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C. DeLores Tucker

Posted on Friday, September 4, 2020

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Guest Blogger: Andrew Terranova, Concierge, Sofitel Philadelphia

When I was asked by The Constitutional Walking Tour to put together a series of blogs on African American historical figures in Philadelphia, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the proud heritage of our city and the contributions made by its citizens. As an American history buff, I am always fascinated by the individual stories of people who have helped to make history happen.

We do talk a lot about the foundation of our country in the 75 minute minute walking tour of Historic Philadelphia, but the stories don’t end with Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross. These patriots made Philadelphia and America great places, but they couldn’t have without the help of some unsung heroes. I’ll also provide you with the details of where you can go to learn more about them so you can venture out to pay your respects

Cynthia DeLores Tucker (née Nottage; October 4, 1927 – October 12, 2005)

C. DeLores Tucker

C. DeLores Tucker lived at 6700 Lincoln Drive in Philadelphia for 47 years. While living there, she had an extensive involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, having marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1965 Selma march and raising funds for the NAACP. In 1990, Tucker, along with 15 other African American women and men, formed the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom. She was the convening founder and national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. (NCBW), having succeeded the Hon. Shirley Chisholm in 1992.

Tucker also was responsible for the Governor's appointment of more women judges and more women and African Americans to boards and commissions than ever before. She also led the effort to make Pennsylvania one of the first states to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). As Chief of Elections of Pennsylvania, she was a leader in instituting a voter registration by mail and reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 years of age. In 1971, Tucker became the first black female Secretary of State when Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp appointed her Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. During her tenure, she instituted the first Commission on the Status of Women. 

C. Delores Tucker Historical Marker

Selected as one of 25 of the World's Most Intriguing People by People magazine, Tucker was also selected as a People Magazine 1996 Yearbook Honoree, and was featured in the inaugural issue of John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s George magazine for her crusade against violence in rap. In addition, she has been acknowledged for her deep concern for children by Hillary Clinton in the book It Takes A Village. The National Women's Political Caucus and Redbook also named her as the woman best qualified to be Ambassador to the United Nations.

A controversial figure in American politics, C. DeLores Tucker made waves when she criticized the messages sent out in rap, hip hop and R&B. But nonetheless, here was a woman who had worked hard, gained national recognition and respect, and only wanted the best for her brothers and sisters.

Tucker focused her energy later in life to condemning violence preached in the lyrics of rappers. She ignited a firestorm of backlash from Tupac Shakur, Lil Wayne and ‘Lil Kim, who often used her name derogatorily in their lyrics, causing her much emotional pain and distress. Criticism for Tucker's crusade against hip hop music extended beyond the music industry though. Free speech advocates were critical of Tucker, as were scholars who saw her campaign as misguided. By focusing on violence in hip hop lyrics, Tucker was attacking the artistic expression of young Black men dealing with the violence that existed in their communities and ignoring the true sources of that violence including systematic racism.

Tucker's campaign against hip hop also led to disconcerting alliances with right-wing cultural figures such as William Bennett, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of Education and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush. As Bennet was a key architect in creating drug policy that incarcerated African Americans at extremely disproportionate rates, Tucker was criticized for her association with Bennett. Tucker's campaign also led to a feud with the NAACP who had chosen to honor Tupac Shakur with an Image Award. Jeff Chang, a journalist and the Vice President of Narrative, Arts and Culture at Race Forward, the center for Racial Justice in Oakland, Ca, wrote that ultimately, Tucker's campaign had primarily resulted in "broadening the war on Black youth." Despite this, few could accuse Tucker of bad intentions as it was clear Tucker was continuing to work hard and fight for what she believed was right and some of her criticisms on the music industry at large, and the types of Black artists that industry executives chose to elevate have aged well.

For five consecutive years, from 1972 through 1977, she was listed as among Ebony magazine's 100 Most Influential Black Americans. During that period, she was listed as Ladies Home Journal Nominee for Woman of the Year in both 1975 and 1976. She was recognized by Ebony as one of the '100 Most Influential Black Organization Leaders' in the country in 2001 and 2002.

On October 12, 1995, C. DeLores Tucker died in a suburban Philadelphia nursing home. Governor Ed Rendell made a statement on her death:

"America has lost one of the great civil rights activists of our time. DeLores Tucker worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and carried on Dr. King's fight for decades. She did it with dedication, class, grace and dignity. The progress that she accomplished was significant and will benefit many Americans and Pennsylvanians for years to come."

"She was an inspiration and driving force for success for me throughout my life," Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street said, also in a written statement. "She counseled me as a young lawyer, encouraged me as a candidate and became a mentor to my children." 

"Never again will Black women be disregarded. We will have our share and parity in American politics...”
-C. DeLores Tucker

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