Deep Roots, Lasting Legacy

deep_roots_posterThe poster “Deep Roots, Continuing Legacy: Philadelphia in the Struggle for Civil Rights” is a new project from History Making Productions, the documentary film company that strives to share Philadelphia’s rich history through the powerful medium of film. We hope that the poster will encourage Philadelphia residents to delve into our rich, fascinating, and continuous role in the fight for equal rights. Many of the events depicted on the poster are featured in History Making Production’s film series, Philadelphia: The Great Experiment. These films are available at no cost and online at

The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia is one of the many cultural and civic organizations partner organizations that have helped to produce the poster. We are among the partners that have also supplied supplementary materials that complement and extend the content on the poster. For more information, teaching ideas, and primary sources, go to

Defining Greater Philadelphia

philadelphiadivideRichard Florida, well-known for introducing the term “creative class,” has recently released an assessment of the class divide distinguishing the Philadelphia area.  Part of a larger series on U.S. cities, the report draws from the U.S. Census American Community Survey to designate areas across the region as part of one of three classes: creative, service, and working. The study is of particular interest to the editors of the encyclopedia  because Florida provides one strategy for understanding the region just as we are about to undertake the challenge of assigning essays that will help us define  what has constituted “greater Philadelphia” over time.  We would be interested in how those who have been following our work react to Florida’s essay. It has already provoked a good deal of commentary on-line, and we welcome your own reactions.

Delving into Philadelphia’s “Epic Fails” with WHYY

While so many this week are remembering the Titanic on the 100th anniversary of that epic disaster, WHYY turned its attention to “epic failures” in Philadelphia’s history.  We helped by putting reporter Peter Crimmins in touch with Michael Zuckerman, the author of our “City of Firsts” essay, and our associate editor Stephanie Wolf.  Their insights into such memorable events as the Bicentennial and Sesquicentennial were featured along with others’ comments about the Tram to Nowhere, the MOVE bombing, and other “epic failures.”  What would you add?  Visit Newsworks to join the discussion.  (And keep coming back to the Encyclopedia – we will add essays on the Sesquicentennial and Centennial celebrations this summer.)

Document Links for Teachers and Students

National History Day Philadelphia logoClose readers may have noticed an addition to some of our essay pages: a special section of links for teachers and students preparing for next spring’s National History Day competition.  We hope you all enjoy exploring these historical documents curated by our educational outreach coordinator, Melissa Callahan, through a partnership with the National Archives at Philadelphia and National History Day Philly.  The growing collection of topics related to this year’s National History Day theme, “Taking a Stand,” is available on this new category page: National History Day Topics.

From Our Authors: New Book Examines the Story of Intentional Integration in West Mount Airy

Perkiss-bookJust published by Cornell University Press is Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Postwar Philadelphia, by Abigail Perkiss.  In addition to teaching history at Kean University, Perkiss lives in West Mount Airy and is the author of our essay on Northwest Philadelphia.

Here is the publisher’s description of the book:

In the 1950s and 1960s, as the white residents, real estate agents, and municipal officials of many American cities fought to keep African Americans out of traditionally white neighborhoods, Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy became one of the first neighborhoods in the nation where residents came together around a community-wide mission toward intentional integration. As West Mount Airy experienced transition, homeowners fought economic and legal policies that encouraged white flight and threatened the quality of local schools, seeking to find an alternative to racial separation without knowing what they would create in its place. In Making Good Neighbors, Abigail Perkiss tells the remarkable story of West Mount Airy, drawing on archival research and her oral history interviews with residents to trace their efforts, which began in the years following World War II and continued through the turn of the century.

The organizing principles of neighborhood groups like the West Mount Airy Neighbors Association (WMAN) were fundamentally liberal and emphasized democracy, equality, and justice; the social, cultural, and economic values of these groups were also decidedly grounded in middle-class ideals and white-collar professionalism. As Perkiss shows, this liberal, middle-class framework would ultimately become contested by more militant black activists and within WMAN itself, as community leaders worked to adapt and respond to the changing racial landscape of the 1960s and 1970s. The West Mount Airy case stands apart from other experiments in integration because of the intentional,organized, and long-term commitment on the part of WMAN to biracial integration and, in time, multiracial and multiethnic diversity. The efforts of residents in the 1950s and 1960s helped to define the neighborhood as it exists today.

