Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

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Black Power

Black Power, a movement significant to the black freedom struggle in Philadelphia, came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s through the combined efforts of local and national organizations including the Church of the Advocate, the Black Panther Party, the Black United Liberation front, and MOVE. Before and after Stokely Carmichael (1941-98) of the national Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) invoked the term Black Power in 1966, African American activists in the Philadelphia region fought for economic equality, educational equity, improved living conditions, and an end to police brutality.

Many advocates of Black Power had ties to the civil rights movement, but during the 1960s they diverged from its nonviolent stance and emphasized black identity and empowerment through anti-poverty programs, self-defense, and diasporic connections with other oppressed people. Black Power stressed that black people should be in control of black communities. In Philadelphia, early Black Power initiatives included projects to raise awareness of African and African American history and culture, including the Freedom Library on Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia, opened in 1964 by John Churchville (b. 1941). Churchville and other activists who gathered at Freedom Library formed Philadelphia’s first Black Power political organization, the Black Power Unity Movement (BPUM), in 1965. An organization by the same name formed in Camden, New Jersey, in 1967.

In North Central Philadelphia, the Church of the Advocate, with a congregation becoming increasingly African American as whites moved out of the city, became an important center of Black Power. Under the leadership of Father Paul Washington (1921-2002), one of the Freedom Library activists, the church and BPUM hosted a Black Unity Rally in February 1966 that drew a capacity crowd to hear civil rights leader Julian Bond (1940-2015). Black Power rallies followed in locations around the city during the summer, including two attended by Stokely Carmichael (1941-98). In 1968, the Church and BPUM also hosted the Third National Conference on Black Power, attended by two thousand people and leading to the creation of the Advocate Community Development Corporation and a black activist newspaper, Voice of Umoja.

[caption id="attachment_29261" align="alignright" width="240"]Photograph of Black Power demonstrator being arrested at rally In November of 1967 Black Power protesters demonstrated outside of the Philadelphia Board of Education. The students were seeking courses on black history as well as black instructors. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Church of the Advocate members included Reggie Schell (1941-2012), who in 1969 became the defense minister (leader) of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers originally formed in 1966 in Oakland, California, to patrol and protect African American neighborhoods from police brutality. In Philadelphia, under Schell’s leadership the local chapter expanded from its base in North Philadelphia to become influential throughout the city through a “Free Food for Survival” program, education programs, rallies, and other political events. The Black Power movement also spread to the region’s college campuses, where sit-ins called for black faculty and black studies programs, and to high schools. Activism focused especially on control of the Philadelphia public schools. When black students from a dozen Philadelphia high schools marched on a Philadelphia Board of Education meeting on November 17, 1967, with demands including black history classes taught by black teachers, many wore Black Power buttons.

The rising tide of black activism and militancy so alarmed the Philadelphia Police Department that even the students marching on the school board were met with nightstick-wielding officers, commanded by then-commissioner and future mayor Frank Rizzo (1920-91). Police raided homes of Black Power activists and offices of organizations, and many local activists were followed by FBI agents from COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program that aimed to infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the Black Panther Party. (COINTELPRO was discovered in 1971, when activists raided the Media, Pennsylvania, office of the FBI.)

On August 31, 1970, shortly before a Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention held at Temple University and following a shooting of a white police officer by an African American man, Philadelphia police raided three Black Panther Party headquarters, including one near the campus on Columbia Avenue. The raids became internationally known for their brutality and visibility. Panther members were held at gunpoint and many were publicly strip-searched before being taken to the police station. The bail for the Panthers was set at $100,000, but it was posted by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. The raids, ordered by Rizzo, did much to unite the NAACP and other stalwarts of the nonviolent civil rights movement with the Panthers. Although not entirely aligned politically, many Philadelphia activists united in their opposition to police brutality.

Despite the raids, the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention took place as scheduled at Temple University’s McGonigle Hall in September 1970. The convention drew fourteen thousand participants, including Black Panther Party leaders from across the country, to hear speakers including Huey Newton (1942-89). Activists gathered to draft a new constitution and attend workshops at the event, which the Black Panther Party declared successful. Many attendees, primarily women, felt differently and critiqued the masculinity and misogyny apparent in many of the activities. Still, the convention was one of the largest gatherings of radical activists in the United States.  

Although the Black Panther Party declined in influence in the early 1970s, many activists turned their interests toward diasporic connections and global injustice. Black Power activists in Philadelphia, for example, founded the Philadelphia Coalition to Stop Rhodesian and South African Imports to protest apartheid in South Africa. By the early 1970s, the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party disbanded but Reggie Schell and other local Panthers started the Black United Liberation Front, which continued much of their activism.

The legacy of the Black Power activism lived on among other Philadelphia organizations and individuals. Black Power activism changed Philadelphia-area politics by making issues important to African Americans central to local governance and, eventually, by electing movement veterans to office. W. Wilson Goode (b. 1938), a West Philadelphia community organizer, became managing director of Philadelphia and then the first of three African American mayors, serving from 1984 to 1992. Other veterans of the Black Power movement gained seats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

[caption id="attachment_29240" align="alignright" width="226"]a black and white photograph of Wilson Goode smiling in a crowd Wilson Goode was the first African American mayor of Philadelphia, serving from 1984 to 1992.  (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Although many have cited the disbanding of the Black Panther Party and the pursuit of prominent Black Power activists by law enforcement as a failure of the movement, the Black Power movement left an important legacy in Philadelphia and across the country. The Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia remained active in community-centered actions and social justice work, hosting a daily soup kitchen and youth programming. Prominent Philadelphia Black Panthers included Mumia Abu-Jamal (b. 1954), who joined the Black Panther Party at fourteen and became the local chapter’s “lieutenant of Information.” His incarceration for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner (1955-81) and assertions of an unfair trial prompted global activism on his behalf. While imprisoned, Abu-Jamal became a vocal writer and activist for the rights of incarcerated people. Activists also pursued the release of jailed members of MOVE, the black nationalist and anarcho-primitivist organization famously bombed by Philadelphia police in a 1985 standoff at a MOVE compound in West Philadelphia.

In both city government and radical activism across Philadelphia, the teachings and legacy of Black Power in Philadelphia remained prevalent. The Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s created the space for continued activism and political presence for African Americans in Philadelphia.

Holly Genovese is a Ph.D. student in history and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Temple University. Her interests are in incarceration, public history, and Black Power. She is Contributing Editor at Auntie Bellum Magazine and a contributor at Book Riot, Rabble Lit, and the Us Society for Intellectual Historians blog. Her writing has been featured in Bustle, The Establishment, and Scalawag Magazine.

