Historical Markers
C. Delores Tucker (1927-2005) Historical Marker
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C. Delores Tucker (1927-2005)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
670 Lincoln Dr., Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
July 22, 2006

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas of a black woman wearing a red two piece suit, three strings of pearls, and seated.
C. Delores Tucker, official state portrait, circa 1975.
In the 1993, C. Delores Tucker, now in her late sixties, found a new cause. Appalled at its misogynist and violent lyrics, Tucker called for a ban on the sale of gangster-rap music and merchandise to American youth. "It is not healthy for our children," she said. "It is a crime that we are promoting these kind of messages. The whole gangster-rap industry is drug-driven, race-driven, and greed-driven." The rap labels, she scolded, are "pimping pornography to the children for the almighty dollar." Undeterred by negative publicity she pushed on. "She's a daunting figure," conservative pundit William Bennett told the Washington Post. "Usually I'm the noisy one, but she's ferocious."

Tucker was no stranger to controversy, or to standing up for her beliefs, regardless of their popularity. Back in 1943, at the age of sixteen, she had protested from the back of a flat-bed truck the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel's refusal to rent rooms to black athletes. In the 1960s, she had marched with Martin Luther King in Alabama, and in the 1970s, she had served as Pennsylvania's Secretary of State, the highest state office ever held by an African-American woman in American history.

Head shot.
C. Delores Tucker, circa 1971.
The tenth of eleven children, C. Delores Tucker grew up in North Philadelphia, where her father, Whitfield Nottage, an immigrant from the Bahamas, served as pastor of the Ebenezer Community Tabernacle. Since he refused a salary, her mother ran a grocery store and an employment agency for newly arrived blacks from the American South, and rented housing. C., as she was affectionately known, graduated from Girl's High and planned to become a physician, but after contracting tuberculosis on a trip to the Bahamas with her father, was forced to drop out of Temple University for a prolonged convalescence.

In 1950, she first became active in the civil-rights movement when she worked to register black voters during the Philadelphia mayoral campaign. The next year, she married realtor William Tucker and soon joined him in Tucker & Tucker Real Estate. Using government loans, she remodeled twenty-four buildings inherited from her mother and leased them as single-family dwellings to tenants chosen by the city. After city inspectors issued unfavorable reports in 1966, and the Philadelphia Inquirer listed the Tuckers among the city's worst slum landlords, Tucker scaled down her real-estate interests and formed a public-relations firm, C. Delores Tucker Associates.

In the 1960s, Tucker became an active supporter of the Democratic Party and a champion of civil rights. She became vice-president of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), served on the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission, participated in the 1961 and 1965 White House Conferences on Civil Rights, and marched alongside markerMartin Luther King, Jr. during the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965. In 1968, she became the first African American and the first woman to serve on the Philadelphia Zoning Board. Two years later, she became the first black woman to serve as the vice-chair of Pennsylvania Democratic Party and the first female vice-president of the Pennsylvania NAACP.

When Governor Milton Shapp appointed her Secretary of State of the Commonwealth in 1971-the first African American and first woman to hold that office-Tucker became the highest-ranking black woman in Pennsylvania's state government. As head of the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversaw the state's electoral process, economic development, and the health, safety and welfare of the public, Tucker, according to Shapp, threw out "a lot of dead wood and made a major department out of it." She led the implementation of an affirmative-action program to equalize the state's hiring practices, was in charge of the regulation of the state's businesses, and streamlined voter registration. Appreciative supporters flooded her with speaking requests. Her administrative assistant Anna Quann proclaimed, "Many black people seem to regard her as their governor."

In 1975, critics questioned her alleged use of governmental employees as speechwriters, and the Board of Ethics ruled that she could no longer accept fees from organizations that she oversaw. Two years later, Shapp fired her for reportedly using state resources to generate honoraria for herself. Outraged, Tucker retorted that her firing resulted from her refusal to support a Shapp-backed candidate and from her challenges to the State Democratic Committee's patronage system. Her supporters were equally outraged. The Philadelphia chapter of PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) sponsored a two-hour rally at Triumph Baptist Church, where Jesse Jackson charged the Shapp administration with double standards. The rally, according to the Philadelphia Inquire, was "one of the largest outpourings of racial solidarity in recent times in the city."

With a growing national profile, Tucker then became chair of the Democratic National Committee's Black Caucus, a position she held for eleven years, and spoke at five Democratic National Conventions. In 1984, she founded the National Political Congress of Black Women and supported Jesse Jackson in his campaign for president. She failed, however, in her bid to become lieutenant governor in 1987, and lost in the primary during a 1992 Congressional race in Philadelphia.

In the early 1990s, Tucker attracted national attention when she launched her campaign against "gangsta rap," a growing force in American popular music. Without children of her own, Tucker had become increasingly alarmed when her nephew dropped out of school after becoming a "gangsta" fan and her niece, only seven years old, said she "wants to be a gangster." To protest the distribution of recordings by rappers Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur, Tucker staged well-publicized demonstrations in front of record shops. Joining controversial conservative pundit Bill Bennett, she staged a public battle against the Time Warner Corporation, including an impassioned speech against "gangsta" lyrics at their stockholders' meeting in May 1995. She also called for a boycott of Tower Records for its promotion of gangsta rap and condemned both Death Row Records, which recorded Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Doggy Dog, and its distributor, Interscope Records.

Hip-Hop artists retaliated, attacking Tucker in the press, in court, and in their lyrics. One month before Time Warner dropped both Death Row and Interscope Records, the two companies sued Tucker for interference with their contracts. Tucker, in turn, filed a defamation lawsuit against the estate of Shakur and sued Time, Newsweek, and other publishers for misrepresenting her case. Continuing the fight, Tucker supported a 2000 Federal Trade Commission investigation of violence and the entertainment industry and condemned the "3-P Plague" of "prison, parole, and probation" that had decimated the black community.

After her death in 2005, some 1,500 supporters, including many prominent politicians and civil-rights leaders, attended her funeral at Philadelphia's Deliverance Evangelistic Church. In his eulogy, Jesse Jackson proclaimed that Tucker had been "a woman regal and royal and rare with non-negotiable dignity."
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