The shopping center was founded by Philadelphia Reverend Leon Sullivan and opened in 1968.
Congressman Dwight Evans was young then but still remembers Sullivan’s message of Black entrepreneurshipand economic control.
“At that time people were talking about ‘burn, baby, burn,’ ” said Rep. Evans told WHYY, who will be honoring Progress Plaza’s 50th anniversary. “He wrote a book called “Build, Brother, Build.” That was the fundamental difference. I tried to model myself after him when I got elected to the state legislature in 1980 and duplicatewhat he did with Progress Plaza.”
Sullivan’s involvement in civil rights movement in the late 1950’s when he started helping lead the “selective patronage” campaign. Sullivan and the other clergy began preaching to Black people, “don’t buy where you can’t work,” and helping efforts to desegregate the workforce of many major companies. Then in the late 60’s Sullivan began to believe that focusing on desegregation wasn’t enough.
Sullivan began using capital leveraged in part from donations by members of his church along with traditional capital to start aforementioned plaza.
This seemingly ordinary shopping center was the first shopping center in America built, owned, and managed by Black people.