Liberty County

City and state politicians representing Northeast Philadelphia, deeply unsettled by the shifting economy and demographic makeup of the city in the 1980s, proposed seceding to create “Liberty County,” a separate, suburban municipality to ostensibly address taxpayers’ demands for improved municipal services. The primary impetus for such a radical step, however, was reaction to Philadelphia’s first African American mayor, W. Wilson Goode (b. 1938), whose election in 1983 further stoked racial anxieties throughout Northeast Philadelphia. Supporters of secession pressed for independence from the city throughout Goode’s two terms as mayor, but after his reelection in 1987 the movement diminished as many residents, refusing to acknowledge Goode’s municipal contributions to their neighborhoods because of his race, chose to move to the suburbs rather than continue the fight.

[caption id="attachment_29460" align="alignright" width="225"]a black and white photograph of Wilson Goode smiling in a crowd Wilson Goode was the first African American mayor of Philadelphia, serving from 1984 to 1992. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

A rising political star in Philadelphia politics who had served as managing director for Mayor William Green (b. 1938), Goode campaigned throughout Northeast Philadelphia in an effort to convince skeptical white voters that he would improve municipal services if elected mayor. Residents remained hostile to Goode’s candidacy, however, largely because of his race.  Shortly after his election, Frank “Hank” Salvatore (1922-2014), a Republican state representative from Far Northeast Philadelphia, submitted a bill to the Pennsylvania legislature proposing that Northeast Philadelphia secede from the city to become a separate entity to be known as Liberty County. Goode countered by working to establish an amicable relationship with business and civic organizations in the  Northeast and promising in 1984 to build “a mini-City Hall” there.  His efforts fell short, however, as Northeast city council representatives Joan Krajewski (1934-2013) and Brian O’Neill (b. 1949) remained skeptical of Goode’s intentions, eventually joining an emerging chorus of community activists who questioned whether the mayor could fulfill his promise to build a municipal services center.

In May 1985 relations between Goode and his Northeast constituents took a further turn for the worse.  Following the tragically botched effort to remove the black nationalist and anarcho-primitivist group MOVE from Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia on May 13, Northeast residents began to speak fearfully of the possibility that Goode might similarly resort to dropping explosives on their neighborhoods if they failed to comply with his executive authority.  Even as the city launched a formal investigation into the mayor’s handling of the crisis, Hank Salvatore sought to capitalize on the mayor’s political misfortunes by demanding a concurrent state legislative inquiry about the mayor’s actions against MOVE and its compound. Not to be cowed, Goode rebuffed his white political and civic-minded critics and made good on his promise for a Northeast “mini-City Hall,” which opened at the Northeast Shopping Center at Roosevelt Boulevard and Welsh Road in September 1985. 

[caption id="attachment_29458" align="alignright" width="206"]Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo Examining the New Police Insignia. Frank L. Rizzo, shown here in 1968 examining the new police insignia on a patrol car located at Eighth and Race Streets, was a national voice of get-tough policing as both commissioner (1967-71) and mayor (1972-80). (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Goode’s action failed to alter the situation and animus against him in the Northeast peaked just months later in July 1986 during a municipal services strike that left piles of trash strewn on neighborhood sidewalks. Residents blamed the mayor for failing to resolve the crisis. With cries for Salvatore’s secession proposal still festering, the emergence of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo (1920-91) as a candidate once again for mayor further aggravated relations with the city. Labeled by supporters as a “Great White Hope,” Rizzo stormed Northeast neighborhoods, where he assured supporters that he would significantly improve city services if elected.  By contrast, Goode, who had pledged color-blind governance in 1983, found little support in the Northeast during the 1987 campaign and increasingly courted African American voters in other parts of the city.  While Goode ultimately prevailed over Rizzo to gain reelection–winning a significant number of black voters but losing by large margins in Northeast Philadelphia–he was left governing a city that had failed to expunge its racial demons.

Resentful of Goode’s continued presence as mayor, Salvatore rallied those who supported his secessionist stance one last time by openly threatening again in February 1988 to create a separate, suburban entity, Liberty County, through state legislation. His action drew praise from some Northeast residents, who called him a latter-day “Patrick Henry” who would save the Northeast from the perceived tyranny of “King Wilson I.” But his plan lacked the same widespread community support it had initially corralled during the mid-1980s. Liberty County became little more than a fantasy to its white supporters, who slowly left the city for better housing opportunities and municipal services in the nearby suburbs during the 1990s and early 2000s. Salvatore’s supporters periodically reproposed his Liberty County idea in local newspapers throughout the Northeast , but lacked sufficient political support in their communities to make it a viable initiative. 

Matthew Smalarz teaches history at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, where he serves as the History and Social Sciences Coordinator and received the Outstanding Educator of the Year Award for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Rock Music and Culture (Late 1960s to Present)

Although Philadelphia was a national trendsetter in rock and roll in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it lost its preeminence in the mid-1960s as tastes changed and the music moved in new directions. While a new home-grown style of African American soul music emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s that once again put Philadelphia at the forefront of popular music, the city’s rock-and-roll scene took on a different identity. The earlier, simpler rock-and-roll style that brought Philadelphia prominence in the late 1950s evolved a decade later into a hard-driving, experimental type of music. In Philadelphia and other cities, rock and roll morphed into “rock”—psychedelic rock, progressive rock, hard rock—and a new underground culture developed around it.

The new music took shape in clubs and coffeehouses, including the Trauma on Arch Street, the 2nd Fret on Sansom Street near Rittenhouse Square, and the Kaleidoscope in Manayunk, but the focal point of the emerging culture was the Electric Factory, a rock club that opened in February 1968 at Twenty-Second and Arch Streets. Owned by local club proprietors the Spivack brothers—Herb (b. 1932), Jerry (1929-84), and Allen (b. 1938), and their partner for a brief time, Shelley Kaplan (1939-2016)—and managed by young promoter Larry Magid (b. 1942), in the late 1960s the Electric Factory featured groups such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin (1943–70), Jimi Hendrix (1942–70), the Who, and Pink Floyd. In addition to headlining national and international rock artists, the club usually had a local act on each bill. Groups from Philadelphia’s underground rock scene appeared frequently, including the American Dream, Mandrake Memorial, Elizabeth, Edison Electric, Woody’s Truck Stop, Sweet Stavin Chain, and Nazz. The leader of Nazz, Upper Darby native Todd Rundgren (b. 1948), later achieved fame as a solo artist.  

