Author Archives: Ken Finkel

The Riot Continues: Targeting African-Americans on Titan and Stillman Streets

“The fighting spread yesterday,” reported the Inquirer, to include a giant swath of South Philadelphia: Twentieth to Thirtieth streets, Lombard to Dickinson. Pawnbrokers were forbidden to sell “weapons of any kind until further notice” and saloons were ordered closed. Streets were roped off and police stationed at corners, allowing access to residents only. Still, on Monday […]
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South Philadelphia Erupts: The Race Riot of 1918

“Can you blame citizens of color for mobilizing…to protect one of their own…?” wrote Tribune editor G. Grant Williams after the attack on Adella Bond near 29th and Ellsworth. Earlier the same summer, in 1918, responding to violence against newcomers to 24th and Pine, Williams struck the same chord of warning: “We favor peace but […]
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A Tale of Intolerance in Grays Ferry

Adella Bond figured the 2900 block of Ellsworth Street would be a safe place to live. She figured wrong. Described as a “short, young woman of light brown color, with a quiet but emphatic manner,” Bond worked by day as probation officer in Municipal Courts. As an African-American, she knew that racial tensions played out […]
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Retreating from “the Ranks of Acquiescence”

“Spasms of reform” had “accomplished very little … but the spark of ambitions would not be quenched,” claimed William Bennett Munro. Finally, with a new City Charter in hand, Philadelphia had tools to make “heroic efforts” and live down its rightfully earned “corrupt and contented” reputation. With the help of this so-called “epoch-marking piece of […]
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In the Heart of Philadelphia’s “Lead Belt”

It didn’t make sense. In the mid-1960s, several public schools in Kensington and North Philadelphia were performing dramatically below both national and local standards. In reading and arithmetic, fourth graders in these schools (all in Philadelphia’s District 5) were, according to Peter Binzen, “a year and two months behind national norms and three months behind […]
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A Trail of Abandoned Cars

Cars transformed America’s landscape and cityscape—and hardly for the better. In 1925, a million vehicles jammed the nation’s junkyards. Before the decade was out, nearly three million cars a year were stopping in their tracks. “A good number ended up working as stationary engines to run farm equipment,” tells Tom McCarthy in Auto Mania. Old cars […]
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Hypersegregation + Redlining + Time = Persistent Decline

More than 85,000 mostly rural Southerners arrived in Philadelphia in the 1920s seeking opportunity. What they encountered was discrimination, segregation and poverty. The Great Migration, followed by the Great Depression, added up to a double disadvantage for Philadelphia’s African American population. The city founded on principles of tolerance, mercy and justice had managed to modify […]
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Roots of Hypersegregation in Philadelphia, 1920-1930

For the first couple of centuries, Philadelphians of different races co-existed in close proximity. Near rows of mansions and shops on Chestnut, Walnut and Spruce stood clusters of modest houses tucked into sidestreets, courts and alleys. The city seemed designed—destined, even—for social, economic and racial integration. Philadelphia’s original DNA wasn’t programmed for the 20th century […]
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The Gangs of Philadelphia

“Armed to the teeth” with “pocket pistols, knives, or those horrible inventions known as ‘slung-shot,'” Philadelphia’s gangs dominated the streets of Southwark and Moyamensing in the 1840s, raining bricks and reigning terror. How had it gotten so out of control? The lack of police beyond the city’s southern border – then South Street. And the […]
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Nuclear Apocalypse at 12th & Arch

As the 10th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings approached in 1955, horrors of nuclear war seemed closer, not farther away. Millions of American viewers were rattled to see the disfigured “Hiroshima Maidens” on reality TV (This Is Your Life), victims visiting the United States for reconstructive surgery. Even more frightening—if such a thing […]
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