From Our Authors: New Book on Slavery and Abolition in New Jersey

NJSlaveryBookJames Gigantino, the author of our essay about Slavery and the Slave Trade, has published his new research about slavery and abolition in New Jersey in a book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865.

Congratulations, Jim!

Here is the publisher’s description of the book:

Contrary to popular perception, slavery persisted in the North well into the nineteenth century. This was especially the case in New Jersey, the last northern state to pass an abolition statute, in 1804. Because of the nature of the law, which freed children born to enslaved mothers only after they had served their mother’s master for more than two decades, slavery continued in New Jersey through the Civil War. Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 finally destroyed its last vestiges.

The Ragged Road to Abolition chronicles the experiences of slaves and free blacks, as well as abolitionists and slaveholders, during slavery’s slow northern death. Abolition in New Jersey during the American Revolution was a contested battle, in which constant economic devastation and fears of freed blacks overrunning the state government limited their ability to gain freedom. New Jersey’s gradual abolition law kept at least a quarter of the state’s black population in some degree of bondage until the 1830s. The sustained presence of slavery limited African American community formation and forced Jersey blacks to structure their households around multiple gradations of freedom while allowing New Jersey slaveholders to participate in the interstate slave trade until the 1850s. Slavery’s persistence dulled white understanding of the meaning of black freedom and helped whites to associate “black” with “slave,” enabling the further marginalization of New Jersey’s growing free black population.

By demonstrating how deeply slavery influenced the political, economic, and social life of blacks and whites in New Jersey, this illuminating study shatters the perceived easy dichotomies between North and South or free states and slave states at the onset of the Civil War.

From Our Editors: New Book Explores Delaware Valley Before William Penn

Just published by the University of Pennsylvania Press is Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn, by Jean R. Soderlund, who also is an associate editor of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.  We hope you will join us in celebrating this important new book on October 22 at the Philadelphia History Museum.  Make sure to register in advance for a conversation with the author and an opportunity to view A Lost World, part of the Philadelphia: The Great Experiment documentary film series.

Here is the publisher’s description of Lenape Country:

Lenape CountryIn 1631, when the Dutch tried to develop plantation agriculture in the Delaware Valley, the Lenape Indians destroyed the colony of Swanendael and killed its residents. The Natives and Dutch quickly negotiated peace, avoiding an extended war through diplomacy and trade. The Lenapes preserved their political sovereignty for the next fifty years as Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, and English colonists settled the Delaware Valley. The European outposts did not approach the size and strength of those in Virginia, New England, and New Netherland. Even after thousands of Quakers arrived in West New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the late 1670s and ’80s, the region successfully avoided war for another seventy-five years.

Lenape Country is a sweeping narrative history of the multi­ethnic society of the Delaware Valley in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. After Swanendael, the Natives, Swedes, and Finns avoided war by focusing on trade and forging strategic alliances in such events as the Dutch conquest, the Mercurius affair, the Long Swede conspiracy, and English attempts to seize land. Drawing on a wide range of sources, author Jean R. Soderlund demonstrates that the hallmarks of Delaware Valley society—commitment to personal freedom, religious liberty, peaceful resolution of conflict, and opposition to hierarchical government—began in the Delaware Valley not with Quaker ideals or the leadership of William Penn but with the Lenape Indians, whose culture played a key role in shaping Delaware Valley society. The first comprehensive account of the Lenape Indians and their encounters with European settlers before Pennsylvania’s founding, Lenape Country places Native culture at the center of this part of North America.


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The deadline for comments to our Knight News Challenge proposal has been extended to March 29. Please see the links in the next post – it only takes two clicks to “like” us, and we also welcome comments, suggestions, and questions. This week we have more than doubled our “likes” – thank you! This is vital to our chances of moving to the next round of consideration.

Connecting the Past with the Present, Building Community, Creating a Legacy