The Electric Factory lasted less than three years, closing in late 1970, but it gave birth to Electric Factory Concerts, which became one of the premier rock-concert promotion companies in the nation. Magid and the Spivack brothers continued to run the company, with Magid, who was made a full partner in 1969, eventually taking on primary management responsibilities. Rock music grew to be big business in the 1970s; groups that played to twenty-five hundred at the Electric Factory in the late 1960s could a few years later play to twenty thousand at the Spectrum, the South Philadelphia sports arena that opened in 1967 and served as the region’s main large-scale rock concert venue for many years. This was the beginning of “arena rock.” With a large and passionate fan base and Electric Factory Concerts booking the acts, the Spectrum became an important stop on the big-time rock concert circuit.

Rise of Rock Festivals

[caption id="attachment_28982" align="alignright" width="200"] The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, built in 1927, was as one of Upper Darby’s first movie theaters, but in time it became a routine venue for rock-and-roll artists. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

In the late 1960s, rock festivals also came into vogue. Electric Factory Concerts sponsored several Quaker City Rock Festivals at the Spectrum and in the summers presented “Be-Ins” at Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park. These free outdoor events offered music, food, and vendors. In early August 1969 Electric Factory Concerts produced the Atlantic City Pop Festival, a major three-day rock festival at the Atlantic City Race Course that featured dozens of artists and drew over one hundred thousand people. The Atlantic City Pop Festival preceded the more famous Woodstock festival in upstate New York by two weeks and featured many of the same performers.

While major rock acts played the Spectrum in the 1970s and 1980s, many types of venues, large and small, offered rock music throughout the Philadelphia region. Rock moved out of the underground and into the mainstream in this period and could be heard everywhere from corner bars to midsize clubs to movie theaters and vaudeville houses that were converted into concert halls. Venues converted for rock concerts included the TLA and Trocadero in downtown Philadelphia, the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, and, somewhat later, the Keswick Theatre in Glenside. Ripley’s on South Street and the Chestnut Cabaret in West Philadelphia were popular midsize rock clubs, while the Empire Rock Club in Northeast Philadelphia became an important large venue for heavy metal and glam rock in the 1980s. J.C. Dobbs and the Khyber Pass, small downtown rock clubs, achieved legendary status in the 1970s and 1980s as places where both local acts and emerging national and international artists could get a start and cultivate a following. Another venue, the Hot Club, featured punk and new wave rock. For ten years beginning in 1972 the Electric Factory team operated the Bijou Café, a 275-seat downtown venue that featured rock music, along with folk, jazz, and comedy, in a more sophisticated club setting. The Main Point, the region’s premier folk club that opened in Bryn Mawr in 1964, often featured rock and folk rock artists in the 1970s before closing in 1981.

[caption id="attachment_29058" align="alignright" width="241"]Photo of crowd near stage watching Bruce Springsteen perform. Bruce Springsteen performed at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, in September 2016. The show was Springsteen's longest-running concert performed in the United States, lasting 4 hours, 3 minutes and 43 seconds. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Out of this dynamic environment came a number of local rock artists who achieved national success in the 1970s and 1980s, including Hall & Oates, the Hooters, George Thorogood (b. 1950) & the Delaware Destroyers, Robert Hazard (1948–2008) & the Heroes, Cinderella, Tommy Conwell (b. 1962) & the Young Rumblers, Pretty Poison, and the Dead Milkmen, the latter Philadelphia’s best-known punk rock group. Artists who enjoyed strong local followings but whose popularity did not extend much beyond the Philadelphia region included the A’s, Beru Revue, Johnny’s Dance Band, Kenn Kweder (b. 1952), the Alan Mann (1954–87) Band, and the Vels. Emerging rock stars from nearby areas who had their first significant success in Philadelphia or whose careers received a major early boost in the city included Billy Joel (b. 1949) and Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949), while British artists David Bowie (1947–2016), Elton John (b. 1947), and the group Yes achieved early career success in Philadelphia as well. Local rock radio stations WMMR, WIOQ, and WYSP promoted these artists and played a key role in the city’s flourishing rock scene, particularly WMMR, the preeminent Philadelphia rock station in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rock Diversifies

There was no characteristic “Philadelphia sound” of rock music in this period, as there was with the city’s soul music or as there had been a decade earlier when Philadelphia was a national trendsetter in rock and roll. Rock music had diversified into a wide range of styles: progressive and “art” rock, heavy metal, glam, dance and pop rock, funk rock, folk rock, country rock and rockabilly, blues-based rock and roll, punk and new wave, reggae and ska rock. All of these styles became part of the Philadelphia rock scene to some degree. Some groups specialized in a particular style while others incorporated elements of several. Unlike other cities—San Francisco and the psychedelic sound, Los Angeles and folk and country rock, Seattle and grunge rock—Philadelphia after the mid-1960s did not produce a high-profile group of artists identified with a particular rock style.

[caption id="attachment_28980" align="alignright" width="248"] With the continued popularity of music festivals such as Made In America—a two-day festival held each Labor Day weekend since 2012 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway--fans of many tastes gather to watch popular artists perform rock, hip-hop, R&B, and Latin sounds, and more. (Photograph by A. Ricketts for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

In the late 1970s, arena rock gave way to stadium rock, as venues and audiences grew even larger. Philadelphia’s two largest stadiums, John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Veterans Stadiums, hosted a number of large-scale rock concerts promoted by Electric Factory Concerts. The biggest by far was Live Aid, a benefit to fight world hunger, held on July 13, 1985, at JFK Stadium, with a simultaneous concert at Wembley Stadium in London. Some 100,000 attendees in Philadelphia heard dozens of the biggest names in rock while a worldwide audience of almost two billion watched a TV simulcast of the concerts. The event was reprised twenty years later when Philadelphia and several other cities worldwide hosted Live 8 concerts on July 2, 2005. Philadelphia’s Live 8 concert took place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which became the main site for the city’s large-scale outdoor music festivals.

Several midsize rock venues opened and closed throughout the region in the 1980s and 1990s, while small clubs and local bars continued to serve as vital outlets for the music. New concert promoters also entered the business, challenging the primacy of Electric Factory Concerts. In 1995 Larry Magid and his partner Allen Spivak opened a second Electric Factory, a rock club in Northern Liberties similar in size to their original 1960s venue. In 2000, while keeping their namesake club, they sold Electric Factory Concerts to a conglomerate concert promotion company that eventually became Live Nation Entertainment. In 2015 Live Nation opened Fillmore Philadelphia, yet another major rock club, not far from the second Electric Factory.

