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Albert “Pomp” Wilson

February 7, 2010

Before James Brister, Nathan Mossell, and Sadie Alexander attended and graduated from Penn, a man named Albert Wilson blessed this campus (for fifty years!) and blessed his people in South Philadelphia.  Albert Wilson (1841-1904) first began working at the university in in 1854 as a Janitor and errand boy.  He would later serve as university bell ringer, he unlocked the doors of college hall, lit and extinguished lights and fires and ultimately he would serve as a lab technician and assistant sitting in on medical school courses for the better part of his fifty year career at Penn.  This medical and scientific training did not go wasted on Wilson.

The man who was known as Pomp the Janitor on campus where not a single African American was enrolled, was known respectfully as Dr. Wilson in the Philadelphia Black community.  In his autobiography, Nathan Mossell describes Wilson’s expertise and the unfortunate fact that amidst attending years of lectures in the med school, Wilson was never allowed to graduate. Still, Mossell spoke of the respect and admiration Wilson had in the community as a healer even to the point of Proctor’s Drug Store on 9th and Lombard carrying a line of Wilson’s prescriptions and medical products!

Wilson’s career at Penn endured the momentous move from the Center City campus to the West Philadelphia site, five Provosts, the patronizing yet, later meant-to-be endearing nickname “Pomp” (as in Pompey), tales of racism and reconciliation that are now lost to the grave, and nearly fifty years of serving a constantly changing university.  Many class pictures from the Class of 1858 through the turn of the century feature a warm dark face peering over the shoulders of graduates serving as a visual reminder of the very important presence of a man whose legacy is still felt today.  Thank you Dr. Wilson!

Rev. Charles Howard
Co-Instructor / Chaplain
COL ’00

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