To say that Sam Evans was a man who wore many hats is definitely an understatement.
Leader of leaders. Power broker. Impresario. Godfather. Political patriarch. Rainmaker.
Human rights activist. Organizer. Friend. Mentor. Businessman. Tough taskmaster.
All these and more were the phrases and words used to refer to Samuel London Evans, this life-long Democrat who never held an elective office but wielded significant influence on hundreds of politicians and leaders and countless thousands of individuals.
Born just 37 years after slavery ended, Sam Evans had witnessed five lynchings by the age of nine. He passed in 2008 at the age of 105 and lay in state at City Hall, where hundreds visited to pay their respects.
W. Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s first Black mayor, noted that he owed his rise to Evans, who engineered a deal when Bill Green was running for mayor in 1979. “I stand here as a former mayor and former managing director because of the work of Samuel London Evans.”
Born in Florida, Evans moved to Philadelphia at the age of 16. He gained a respect for classical music at his first job with the Stark Piano Company as a teenager. This, he parlayed into producing major concerts at the Academy of Music-featuring world-class performers as Marcel Marceau and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1936, he formed the Philadelphia Youth Movement and with a slogan of “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” he organized picket lines of up to 100 youth in front of stores on Columbia Ave. (Cecil B. Moore Ave.) that didn’t hire Black people.
Evans organized Philadelphia’s 42,000-plus contingent to the historic March on Washington in 1963.
President Jimmy Carter’s White House Daily Diary of Feb. 17, 1978 indicates that he met with Evans and Martha “Bunny” Mitchell to “discuss his (Evans) suggestions for improving the administration’s “effectiveness.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Evans to the U.S. Physical Fitness Commission (1940) and he was appointed by Philadelphia Mayor James Tate as chairman of the Philadelphia Anti-Poverty Action Committee and he was selected as the city’s Czar of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Evans founded the American Foundation for Negro Affairs (AFNA) in 1968 to provide opportunities for young African Americans. His obituary notes that AFNA mentored more than 20,000 students including 800 doctors, 700 lawyers and 5,000 college graduates.
Sam Evans paved the way for today’s Most Influential African Americans in Philadelphia.
They Paved the Way
This series takes a historical look at several African Americans from the past who were influential during their time. While there were many involved in a variety of issues, time and space will not permit us to list all of them. However, we have selected a few “very” influential individuals and we will share their accomplishments with you as this series leads up to the 2011 Most Influential African Americans in Philadelphia edition of the Tribune Magazine.