How Far Have We Come: Are Blacks In Philadelphia Getting Left Behind?

America and Philadelphia have a dark past where the black community is concerned. W.E.B DuBois wrote at length about the "Negro Problem" in Philadelphia. The big question now: is the "Negro Problem" still a problem?
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

"All men are created equal."

Or, at least, so says the Declaration of Independence. But of course, they weren't. Not then. Not 13 years later, when the Founders gathered in Independence Hall and decided that blacks were worth three-fifths of a white person. Not, for nearly another century after John Hancock and his brethren risked their lives to affix their signatures to that document separating themselves from the world's dominant empire. And for another century after that, in many places across the country, African Americans, though no longer considered property, were nonetheless relegated by law to second-class status.

Has much changed since then?

These facts are, of course, the stuff of elementary school history. But this nation, and Philadelphia specifically, carry with it roots buried deep in the heritage of African Americans that has in some ways, defined them not only as Philadelphians, but as black Philadelphians. You see in the abject poverty of urban ghettos, in neighborhoods stricken by drugs, crime, absentee fathers and failing schools. You see it in the waves of black migration from the rural South to northern industrial cities in hopes of jobs, and the racial tensions that sprung in their wake. You see it in the white flight of the latter half of the 20th Century, which left cities -- Philadelphia included -- struggling to make ends meet, despite a lower tax base and an increasing demand for social services.

And yet, here and across America, the last century has seen amazing progress. America has a black president -- unthinkable a generation, or even a few half a generation ago. Philadelphia has its third black mayor, a black police commissioner and its first black district attorney -- this less than 40 years from 1972, when then-Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo raided Black Panther headquarters, herded them into the street, stripped them naked, and boasted about "Black Panthers with their pants down." Indeed, black Philadelphians carry with them strength, hope, and despair for a history filled with struggle, setbacks and dramatic setbacks and failures.

One hundred thirty-three years after the Declaration of Independence, 110 years after George Washington -- an unapologetic slave owner -- took the oath of office, and on the eve of a new century that would give us not just Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, but Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, a 31-year-old academic who would later become Harvard University's first black Ph.D. published a seminal study of the plight of blacks in the very city that produced that famed, if less than accurate, phrase -- "all men are created equal." W.E.B. DuBois' The Philadelphia Negro, a sociological study, published in 1899 and commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania, was a first of its kind, at a time when many academics either ignored black communities or treated them like some sort of foreign species. DuBois touched on every aspect of black life: education, religion, standards of living, politics, and so on.

Written before the turn of a new century in the late 1800s, Philadelphia's black community was relatively small -- just 40,000 people, making up less than 4 percent of the city's population (though Philadelphia had more blacks than all other American cities, except Baltimore, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.) -- and gathered primarily in what was called the Seventh Ward, what is now southwest Center City. His aim, he stated in the study's preface, was to examine the "Negro problem:" "Let me add that I trust that this study with all its errors and shortcomings will at least serve to emphasize the fact that the Negro problems are the problems of human beings; that they cannot be explained away by fantastic theories, ungrounded assumptions or metaphysical subtleties."

DuBois sought to humanize blacks, to a population that largely saw them as either genetically inferior or otherwise exotic. As he explains in the introduction to the chapter, "The Problem:" "In Philadelphia, as elsewhere in the United States, the existence of certain peculiar social problems affecting the Negro people are plainly manifest. Here is a large group of people -- perhaps forty-five thousand, a city within a city -- who do not form an integral part of the larger social group. This in itself is not altogether unusual; there are other unassimilated groups ...; and yet, in the case of the Negroes the separation is more conspicuous, more patent to the eye, and so intertwined with a long historic evolution, with peculiarly pressing social problems of poverty, ignorance, crime and labor that the Negro problem far surpasses in scientific interest and social gravity; most of the other race or class questions."

Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, blacks make up 46 percent of the city's population, some 662,809 people. And yet, many of the problems to which DuBois alluded in 1899 persist today. Predominantly black parts of town -- North Philly, and the so-called "Badlands," for instance -- are all too synonymous with crime and poverty. Too many black students drop out of high school, and give in to lives on the streets or in gangs.

