Late entrepreneur and former Philadelphia senator Thomas Milton Street Sr’s relatives continue to uphold their family’s political legacy after his death age 83.
Milton Street passed away on Monday, November 28 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Street’s death was confirmed by his nephew, State Senator Sharif Street. Sharif Street said his late uncle “visualized ways government could work for everyday folks by enacting change through policy regardless of political affiliation.”
In light of Milton Street’s passing, we take a look back over his trailblazing career and how the Street family are continuing his work in the political world.
How Milton Street went from food vendor to Philadelphia senator
Born in 1939, Milton Street was one of three brothers born to a Seventh-day Adventist Church-adhering family. The boys were raised on an 110-acre farm in Montgomery County, near Swedeland.
From a young age, Milton Street honored his sense of justice. His nephew, Sharif Street, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Street’s first-ever protest was directed against his family’s church for discrimination on gender and hiring.
Street and his younger brother John got their start working as food vendors at Temple University, reportedly selling cheesesteaks. Following this work, Milton Street became invested in activism. The main focuses of his activism were poverty and the issue of homelessness in Philadelphia.
It was this passion that led Milton Street to run for office. In 1978, Street was elected to the 181st District of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Democrat. He would successfully run for Pennsylvania State Senate two years later. Milton Street won the senate seat as a Democrat, however switched parties after his win to give Republicans control of the State Senate. Milton Street served as senator from January 6, 1981 to November 30, 1984.
Milton Street’s family followed him into politics
When Thomas Milton Street Sr embarked on his political career, it didn’t take too long for his family to follow suit. The year Milton Street was elected to senate, his younger brother John was elected as a member of the Philadelphia City Council from the 5th district. John F Street would serve on the council for 18 years. From 1992 to 1998, he served as president of the council.
After stepping away from the council, John F Street had a successful mayoral campaign. Milton Street’s younger brother served two terms as Philadelphia’s mayor, from 2000 to 2008. Following his brother, Milton Street vied for the position of mayor, entering himself as a candidate in the 2007 election. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Milton Street withdrew from the mayoral race. He would try again in years to come (2011, 2015, and 2019).
Sharif Street, Milton’s nephew and John F Street’s son, has also ventured into the world of politics. Sharif is a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania State Senate. He has represented the 3rd district since 2017. Sharif Street is also Chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, having been elected on June 18, 2022.
Milton Street’s brother also shifted political affiliation
The late Milton Street was known for working across party lines, even shifting allegiance from Democrat to Republican over the years. In his last bid for office, in 2020, Milton Street planned to run as an Independent candidate. His family also have worked across different parties.
John F Street won both mayoral elections as a Democrat, beating out his Republican opponents. However, in 2011, John F Street switched his political affiliation to Independent.
Sharif Street has always remained within the Democratic Party.
Sharif Street says his uncle ‘changed lives’
Since Milton Street’s passing, his nephew, Sharif, has heaped praise on his influence in Philadelphia.
Sharif explained that he had a recent phone call with a man who said Milton Street helped keep his family from becoming homeless. “My uncle, he changed lives,” Sharif Street said as per WHYY’s report.
“Milton Street used agitation and inspiration to launch a groundswell of housing and racial justice activism in the 1970s/80s. He fought gentrification while striving to keep Black communities intact, imprinting on our city forever,” Senator Nikil Saval tweeted.