An 18th-century ad tells us that a dozen or so men, women, and children of African heritage were scheduled for buyer’s inspection one Saturday, just outside the entrance of the London Coffee House in Philadelphia. The Stamp Act protests and other famous anti-British demonstrations took place not far from the auction block where this enslaved group would have stood chained, their naked bodies ready for prodding and probing. The establishment owner, William Bradford, published—in his newspaper The Pennsylvania Journal, books and other materials—the works of revolutionaries such as Thomas Paine, in addition to the Declaration of Rights from the First Continental Congress. The Founding Fathers and other influential, wealthy men came to this venue to talk politics, make deals, and often to buy and sell human beings.
Today, coffeehouses are still meeting places for business dealings and idealogical musings.
Last month, two young Black entrepreneurs visited a Philadelphia Starbucks to meet with a business associate. A store employee called police minutes after the men arrived. The video of the arrest went viral. It’s not easy to forget the image of these men standing quietly in handcuffs—an eerie resemblance of enslaved men before them. Upon his arrival, their associate—a White man—made futile attempts to speak on their behalf. One of the young men later told a reporter that he feared for his life.
This week, Starbucks closed 8,000 of its stores for four hours to conduct anti-bias training for its employees.
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