Philadelphia may have come a long way since DuBois time, but in the same breath, many of the same problems persist. Thus, this endeavor: In a two-part series, City Paper will revisit DuBois' work in an effort to track the evolution of black society and culture in Philadelphia over the last century-plus, the good and the bad.

All men are created equal?

We shall see.

The New Seventh Ward
In The Philadelphia Negro, DuBois split Philadelphia into 37 wards, although, by far, the Seventh Ward was the most populous for black -- although the Seventh Ward housed only a quarter of the city's black population. Home to 8,861 blacks, as of the Census of 1890, it stretched along a narrow strip west from Seventh and Lombard streets to the Schuylkill River, bordered by Spruce Street to the north and South Street to the south.

The Seventh Ward "was the heart of black Philadelphia," says Amy Hillier, a Penn professor who is spearheading Mapping DuBois (, a project that uses new technologies to recreate DuBois' surveys. "Most of the leading black institutions of that day were in the Seventh Ward. Beyond that, what was really remarkable was that there were blacks of all social classes living together."

(In 2008, Hillier teamed with the Mural Arts Project to unveil a mural on South Street -- dedicated to the Engine No. 11, the legendary all-black firehouse -- picturing DuBois in a three-piece suit, researching his book.)

On a typical morning, afternoon, or night, you could see - according to DuBois, a number of black men and women on various corners of the Seventh Ward. He writes, "They are mostly gamblers, thieves and prostitutes, and few have fixed and steady occupation of any kind."

DuBois actually walked throughout the Seventh Ward to collect his data. His assessments of the Seventh Ward are taken from a first-hand account. He found that the Seventh Ward was pretty safe, "The stranger can usually walk about here day and night with little fear of being molested, if he be not too inquisitive." DuBois concentrated on the Seventh Ward because it housed a majority of the blacks in the city. But it also had a variety of different kinds of blacks according to Hillier. DuBois himself discovered that poor and well-off, not rich, blacks were living together in the Seventh Ward. "Passing up Lombard, beyond Eighth, the atmosphere suddenly changes, because these next two blocks have few alleys and the residences are good-sized and pleasant. Here are some of the best Negro families of the ward." But right beyond Broad, according to DuBois, "As far as Sixteenth, the good character of the Negro population is maintained except in one or two back streets. From Sixteenth to Eighteenth, intermingled with some estimable families, is a dangerous criminal class." DuBois found that several large gambling houses took up residence in the area indicating what he called the criminal centre. Of the Seventh Ward - the black population stopped at Twenty-Second Street according to DuBois.

Today, obviously, the Seventh Ward is something entirely different: It includes Rittenhouse Square, one of the city's poshest districts. No longer is it the epicenter of Philadelphia's black culture, not by a long shot.

Blacks began migrating from the Seventh Ward in the 1940s and '50s, mostly North and West Philadelphia, "The move was gradual," Hillier says. But, "From my understanding, what dealt the final blow was the planned expressway. It was never built, but it was supposed to be."

When asked about the specifics of blacks moving from the Seventh Ward along with black businesses, Hillier says, "I'm interested in those two questions, too, about when blacks moved and about black businesses. I don't know the answers, unfortunately."

"Black residents started to make plans to move," Hillier says. "And they did." With them, of course, went the black-owned businesses they supported. By the 1970s, the Seventh Ward, as DuBois knew it, was no more.

If there were such a thing as a new Seventh Ward, it would have to be North Philadelphia, Hillier says: "If I were going to do a study like what DuBois did, I would do North Philadelphia. It is more compact and it has the extremes of poverty, strong civil rights and culture."

Germantown, Central, Northern and Western neighborhoods of North Philadelphia, have the largest population of native-born blacks in the city. According to an approximation by, 610,000 people live in these neighborhoods with 82 percent of that population being African American. According to an interactive map published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, 8,260 per 100,000 residents committed violent crimes as of February 1, 2008 in an area considered to be North Philadelphia. The entire section is outlined in bold, this, according to the Inquirer, indicates a planned increase in police patrols. Of the violent crimes listed on the map, armed robbery with a gun leads with 1,909 incidents per 100,000 residents. Assault with a gun follows with 1,479 and rape is listed at 420 with homicides at 221 incidents.

