When state Rep. Donna Bullock made up her mind to run in a special election for the seat in the 195th state House District back in August 2015, people told her she needed the support of one person if she was going to win — Frank L. Oliver Sr.
He had represented the district for 37 years before he retired in 2010. He was at the time of his retirement the most senior African-American elected official in the state and the longest serving member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
“I didn’t have his support at first but eventually I was able to win him over,” Bullock said. “He put me through it and let me know how important the community was. He let me know that it had to be important to me. He pushed me to be better.”
On Friday, Bullock and other state and local lawmakers will honor Oliver, who died in 2018 at the age of 95, by renaming a portion of North 29th Street — between Master and Thompson streets — after him.
The ceremony will take at 10 a.m.
Oliver was elected to represent the 195th state House District in a special election in 1973 and held the seat until he retired. The first African-American elected to the 195th, he also served as the leader of the 29th Democratic Ward from 1970 until he died. He was also a founding member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and served as its chairman from 1982 to 1984.
The 195th state House District borders the 181st state House District, which is currently represented by Malcolm Kenyatta. Oliver shared a special relationship with Kenyatta’s predecessor, W. Curtis Thomas, who retired in 2018 after representing the 181st for 30 years.
Thomas said of Oliver, “This is a great honor and a great tribute to someone who richly deserves it. He was a legend who did so much for North Philadelphia.”
Thomas said that Oliver was a “shrewd political leader.” As an example, he pointed to Oliver serving as the leader and founder of a group of African-American ward leaders known as the New Progressive Alliance.
“Under Frank’s leadership, they formed a very, very powerful voting block,” Thomas recalled.
As a member of the House since 1994 and as a leader of the 13th Democratic Ward for 34 years, 198th state House District Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood worked alongside Oliver for decades.
“When you work with someone that long, you get to see what type of person they are,” said Youngblood, who retired from ward leadership last year. “Frank was the type of person who really fought for his community. He fought for people who were fearful of speaking up and he made sure their voices were heard. It’s very fitting that he’ll have a street named in his honor.”