routes called Seminole, Navajo, Pocono, and Shawnee.
Contosta is a member of St. Martin's, but takes no position on the logo or the letter demanding its removal.
The church has “struggled in recent years to come to terms with its own history of racist beliefs and practices,” its letter to the Cricket Club said. Today, the church continues more than five years of formal trainings, teachings, and readings as it strives to be actively antiracist and become the “Beloved Community” centered on justice, equality, and love envisioned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said the Rev. Barbara Ballenger, the associate for Spiritual Formation and Care.
“How will we be appropriate and effective allies when racist incidents happen? What will we call out?” she said. “Part of our personal responsibility is once you begin to wake up to racism, once you wake up to your involvement in it as a white person, you have to be not only a voice but a force for change.”