These larger clubs were key venues in presenting established and emerging rock artists to Philadelphia audiences in the early twenty-first century, as were long-running theaters such as the TLA, Trocadero, and Keswick. Major rock concerts took place at the Wells Fargo Center, the sports arena that opened in 1996 to replace the Spectrum (which continued hosting rock concerts until it was demolished in 2011), and mega concerts with top-tier rock artists were staged at Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, the football and baseball stadiums that replaced Veterans Stadium in the early 2000s. Large outdoor venues that hosted rock concerts have included the Mann Music Center, which opened in 1976 in Fairmount Park, and the BB&T Pavilion, which opened in 1995 in Camden, New Jersey. Outdoor festivals, held primarily on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway or Penn’s Landing, offered yet another setting in which to hear rock music in Philadelphia.

From corner bars to stadium mega concerts, Philadelphia remained a vital center for rock music in the early twenty-first century. It also continued to be a fertile training ground for young rock musicians, regularly producing artists who contributed to the vibrant local rock music scene and in many cases went on to national and international fame.

Jack McCarthy is a music historian who regularly writes, lectures, and gives walking tours on Philadelphia music history. A certified archivist, he recently directed a major project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical repositories. Jack serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Music Center and worked on the 2014 radio documentary Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. He gave several presentations and helped produce the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Philadelphia music series, “Memories & Melodies.”

Holly Genovese

Holly Genovese is a Ph.D. student in history and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Temple University. Her interests are in incarceration, public history, and Black Power. She is Contributing Editor at Auntie Bellum Magazine and a contributor at Book Riot, Rabble Lit, and the Us Society for Intellectual Historians blog. Her writing has been featured in Bustle, The Establishment, and Scalawag Magazine.

Civil Rights (African American)

Black Philadelphians have fought for civil rights since the nineteenth century and even before. Early demands focused on the abolition of slavery and desegregation of public accommodations. The movement gained greater power as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth and the World War I-era Great Migration brought tens of thousands of African Americans to the Philadelphia region. This exponential growth in the African American population gave black Philadelphians the numbers and resources necessary to effect political change. Such efforts were never limited to the ballot box, access to which had been legally gained by constitutional amendment, but were instead linked to community needs for adequate housing, economic opportunity, and social and educational services. As African Americans gained greater rights, especially in the post-World War II period, black Philadelphians shifted more to emphasizing the need to achieve results based on their legal equality. The struggle to maintain civil rights and translate those rights into concrete results extended beyond the classic period of the 1960s and continued to shape Philadelphia into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_28220" align="alignright" width="226"]Sketch of Octavius Catto After the Civil War, Octavius Catto served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League and vice president of the State Convention of Colored People in 1865. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Civil rights activists in the nineteenth century focused on the abolition of slavery, securing voting rights, and gaining equal access to public accommodations. Richard Allen (1760-1831), who was born into slavery and became a prominent minister, founded the Free African Society that pushed for the abolition of slavery. Octavius Catto (1839-71) helped raise troops to fight in the Civil War and afterward led the campaign for voting rights, until he was assassinated while trying to exercise the franchise in 1871. Catto also worked with William Still (1821-1902) to desegregate the city’s streetcars, which led the Pennsylvania state legislature to pass a law in 1867 requiring streetcar companies to carry passengers regardless of color. Such activism helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which declared African Americans were entitled to equal treatment in public accommodations. Reverend Fields Cook (1817-97) tested the law and won a case against Philadelphia’s Bingham House Hotel when he was denied a room in 1876.

The civil rights movement gained greater momentum in the early twentieth century with the Great Migration. The black population in Philadelphia surged from some 63,000 in 1900 to over 134,000 twenty years later. New arrivals lent their energy to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, and the city's black newspaper, the Philadelphia Tribune, (published by E. Washington Rhodes [1895-1970], established 1884). Through these organizations, they demanded greater access to jobs and adequate housing. Yet a brutal race riot over housing desegregation in 1918 that left two people dead and dozens injured demonstrated that Philadelphia was not the land of hope that many prayed they had found.

Expanding Residential Access

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, African Americans deepened their commitment to securing civil rights. In the 1920s, they expanded their access to residential areas in North, South, and West Philadelphia. They also supported a flowering of black culture with authors such as Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) from Fredricksville in Camden County, New Jersey, and venues such as the Dunbar Theater at Broad and Lombard in Philadelphia, giving Philadelphia a smaller version of the Harlem Renaissance. The Great Depression devastated African American efforts to secure more housing and create a vibrant community, and in the process, radicalized black political activism. In the early 1930s, African American unemployment crested at 61 percent, and tens of thousands of people lost their homes. In response, black Philadelphians joined the Democratic Party, the National Negro Congress, and the Communist Party. They engaged in “Don’t buy where you can't work” campaigns to pressure employers to end discrimination. And they demanded that political leaders meet a number of pressing needs: public housing to make up for the lack of decent and affordable housing, access to government-funded jobs, and an Equal Rights Bill (passed by the state legislature in 1935) to once again guarantee access to public accommodations.

[caption id="attachment_28965" align="alignright" width="255"] Bayard Rustin, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, became one of its most famous natives as a prominent activist during the civil rights era of the 1960s. Rustin was a pivotal organizer of the March on Washington held on August 28, 1963. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Demands for civil rights in the area of jobs, housing, and political recognition continued into World War II. As the federal government poured billions of dollars into Philadelphia industries, African Americans flocked to the city. The black population grew from some 250,000 in 1940 to 376,000 by the end of the war decade, and many of these residents supported the national Double V campaign that called for victory over fascism abroad and over Jim Crow at home. A presidential executive order, prompted by A. Philip Randolph’s (1889-1979) March on Washington Movement, prohibited discrimination in hiring at industries receiving defense contracts and was a reminder that the federal government could be an ally in pushing for civil rights. Nonetheless, many companies tried to maintain a segmented system that confined black workers to specific jobs. Employment practices at the Philadelphia Transportation Company, for example, led to a campaign promoted by the NAACP and its leader Carolyn D. Moore (1916-1998) (who had started in the organization in Norristown, Pennsylvania) to secure driving jobs for African Americans. When the federal government ordered the desegregation of the workforce in August 1944, white workers staged one of the largest hate strikes of World War II, shutting down the city for nearly a week. African Americans also had to continue their struggle in the city’s neighborhoods, where redlining and other discriminatory loan policies restricted African Americans to the most dilapidated communities. Federal Housing Administration policies as well as violence perpetrated by some white Philadelphians kept new public housing segregated as well.

