Unveiling of State of Pennsylvania’s Historical Marker Honoring Albert M. Greenfield (1887-1967)

This week in North Philly Notes, Dan Rottenberg, author of The Outsider, provides his remarks from the April 21, 2016 unveiling of a historical marker honoring Albert M. Greenfield, the subject of his book. The marker is located outside the Philadelphia Building, 1315 Walnut Street, which Greenfield built in 1923 and occupied for more than 40 years. 

This is an especially appropriate time to honor Albert M. Greenfield. We live in an age characterized by pessimism and fear— especially fear of the future, and fear of immigrants.

The Outsider_smAlbert Greenfield was both an immigrant and an optimist. In his 79 years on this planet he demonstrated what a difference a single individual can make in his community, his country, and his world.

In Philadelphia he put up high-rise office buildings and new hotels. He revived the city’s derelict historic district as Society Hill, a model urban community. In the process he drew the upper-middle-class back to Philadelphia’s downtown from the suburbs. He helped reform the city’s political system. He played a role in the creation of the state of Israel.

In this election year, when presidential candidates and European leaders talk of erecting walls to keep people out, it’s worth recalling that Albert Greenfield spent his life breaking down walls between people. First he got the German Jews and the Russian Jews to stop fighting with each other. Then he got the Jews and the Catholics to stop fighting with each other. Then he got whites and blacks to stop fighting with each other. He even broke down barriers between men and women. Ultimately got all of them together to challenge the entrenched Protestant Establishment that had dominated Philadelphia since its founding.

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The obstacles to human progress that Greenfield opposed—pessimism, timidity, prejudice, fear of immigrants, resistance to change— still persist. This is a good time to recall the Mayo Clinic’s definition of an optimist: “Optimism is the belief that good things will happen to you and that negative events are temporary setbacks to overcome.” That was Albert Greenfield: a man who wasn’t afraid of change and in fact delighted in it.

We can’t all follow in his peripatetic, hyperactive footsteps— the world would be a madhouse if we did—  but we can resolve to follow his example in embracing the future with a stout heart, courage and good cheer, just as Albert Greenfield did.

 

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