Africans first arrived in Philadelphia in 1684, when the ship Isabella
brought 150 slaves. By 1720 around 2,500 Africans had been brought
to Pennsylvania as slaves.
The growing abolitionist movement of the next few decades led to
a 1780 law that began to dismantle slavery. The 1790 census confirmed
that Philadelphia's free black community, numbering 2000, was the
largest in the United States. By 1820 slavery had disappeared from
Philadelphia, and African Americans flooded into the city. Among
the city's 100,622 inhabitants, 12,110 were free blacks.
In the antebellum period, however, African Americans were excluded
from the developing industrial economy and grew increasingly poor.
As competition for work grew, so did white hostility. Mobs invaded
African American homes during numerous race riots in the 1840s.
Prohibited from voting by 1838, blacks regained suffrage in 1871,
which precipitated more riots and led to the murder of black leader
black community continued to develop. In 1830 it hosted the first
National Negro Convention. By the end of the nineteenth century,
it had founded schools, orphanages, welfare societies, nursing homes,
and the renowned Lincoln University in Oxford. The Philadelphia
Tribune - the oldest black newspaper still publishing - was
founded in 1884 and counted Gertrude Bustill Mosell among its contributors.
the development of wealth came a religious, business, and cultural
elite that included Henry Ossawa Tanner, a leading American painter
of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Octavius Catto
and Gilbert "Gil" Ball founded the Equal Rights League
in 1864. Novelist Frances E. W. Harper and "Fanny" Jackson
Coppin were celebrated orators on behalf of black civil rights.
In 1871 Coppin succeeded Catto as principal of the Institute for
Colored Youth (later Cheyney State College, now University). After
the turn of the century, Arthur Huff Fauset fought to improve housing
for black Philadelphians, while his sister Jessie Redmon Fauset
wrote critically acclaimed novels and became literary editor of
The Crisis in the 1920s.
Nonetheless, blacks fled the South for Philadelphia. By 1900, the
black community in Philadelphia - numbering 62,613 - was the largest
in the North. That increased size initiated segregation of the black
population in North and West Philadelphia and the creation of segregated
bars, restaurants, and hotels. A race riot in 1918 followed labor
conflicts and increased demands from African Americans for equality.
Turning inward, the black community further developed its own business
and professional class.
In 1938, Democrat Crystal Bird Fauset became the first black woman
in the U.S. to be elected to a state assembly.
The labor demand created by World War II precipitated a second,
massive migration to Philadelphia, increasing the African American
community to 379,000 - 18 percent of the city's population - by
Prominent entertainers and musicians, including Bill Cosby and John
Coltrane, emerged from the postwar generation in Philadelphia, but
overall conditions in the black community were bleak, given employment
discrimination and housing segregation. In the 1960s, activism grew,
the Black Panthers mobilized chapters, and race riots followed.
The first black mayor of Philadelphia, W. Wilson Goode, was elected
in 1983, then reelected in 1987.
Contributed By: Jim Mendelsohn
members included Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, who together pioneered
the independent black church movement in the U.S. In a little over
a quarter of a century, Philadelphia became home to a number of
historic black churches. The African Church, founded in about 1787,
became the First African Church of St. Thomas in 1794, with Jones
as its pastor. Two years later, Allen became pastor of the Bethel
Methodist Church. The First African Baptist Church was founded in
1809, followed in 1811 by the First African Presbyterian Church.
In 1816 Allen and others organized the African Methodist Episcopal
Church, the first African American denomination. Over the next 280
years the black churches of Philadelphia became powerful and important
institutions, sustaining everyone from a distinctive and large black
elite to the Black Panthers.
A countercultural organization founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
their activities led to two controversial clashes with police in
1978 and 1985 resulting in the imprisonment or death of over two
MOVE was founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart, an African American
handyman. Leaphart believed that various problems plaguing American
society such as crime, substance abuse, and violence grew out of
humanity's growing alienation from the natural world through technology
and various social institutions.
MOVE's early activities included protests against city and school
board policies, police brutality, pollution, and other environmental
abuses. MOVE's neighbors on North 33rd Street had their own complaints:
rats, rotting garbage, fecal odor, unclothed children, the 50 to
60 stray animals adopted by the "family," and increasingly
violent arguments with group members. The complaints finally led
to a court-ordered inspection that Rizzo hesitated to enforce.
After a politically embarrassing ten-month delay, Rizzo had a four-block
area surrounding the MOVE house blockaded by police, cutting off
all food, water, and supplies to the house. Three months later,
on August 8, 1978, Rizzo sanctioned a police raid, during which
five police officers and firefighters were wounded, and one police
officer was killed. One MOVE member, Delbert Africa, was beaten
by police while he was trying to escape.
In 1980, after a controversial trial in which compelling evidence
suggested that "friendly fire" may have been the cause
of the officer's death, nine MOVE members were convicted of manslaughter
charges stemming from the confrontation, and were sentenced to terms
of 30 to 100 years. The three police officers charged with beating
Delbert Africa were acquitted in 1981 by a judge, before the case
could go to a jury trial.
Goode, Philadelphia's first black mayor, avoided any direct action
against the group, and even delayed the arrests of several MOVE
members for outstanding warrants. Goode was eventually forced into
action because of political pressure from the community and the
media. He authorized a hastily planned raid of the MOVE house on
May 13, 1985.
police attempted to break into 6221 Osage Avenue from neighboring
houses, but failed. Then they dropped a bomb on the house from a
helicopter, presumably in an effort to make an opening in the roof
for tear gas. A fire started, but police intentionally allowed it
to burn, hoping to disable the rooftop bunkers. In the end, the
fire had consumed 61 homes and killed 11 MOVE members, including
John Africa and five children. Only two of the members in the house
escaped the blaze: Ramona Africa, who was eventually imprisoned
for seven years on conspiracy and riot charges, and Birdie Africa,
a 13-year-old boy.
Two grand jury investigations found that the decision to drop the
bomb had been "unconscionable," and they exposed a police
cover-up concerning the use of "C-4," a military-grade
explosive, in the bomb. But no criminal charges were ever filed
against Goode, the other city officials, or any of the police officers
Wrongful death lawsuits by relatives and surviving MOVE members
against the city have already led to nearly $5 million in damages,
with more suits pending. There are at least three dozen active MOVE
members either still in prison or living in the Philadelphia area.
Contributed By: Marc Mazique