The experience of World War II transformed civil rights in Philadelphia as the concerted efforts of the NAACP and local interracial organizations energized the black community. Although there were fears that interracial strife would grow after the war, a strong economy and the diligence of the civil rights community prevented the rise of racial violence. Economic concerns took particular precedence in this era, as African Americans who had been hired in defense-related industries feared they would lose their jobs. Civil rights activists such as the Reverend E. Luther Cunningham (1909-1964) seized the moment and in 1948 secured passage of a municipal Fair Employment Practices ordinance that the state later adopted in similar form. New Jersey already had such a law on the books (passed in 1945), and Delaware added its own version of the law in 1960. Black Philadelphians also helped elect Democrat Joseph Clark (1901-90) as mayor in 1951, which cemented the political reorientation of the city and led to the implementation of the Home Rule Charter that provided for a Commission on Human Relations, one of the first agencies in the nation dedicated to preventing discrimination.

Decades of Job Losses

Although the new Democratic administration paid greater attention to African American rights and increased civil service opportunities, deindustrialization and persistent housing segregation showed the need for continued civil rights agitation. Philadelphia lost some 250,000 industrial jobs between the 1950s and the 1980s, and as workplace opportunities evaporated many African Americans were disproportionately affected because they could not follow the jobs to the suburbs. Many white Philadelphians moved to suburban developments such as Levittown, Pennsylvania. Suburbanization freed up housing stock for some middle class blacks to move into city neighborhoods that had previously been off limits, but racist lending practices and white violence meant most suburban housing excluded black settlement. In 1957, a race riot broke out when white homeowners protested the arrival of the Myers family in Levittown.

[caption id="attachment_28959" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of Cecil B. Moore and Dr. Martin Luther King linking hands Cecil B. Moore (center, to the left of Martin Luther King Jr.) was a prominent figure in Philadelphia's civil rights movement at a time when the African American population of Philadelphia was steadily growing but racially discriminatory practices still prevailed. (Temple University Libraries, Special Collection Research Center)[/caption]

White intransigence sharpened black Philadelphians’ commitment to a civil rights movement that transformed Philadelphia in the 1960s. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-68) had been introduced to Satyagraha (Mahatma Gandhi’s movement based on passive political resistance) at Philadelphia’s Fellowship House, an interracial organization in the late 1940s. King studied at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and lived in Camden, New Jersey, from 1949 to 1951. As a result, King was well acquainted with Philadelphia’s civil rights community. Local civil rights activists provided moral and material support to King, who visited the city several times in the 1960s. Inspired by the national movement, local civil rights leaders such as the Reverend Leon Sullivan (1922-2001) and NAACP branch president Cecil B. Moore employed new tactics. In 1960, Sullivan and other black ministers launched a boycott of Tasty Baking Company, one of the city’s largest businesses, over its refusal to hire black workers. The success of the boycott influenced Moore to initiate street protests against racial discrimination in the construction industry and in food markets that did not hire blacks. This activism drew greater power with the passage of federal affirmative action legislation and found support from white allies in the Northern Student Movement, Fellowship House, and other area organizations.

While increasing protests contributed to a rising level of consciousness among black Philadelphians, they were unable to stem the tide of frustration in the city’s poorest communities, especially in North Philadelphia. In the early 1960s, North Philadelphia had the city’s highest poverty and unemployment rates and tense relations with the police. On August 28, 1964, rioting broke out after an altercation between two black motorists and two police officers. Hundreds were arrested and injured, and the uprising indicated the emergence of a new militancy among many black Philadelphians. Some activists turned to more militant organizations such as the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, and the Black People’s Unity Movement in Camden. Although the Philadelphia area had a long history of interracial civil rights organizing, an increasing number of activists influenced by Black Power ideology criticized the role of whites in the movement.

The Black Power Movement

[caption id="attachment_28663" align="alignright" width="300"] After numerous attempts in the 1950s to desegregate Girard College through the courts, African Americans began organizing demonstrations outside the school, as in this photograph from 1965. (National Archives)[/caption]

By the late 1960s, the Black Power movement had significant influence in the civil rights community. Both traditional civil rights activists and younger black militants coalesced around the issue of education. Thousands protested the exclusion of African Americans from an all-white private school, Girard College, located in North Philadelphia. The movement against educational racism involved parents (mainly African American women), educators, and students. In addition to enduring inferior schools, black students criticized dress codes that excluded traditional African garb and demanded a curriculum that included black history. In late 1967, black students launched a major protest at Board of Education headquarters and were attacked by police. The clash exemplified persistent tensions between the black community and the police.

While street protests continued in the late 1960s, an increasing number of civil rights activists sought public office. Buoyed by the passage of significant federal civil rights legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, these activists believed that they could considerably influence the political process. C. Delores Tucker (1927-2005) became the first black Pennsylvanian appointed to the office of secretary of state. David P. Richardson (1948-1995) was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1972. In 1984, W. Wilson Goode (b. 1938) became Philadelphia’s first black mayor. Although this new generation of political leaders had its roots in activism, their different power bases reflected an increasing maturation of the movement. Tucker had been active in the mainstream civil rights struggle and the rapidly emerging feminist movement. Richardson began his activism as a community organizer, while Goode’s rise was propelled by his support among the city’s black religious establishment. Goode’s success was in part fueled by the work of the city’s first black deputy mayor, Charles W. Bowser (1930-2010), who had run unsuccessfully for mayor in the 1970s. In turn, Goode’s administration paved the way for future black mayors John Street (b. 1943) and Michael Nutter (b. 1957). While black officials took power at a more formal level, a growing number of community based organizations recognized the limits of their offices. The Kensington Welfare Rights Union, for example, articulated the demands of poor and working-class people of all races beyond what was provided in legislation.

Although the election of President Barack Obama (b. 1961) demonstrated the gains made by civil rights activists, black Philadelphians recognized the many problems they still faced. In the 2000s, Philadelphia’s civil rights movement witnessed the emergence of organizations that addressed crime, joblessness, education, and immigration among other issues. In all, the changing demographics and economic environment of the Philadelphia region represented new challenges and extensions of old ones for the next generation of civil rights activists. Yet despite these challenges, the history of Philadelphia’s civil rights movement demonstrated the gains African Americans made.

James Wolfinger is Professor of History and Education at DePaul University. He is the author of Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love and Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry.

Stanley Keith Arnold is associate professor of history at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Building the Beloved Community: Philadelphia Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930-1970

Stanley Keith Arnold

Stanley Keith Arnold is associate professor of history at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Building the Beloved Community: Philadelphia Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930-1970.

Armstrong Association of Philadelphia

The Armstrong Association of Philadelphia was a social-service organization established early in the twentieth century to assess and address the needs of the African American community. Through its efforts to improve education, housing, and health, the organization addressed social and economic issues facing African Americans.

