Marchers accused of wearing blackface during 2020 Mummers Parade in Philadelphia

Saturday, January 4, 2020
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The strutting of the mummers down Broad Street on New Year's Day is a famed Philadelphia tradition.

While the latest version was festive and fun, it was - once again - not without controversy.

A member of Froggy Carr, in the Wench Brigade, and another person, have been accused of wearing blackface.

Some are saying the act was clearly racist, while others say it was not blackface and there were no ill intentions.

Froggy Carr was disqualified from the competition, and Mayor Jim Kenney says there could be further repercussions.

During a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Stephen Pakech, Froggy Carr's president, said they do not condone the act.

"One of our rules, no blackface. It's horrible. It's a bad mark on each city and it's a bad mark on each club," said Charles McKenna, Wench Brigade Association President.

Gritty was the theme of Froggy Carr's performance on Broad Street. An inflatable Gritty balloon hangs outside their clubhouse in South Philadelphia.

During the parade, marchers wore black and orange costumes and held umbrellas resembling the Flyers mascot.

People had on different variations of face paint - orange and black, orange and white, etc. - but at least two marchers wore only black paint.

A photo shows one marcher with the Froggy Carr Wench Brigade wearing the black face paint.

Mayor Kenney said on Twitter, "The use of blackface by someone affiliated with Froggy Carr today was abhorrent and unacceptable. This selfish, hateful behavior has no place in the Mummers, or the city itself. We must be better than this. The group was disqualified and we will be exploring additional penalties."

Philadelphia banned blackface from the parade in the 1960s.

Michael McGrail, who is not a member of the group but was with them during the parade, spoke to Action News.

"I think it's terrible, no one from Froggy Carr would condone that," said McGrail. "The issue is there are 120 actual members, but you have 570 guys. You can't control all that."

Officials said both men are out. They have been banished from Froggy Carr and all mummers activities.

"We're going to approach the other division and make sure these people don't ever march in the mummers again," said George Badey, an attorney that represents the mummers.

But Rodney Muhammad, President of the NAACP Philadelphia branch, says enough is enough.

"They need to pull the plug on this parade. I think it's time for it to go. It's the only parade that causes controversy on an annual basis," he said.

He says the mummers have had many chances to correct racial issues and have come up short.

"We've had the Juneteenth parade, we've had Unity Day, every year we have Odunde and we have thousands out. We offend no one. No political groups, ethnicity or religions. All people have wanted is fair justice and want to live in this city without annual insults," Muhammad said.

On Saturday, two associations that serve as the umbrella groups for two of the five divisions of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade addressed the use of blackface during this year's parade.

The Philadelphia Mummers Fancy Brigade Association and the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association condemned the use of blackface as well as any expressions of hate. Neither group is associated with Froggy Carr or the individuals involved in the incident.

Despite the controversy, 10,000 gold-slippered performers still strutted in the city's 120th mummer's parade, entertaining bleachers full of spectators.

"I love the string band, I love all that they put into the costumes, they're amazing," said Beth Ryales of Blackwood, New Jersey.

The performance took on a whole new meaning for the South Philadelphia String Band, who lost three of their own in a crash January 2, 2019.

"We're paying tribute to the three angels that we lost - my son, great friend Joey Ferry and his fiancé Kelly Wiseley, they're in our thoughts and prayers always and today we're dedicating the entire day to them," said Denny Palandro, the captain of the brigade and the father of Dennis Palandro, one of the victims.
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The group went on to win first prize for the 2020 parade.

As the performance ended, the family came together to acknowledge a loved one lost on his favorite day of the year.

"Happy New Year. Thanks for the support that we got from the entire mummer's community throughout the entire year. We love you guys and we need the support, so please keep it coming," said Palandro.
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