101 Years Later: Mapping the South Philadelphia Race Riot

“To one who is familiar with the political conditions in Philadelphia, the rioting of July 26-31 was not unexpected,” wrote Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary of the NAACP a few months after the dust settled. “The only surprising feature is that such an outbreak did not occur much sooner. It is doubtful if there is any other city in the country where a more unclean system of pollical chicanery exists.”

Readers who watch this space know the story. For those to whom the 1918 South Philadelphia Race Riots is news, earlier posts start here (for the incident where it started on Friday, July 26th), hereherehere,  here (about the spreading and sustained violence over the weekend that followed) and here (for a summary and chronology of the events from July 24th through July 31st).

“Crowd at 28th and Federal streets during yesterday’s riots trying to take negroes off Darby car.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1918.

What do we know from contemporary sources? Other than White’s 8-page account, the city’s newspapers presented a range of coverage that was accurate at times, inaccurate others, and usually rife with rumors and bias that leaned toward the dramatic. “In a series of street battles waged for twenty-four hours by more than five thousand white and colored men in a downtown section covering about two square miles, read one example, “scores were seriously injured in the most terrific and bitter race riot that has ever taken place in this city. …[Rioting] grew in intensity . . . with individual fights and mobs engaged in gun fire on nearly every other corner of a section bounded by Washington Avenue, Dickinson Street, 23rd and 30th Streets.”

More than a century later, there’s no living memory of the events. All we have are the contemporary written sources and previous few images, including the photograph presented here (right). On the 101st anniversary of this and other moments in the riot, we present a mapped version of the story to help restore awareness of what took place, where and when. Not only does this give us a clearer sense of the hot spots, it grounds our understanding of how violence spread through the community over those fateful days and who was involved.

South Philadelphia Riot Map (Google)

Click on the map (here, or left) to get a better idea of where the riot took place, where it spread and who participated as instigators and victims. Red circles indicate hot spots, blue circles indicate where they lived.

Riot Locations:

  • Residence of Adella Bond, 2936 Ellsworth Street, July 26, 1918
  • Shooting of Hugh Lavery by Jesse Butler, at 26th and Annin Street, July 27th
  • Shooting of Officer Thomas McVay by Henry Huff, inside 2716 Titan Street, July 28th
  • Attack on Henry Huff home – 2743 or 2745 Titan Street
  • Mobs reign on “small streets” [Annin and Alter Streets] between Federal Street and Washington Avenue [25th and 28th Streets]
  • Attack on Eleanor Grant home, 1522 South Stillman Street
  • Armed Mob barricaded itself in a vacant house with weapons, 27th and Alter Streets
  • Mob Attack on an African-American church, 27th and Federal Streets
  • Federal Arsenal employee shot in tavern, Grays Ferry Avenue and Carpenter Streets
  • Police attack Preston Lewis in the Polyclinic Hospital, 1818-1828 Lombard Street
  • Mob attack of the Darby Car, 28th and Federal Streets (see illustration)
  • Riley Bullock arrested by police, Titan Street and Point Breeze Avenue
  • Riley Bullock murdered by police in the 17th District Police Station, 20th and Federal Streets

Grays Ferry Avenue at 28th and Federal Streets in 1936. (PhillyHistory.org)

Identity and home address of 31 seriously injured or killed riot participants and victims, including race and age, if published:

  •  Millard Berry [or M. Derry] 28, “colored” 2623 Annin street, “scalp abrasions.”
  • Noam Bewz [or Nonah Bews] 33, “colored,” 1838 Naudain Street. “dying; three broken ribs and multiple body and head lacerations.”
  • Isaac Bradford, 2020 or 2220 Morton [sic, Manton] Street, “fractured jaw.”
  • Riley Bullock, 30, [African American] 2032 Annin Street. (shot dead in the 17th District Police Station)
  • Joseph Bush, 29, 2603 Mantua Street. “Lacerated scalp.”
  • Jesse [or Joseph] Butler, 18, “colored,” 4849 Haverford Avenue, “badly beaten.”
  • Lem Carter [or L. Lem Carter], 27, “colored,” 2536 Alter Street, “bullet wound in left leg.”
  • Frank Donohue, 1325 South Stanley Street, “shot in groin.” (dead).
  • William Duberry, 33 [African American], 1511 South Stillman Street, “internal injuries and a fractured skull.”
  • Joseph Fleming, 27, 1524 South Ringgold Street, “forehead lacerated.”
  • Joseph Graham, 19, 2928 South Van Pelt Street, “laceration of the head.”
  • Henry Hale, 50, “colored” 400 Eldridge Street, “broken arm.”
  • Henry Huff, 23 or 25, [African American] 2743 or 2745 Titan Street, “beaten about the head and face with a club” and “lacerated forehead.”
  • Albert Hankerson, 27, [or Elbert Hankson, 37, “colored”], 2603 Mantua [sic, Manton] Street. “Lacerations of face, scalp and fingers.”
  • Joseph Kelly, 23 years old, 2311 Carpenter Street, “shot in right leg.”
  • Hugh Lavery, 34 or 42, 1229 or 1234 South 26th Street, “shot by a negro” at 26th and Annin Streets (dead).
  • Preston Lewis, 33, [African American], 2739 Titan Street, “lacerations, scalp and face.”
  • Robert McDevitt, 14, 2043 Federal street, “slight cuts and scratches, treated in drug store.”
  • John McPolin [or John M. Polen], 22, 2717 Titan Street, “shot in thigh.”
  • Thomas McVay [or McVey] patrol driver, 24, 2731 or 2735 Oakford street, “shot to death” at 27th and Titan Streets.
  • Gordon Matthewson [or Gordon Matenson], 38, 2747 Titan Street, “lacerated scalp.”
  • George Miller, 44, 1217 South 26th Street, uncle of Hugh Lavery, “shot in leg.”
  • Thomas Myers, 34, patrolman. 2212 Titan street, “shot in right leg and left hip.”
  • William Nahar, 29 years old, of 1406 South 19th Street, “lacerated scalp.”
  • Edwin Noley, [or Edward Naley or Edward Naby] 38, “colored,” 2737 Titan street, “broken nose and jaw, internal injuries, fractured skull; not expected to live.”
  • William Reason, 18, “colored.” 1740 Rodman Street, “fractured jaw, body contusions.”
  • John Riley, 22, 1243 South 20th Street, “bruises and lacerations.”
  • Thomas Scully, 34, “colored,” 2031 Fernon Street, “shot in head.”
  • Patrolman John M. Synder, 17th District Police Station, 20th and Federal Streets, “hand fractured, lacerations.”
  • Isaac Thompson, 27, 1554 South Woodstock Street. “Lacerations of scalp.”
  • Robert Wilson, 26 “colored.” 2043 Federal Street or 1406 South Nineteenth street, “lacerated scalp.”

What more can we know from the information above? Lots, we’d like to think. A century plus after the fact, there are bound to be family accounts, shared or unshared, verified or unverified, that should be part of the evolving historical record. In addition, all kinds of questions arise about the riots and their aftermath in and around the impacted neighborhoods. These accounts could only be provided by those who heard about the events, or echoes of them, in the century that followed.

One hundred and one years later, it’s beyond time to share what we know.

[Sources: Philadelphia Race Riots of July 26 to July 31, 1918, An investigation by Walter F. White, Assistant Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and an account of actions taken by the Philadelphia branch of the N.A.A.C. P.; “2 Slain, 20 Injured As 5000 Fight Race War in South Philadelphia,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1918; “Another Dies in Race Riots; Marines Used.” Evening Public Ledger, July 29, 1918.]

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2 Comments

  1. Aaron Bauman
    Posted July 26, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Can you adjust permissions on the google map?
    I’m getting “access denied” after clicking through.

    • Ken Finkel
      Posted July 26, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Augh! It should be accessible now.

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