Founded in 1908, the association formed as a branch of the New York-based organization named for Civil War General Samuel C. Armstrong (1839-93), who led the 8th United States Colored Troops. After the war, in 1868, Armstrong founded the Hampton Institute in Virginia as an industrial school for students of color and to produce African American teachers. The Armstrong Association raised funds for the Hampton Institute and for Tuskegee University in Alabama, founded in 1881 by one of Hampton Institute’s most famous graduates, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915).

Philadelphia’s Armstrong Association began after Hampton educator John Thompson Emlen (1878-1955), who was part of the organization in New York, came to Philadelphia intent on bettering the conditions for African Americans. He believed that a branch of the Armstrong Association could supplement existing social institutions to address the needs of a steadily growing population of African Americans migrating from the South (a trend later termed the Great Migration). After a meeting between Emlen and Richard R. Wright Jr. (1878-1967), a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia branch began its work.

Originally, the Armstrong Association consisted primarily of wealthy white philanthropists, but Emlen believed that an interracial board was key to the organization’s success. Each position on the board had two appointees: a white person as well as an African American. Emlen served as the organization’s secretary, and Wright acted as field secretary.

Joining forces with the Philadelphia Housing Association and the Traveler’s Aid Society, the Armstrong Association studied living conditions and overcrowding during the Great Migration as African Americans flocked to northern cities seeking economic opportunities and better social conditions. In 1900, the African American population of Philadelphia was 63,000. By 1910, it had grown to 84,459 and within another ten years it surpassed 134,000.  In addition to a housing shortage, new arrivals found it difficult to find employment, especially in their previous fields. Wright, who earned his doctorate in sociology, noted in his dissertation that many African American migrants to Philadelphia were skilled laborers, but they often faced discrimination from employers and had to take jobs outside their skill sets. In response, the Armstrong Association developed initiatives such as an annual job fair, reports to monitor working conditions of African Americans, and representation in cases of workplace disputes.

Using the Thomas Durham Public School at Sixteenth and Lombard Streets as a case study, the organization created a learning and social center to help African Americans with job placement and skill assessments. The school, named for a former administrator in the Philadelphia School District, was established in 1910 and served a predominantly African American student body.  In a study, the Armstrong Association found that only 53 of the 163 students of working age were able to secure work. Those who did found occupations that required very little skill and no room for advancement and provided a poor living wage. The Armstrong Association determined that providing students with better vocational training would prepare them to enter the workforce.

[caption id="attachment_27778" align="alignright" width="300"] The Armstrong Association of Philadelphia's Employment Office, shown in a 1912 photograph from the association’s fourth annual report, helped skilled African American mechanics secure work. In addition to assisting adults with job placement, the Armstrong Association of Philadelphia also provided vocational training to children of working age to increase their odds of finding jobs after they left school. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The association also provided job placement services for African American migrants, documented by oral history interviews conducted in the 1980s by historian Charles Hardy. The association’s industrial secretary, Alexander L. Manly (1866-1944), who joined the organization in 1913, secured more than $35,000 in contracts for African Americans within his first eight months in the position. Despite racial discrimination, the organization succeeded in aiding many newcomers searching for employment.

Emlen spent the remainder of his career in public service with the organization, while Wright left the group in 1909 because he favored self-help over the Armstrong Association’s emphasis on philanthropy. Wright later became a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Armstrong Association of Philadelphia went on to affiliate with the National Urban League in a merger that created the Urban League of Philadelphia in 1957. Through its work, the Armstrong Association of Philadelphia helped a generation of African Americans who migrated from the South find housing and employment in their new city.  

Sharece Blakney is a graduate student in American History at Rutgers-Camden.

Free Black Communities

In the nineteenth century, Philadelphia and the region surrounding it came to contain free black communities that by most measures were the most vibrant, dynamic, and influential in the United States. Free African Americans relied on each other to confront the persistent power of slavery and white supremacy in Philadelphia and the region. At the same time, many free blacks looked outward and became leaders in the national fight against those same threats.

[caption id="attachment_27684" align="alignright" width="251"]A group of black people in fancy clothing, drinking while celebrating the abolition of slavery.. Free blacks fought the stigma that they were trying to model themselves as inferior versions of their white peers. In the above cartoon drawn by Edward W. Clay in 1833, free blacks are shown in fancy costumes with poor dialect celebrating the abolition of slavery in British colonies. The racist caricatures served as a reminder of the atmosphere free blacks faced. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The emergence of these communities was not, however, a foregone conclusion. In the mid-eighteenth century, despite the fact that Philadelphia had produced some of the earliest protests against slavery in the English-speaking world, slavery remained an important part of the region’s economy. In 1765, of the approximately fifteen hundred black Philadelphians, all but about one hundred were enslaved. In the next few decades, though, this dramatically changed. The causes of this transformation were multiple. Some supporters of the revolutionary cause came to recognize a clear contradiction between their calls for liberty and the practice of slavery. Others, in particular some of Philadelphia’s significant Quaker minority, grew to see slavery as a violation of deeply held religious beliefs. Perhaps most of all, the Revolutionary War presented opportunities seized by African Americans across the region. Many supported the British Army as the most likely agent of emancipation, others supported the patriot cause in hopes of turning the American Revolution into a war for emancipation, and still others took advantage of the chaos of war to escape from their masters’ control. By the end of the American Revolution, Philadelphia contained only four hundred slaves while its free black population had grown to over one thousand.

In the revolutionary era, the governments of many of the states acted to emancipate their remaining slaves. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania led the way, with Pennsylvania instituting a “gradual” abolition law in 1780. The law freed no one immediately, but it stipulated that all enslaved children born after the law’s passage would become free upon their twenty-eighth birthday. In New Jersey, opponents of slavery pushed for similar legislation, although the political power of slaveholders in the eastern part of the state, combined with fears of the social and economic consequences of emancipating New Jersey’s sizable enslaved population, prevented the passage of an abolition bill until 1804. Its implementation also took place gradually; children born after July 4, 1804, to enslaved mothers were bound to service for twenty-five years if male and twenty-one years if female.

A Growing Free Black Population

Over time, these abolition laws, combined with the continuation of private manumissions of the Philadelphia region’s remaining slaves, led to the growth of a free black population, but a significant number of free blacks also found their way to Philadelphia from elsewhere. The economic and political power of slavery blocked abolition laws in the upper South. However, a significant number of slaveholders, including some in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, began to manumit some of their slaves in response to ideological critiques of slavery and changing regional economics. Slaves themselves played a crucial role in this process, often negotiating contracts in which they themselves would, over time, purchase their own freedom, while others found opportunities to disappear into the region’s growing free black communities.

[caption id="attachment_27686" align="alignright" width="239"]Sketch of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church St. Thomas African Episcopal Church was established in 1794 by Absalom Jones. Jones and other black congregants at St. George's Methodist Church were asked to leave after refusing to accept segregated seating. Originally located at Fifth and Adelphi Streets, St. Thomas later moved to Lancaster Avenue. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Many newly freed men and women found that their native states, while happy to take advantage of the labor of slaves, did not welcome free blacks. Some required emancipated slaves to leave the state, and others placed increasingly restrictive controls on free black people. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, as many former slaves found their way to Philadelphia—the nearest free city to the slave South—the city’s free black population swelled. In 1780, the year the state passed its abolition law, African Americans (most of them enslaved) made up 3.6 percent of the population of the city. By 1820, the black population had grown to more than 10 percent of Philadelphia’s total population. In the same year, free blacks made up more than 6 percent of the population in Chester County and 7 percent of the population in Delaware County. Free black residents accounted for more than 15 percent of the population in New Castle County, Delaware. In New Jersey, Salem County’s free black population topped 7 percent, while Burlington and Gloucester Counties contained more than 4 percent free African Americans.

One of the great draws of Philadelphia was the lure of economic opportunity. Newly emancipated African Americans from rural areas across the region and beyond saw promise in the burgeoning city. Once there, though, they often found that they were shunted into the lowest paying and least desirable kinds of work. This was compounded by the fact that Philadelphia was also a magnet for European immigration, creating fierce competition for low-wage work. While white workers found employment in the city’s robust industrial sector, free black people were largely excluded from this sort of work and relegated to employment as physical laborers and in the low-status service economy. Many free blacks worked on the city’s docks and aboard the ships that plied the Delaware. There were, however, some black Philadelphians who found a greater measure of economic success. Some were professionals, especially teachers and ministers. Others were entrepreneurs. Among the most celebrated black businessmen was James Forten (1766-1842), whose sailmaking business thrived in Philadelphia’s multiracial waterfront. The most successful black  waiters and caterers also were able to capitalize on their expertise and skill in order to establish themselves as an indispensable part of Philadelphia high society. Perhaps the most famous of these was Robert Bogle (1774-1848), celebrated by financier Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) in a poem, Ode to Bogle.

Limited Opportunities

New Jersey also saw the growth of thriving black communities in this period, including all-black towns such as Tumbuctoo in Burlington County, Gouldtown in Cumberland County, and the Free Haven settlement that evolved into Lawnside in Camden County. Slavery’s end was slower in New Jersey than in Pennsylvania, casting a shadow over the free black population. Free blacks often found themselves working alongside the enslaved in a complex labor market. As was the case in Philadelphia, in New Jersey, newly emancipated African Americans struggled to achieve independence in the face of significant limitations on their economic opportunities. Most of those who farmed did so as tenants, but a significant minority purchased their own farmland. Even so, this land was often economically marginal and whether they lived in cities or in the countryside, Africans Americans found their economic status to be tenuous.

The dramatic growth of the region’s free black population provoked anxiety among many of the region’s white residents. Pennsylvania legislators sought on multiple occasions to stop black migration into their state but were thwarted by the cooperative activism of black and white abolitionists. Free black residents also faced the persistent threat of mob violence, which was often directed at black abolitionists and at evidence of black economic success or social respectability. New Jersey officially denied the vote to black people in 1807. In 1838, the voters of Pennsylvania ratified a new state constitution which explicitly restricted the vote to whites. Black Pennsylvanians had attempted to prevent this action, publishing The Appeal of 40,000 Citizens, Threatened with Disfranchisement, written by black abolitionist Robert Purvis (1810-1898), but were unsuccessful and would not regain the right to vote until 1870.

[caption id="attachment_27685" align="alignright" width="255"]Interior view of Mother Bethel Church Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or “Mother Bethel,” was established in 1794 by former slave, Richard Allen. Located at 419 S. Sixth Street, Mother Bethel is the oldest piece of land purchased and steadily owned by African Americans. (Photograph by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

One of the primary ways that free black people dealt with such economic, social, and political discrimination was through the building of autonomous institutions. One of the first of these was the Free African Society, founded in 1787 by leading black citizens of Philadelphia including pastors Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Absalom Jones (1746-1818). This religious mutual aid society was a means of organizing the efforts of black Philadelphians to promote education, and generally to provide aid to those in need. Allen and Jones would go on to found their own independent black churches, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, only the first of many black congregations in the city and the region. Black Philadelphians also helped to establish institutions that extended beyond the region, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an independent black denomination co-founded by Allen in 1816. Many African Americans joined black fraternal organizations and intellectual clubs, especially in Philadelphia but also in smaller black communities across the region. Black Philadelphians played a leading role in the Black Convention Movement, which brought together black leaders from across the United States to strategize about political issues.

Vigilante Protectors

Perhaps the most urgent goal of free black communities, especially in regions like greater Philadelphia that bordered on slave states, was the protection of black citizens from enslavement, kidnapping, and white violence. Black communities were constantly on the lookout for those who generally claimed to be acting as legal slave catchers but who often were willing to kidnap the legally free as well. African Americans resisted such men with force when necessary, but along with white allies they also banded together to form some the earliest vigilance committees, dedicated to the protection of the black community from such threats. These committees played a crucial role in what would come to be called the Underground Railroad. Philadelphia, with its large black population, was a center for such activity, but across the region fugitive slaves and vulnerable free blacks sought out the protection of black communities and partnership with supportive whites, often Quakers. Free blacks also worked with white abolitionists who could provide essential legal and political expertise, including those who had established the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1775. While many early white abolitionists had seen the removal of free blacks from the United States as a necessary part of their fight against slavery, black abolitionists, especially black Philadelphians, played a crucial role in radicalizing white abolition and in convincing white abolitionists to abandon the colonization movement. Black abolitionists coupled their opposition to slavery with demands for black equality, and they supported white abolitionists who did the same.

Free African Americans made up a significant portion of the population of the greater Philadelphia region during the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Such numbers, though, only tell part of the story. The black community of Philadelphia played a critical role in the history of the city, and black Philadelphians helped to lead the cause of abolition and the fight for black citizenship rights, in the city and beyond.

Andrew Diemer is Assistant Professor of History and Director of Metropolitan Studies at Towson University. He is author of The Politics of Black Citizenship: Free African Americans in the Mid-Atlantic Borderland, 1817-1863 (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

Bartram’s Garden

Located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, Bartram’s Garden, considered the oldest surviving botanic garden in North America, has served as a monument to the storied history of Philadelphia’s botanical endeavors and to the genius of John Bartram (1699–1777) and his descendants. Established as a family farm and garden by John Bartram in the early eighteenth century, the garden has functioned as a commercial and public botanic garden, a private retreat, a native plant repository, and a botanical education center of national and international importance.

[caption id="attachment_27223" align="alignright" width="229"]John Bartram's House at Bartram's Garden John Bartram entertained some of the most prominent figures in American history at his home, built in 1731. Bartram welcomed George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom purchased plants from Bartram's botanical garden. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Originally part of a thousand-acre tract of land in Kingsessing Township first settled by the Swedish in the mid-seventeenth century, Bartram’s Garden began in 1728 when John Bartram purchased a 102-acre tract for his family farm. Bartram was a self-taught naturalist who sought out the company of other like-minded individuals, both at home and abroad. Bartram’s friendships with Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) and James Logan (1674–1751) led to his introduction to London and Royal Society Fellow Peter Collinson (1694–1768), with whom he began a correspondence in 1731. Bartram and Collinson soon began to exchange plants along with botanical notes on experiments and other discoveries. By 1750, Bartram was sending regular shipments of North American seeds to a wide variety of European collectors, including Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) and Carl Linnaeus (1707–78), and advertising his seeds for sale in London periodicals. Bartram expanded his garden to keep up with his growing plant trade business and performed experiments on the lychnis dioica that corroborated Logan’s experiments on Indian corn. As Bartram’s fame grew, so did his garden. He traveled farther and farther afield to collect new plants and seeds, and he recreated their environments at home by constructing ponds and swamps for aquatic plants, areas of forest and grassland, as well as sections for nursery seeds and greenhouses for more tropical specimens. By the turn of the century, Bartram’s Garden boasted the most varied collection of North American plants in the world.

When John Bartram died in 1777, his sons, John Bartram Jr. (1743–1812) and William Bartram (1739–1823), continued the business. They expanded the grounds as well as the garden’s reputation in national and international circles through their commercial and educational activities. William Bartram’s growing renown as a botanical illustrator and plant collector attracted botanical enthusiasts from near and far who came to exchange both plants and knowledge. French botanist André Michaux (1746–1802) visited Bartram’s Garden during his North American sojourn, as did botanists from closer to home, such as Benjamin Smith Barton (1766–1815), Thomas Say (1787–1834), Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859), and Frederick Pursh (1774–1820).

Both George Washington (1732–99) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) visited and purchased plants from Bartram’s Garden for their own estates in Virginia, and near neighbor William Hamilton (1745–1813) exchanged many plants with the Bartrams, even sending William Bartram one of the three ginkgo trees he introduced to America from England in 1785. Bartram’s Garden’s reputation as a destination grew, especially among the delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In 1784, the congress ended a session early to allow several delegates to indulge their curiosity about Bartram’s Garden and venture across the Schuylkill River for an afternoon visit with the family in their garden.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Bartram’s Garden expanded again under the third generation of Bartrams. Ann Bartram Carr (1779–1858) and her husband, Colonel Robert Carr (1778–1866), took over the business from Ann’s father, John Bartram Jr., and expanded both the commercial business and the garden itself. At its largest, Bartram’s Garden comprised twelve acres of gardens and ten greenhouses filled with over fourteen hundred native plant species and as many as one thousand varieties of more far-flung exotics. In 1844 and 1845, the Carrs added another dimension to Bartram’s Garden when they opened the grounds as a summer pleasure garden, selling ice cream and other refreshments to visitors and offering steamboat trips three days a week from the Delaware River wharves.

By midcentury, however, increasing financial difficulties forced the Carrs to sell Bartram’s Garden. Railroad magnate and industrialist Andrew Eastwick (1811–79) purchased the house and grounds in 1850. Eastwick planned to construct a villa near the original Bartram house. Recognizing the historic significance and aesthetic appeal of the site, he preserved the original house and grounds as part of his private estate and even lived in the Bartram house during construction of his villa, “Bartram Hall.”

After Eastwick’s death, Bartram’s Garden fell into neglect until Eastwick’s former gardener, Thomas Meehan (1826–1901), aided by Boston botanist and head of the Arnold Arboretum Charles S. Sargent (1841–1927), conceived a plan to purchase the acres of Bartram’s Garden for the city as part of Meehan’s campaign to create parks in Philadelphia. After a prolonged campaign by Meehan, who was a member of Philadelphia’s Common Council, and others, in 1888 the city added a portion of the original Bartram’s Garden to the city plan and marked it for preservation. Bartram’s Garden finally came under the control of the City of Philadelphia in 1891.

[caption id="attachment_27224" align="alignright" width="149"]Drawing of John Bartram John Bartram, naturalist, originally purchased the gardens as part of one thousand acres of tract land in 1728 and intended the space for personal use. However, Bartram's Garden has been open to the public since 1845. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Two years later, in 1893, descendants of John Bartram organized the John Bartram Association and reasserted their influence over the direction of the garden. With the aid of University of Pennsylvania botany professor and director of the university’s botanic garden John Muirhead Macfarlane (1855–1943), the association established a library and archives relating to the Bartram family and their botanic activities at Bartram’s Garden. In 1923, the Fairmount Park Commission assumed control of the property and worked to preserve and restore the gardens and buildings while continuing to operate the garden as a city park.

In October 1960, the secretary of the Interior designated Bartram’s Garden a National Historic Landmark in acknowledgement of the importance of the garden to John Bartram’s career as a botanist and to the history of American botany. Through restoration and interpretation of the site, The John Bartram Association continued to preserve the historical and contemporary gardens for visitors into the twenty-first century, including the original ginkgo tree (1785), a yellowwood tree sent by Michaux (1784), the Franklinia alatamaha from which all current examples descend, and the Bartram oak. Since the third decade of the eighteenth century, Bartram’s Garden served as a repository of North American plants of national and international importance, bringing together the commercial, public, and educational aspects of Philadelphia’s botanical legacy.

Sarah Chesney is a historical archaeologist who earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from the College of William and Mary in 2014. She has worked on several landscape archaeology projects in Philadelphia, exploring the intersection of archaeology, landscape, and early modern science. Her publications include “The Root of the Matter: Searching for William Hamilton’s Greenhouse at The Woodlands Estate, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” in Historical Archaeology of the Delaware Valley, 1600–1850, edited by Richard F. Veit and David G. Orr (University of Tennessee Press, 2014).

Sharece Blakney

Sharece Blakney is a graduate student in American History at Rutgers-Camden.

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