In 1896, 5,302 blacks were arrested in the city of Philadelphia - making up 9.1 percent of the city's black population. Likewise, DuBois argues, "Here we have even a worse showing than before; in 1896 the Negroes forming 4 percent of the population furnish 9 percent of the arrests, but in 1850 being 5 percent of the population they furnished 32 percent of the prisoners received at the county prison...of the prisoners in the Eastern Penitentiary, 1829 to 1846, 14 percent of the whites were pardoned and 2 percent of the Negroes."

From his study on crimes committed by Negroes DuBois drew a conclusion, "From this study we may conclude that young men are the perpetrators of the serious crime among Negroes; that this crime consists mainly of stealing and assault; that ignorance, and immigration to the temptations of city life, are responsible for much of this crime but not for all; that deep social causes underlie this prevalence of crime and they have so worked as to form among Negroes 1864 a distinct class of habitual criminals; that to this criminal class and not to the great mass of Negroes the bulk of the serious crime perpetrated by this race should be charged."

Milton McGriff, who authored the 2007 book 2236, which tells the story of race relations and black vigilantes, is a North Philly native. He grew up on 17th and Oxford and went to Germantown High School. During his coming of age, in the 1950s, blacks in the city began to congeal in North Philadelphia. McGriff is now 70 and living in South Philadelphia.

"Prior to the '60s we took some things for granted that affected our community. Though we were growing up in the 'hood, a half a block east was a doctor, the same on the other side. An executive for The Philadelphia Tribune lived in the neighborhood, and Cecil B. Moore lived there, too -- and we took it all for granted," McGriff says.

In his recollection of the black leaders that took up residence in North Philadelphia, McGriff recalls being one of the many that did not appreciate the resources that were as he said, "At our fingertips."

McGriff graduated from Germantown High School in 1957, but and began to see a difference in segregation and separation. According to McGriff, "We thought wrongly that segregation and separation were the same and they weren't. Segregation was forced on us, but having these kinds of influences move out of the black community -- we were worse off," McGriff, says.

In McGriff's recollection, he acknowledges that the difference between choice and force are the same as separation and segregation. People misunderstood that blacks of high esteem living in the city might not have been by force - where segregation is concerned. Instead, it might be considered separation. But when blacks of high ranking social status began to move out of North Philadelphia, it actually hurt the community, according to McGriff, because those resources were leaving the neighborhood.

Of his old neighborhood, McGriff adds, "I could see that the black community seemed poorer. The community I grew up in was way worse."

McGriff left Philadelphia in the 1970s and returned in 1998. Ten years later, 29.7 percent of Philadelphia's African American population lived in poverty according to the Census Bureau.

Aisha Al-Muid grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and looks fondly on her years in that area as being a safe and culturally progressive area. "I grew up on 54th and Larchwood Avenue," she says. "It was nice. There was a hospital across the street, and I felt safe."

She's a product of the much-derided Philadelphia Public School System, and now a teaching assistant for Russell Byers Charter School in Center City. Growing up in Southwest Philadelphia, she attended The Samuel B. Hewey Elementary School, and then she was enrolled in the Overbrook Scholar's Program which was the college prep program at Overbrook High school on Lancaster Avenue.

"It was very interesting. School was exciting. It was a small group of students who were in the same college prep programs," Al-Muid says.

The classes were engaging and challenging according to Al-Muid. As a teaching assistant at the Russell Byers Charter School, Al-Muid estimates that black students populate 80 percent of the school. The school does a good job of meeting state standards and the blacks students don't suffer with the curriculum at all - according to Al-Muid.

Germantown High School in the 50s had ordinary settings for McGriff who was one of a few black students in the entire school.

"I was the first black male and the second black student to be elected into the office of Student Body President," McGriff says.

McGriff went to Logan Elementary where he says it was a majority of white students - more so than Germantown High. The same with Roosevelt Junior high where the ratio was the same but McGriff says that racial adversity wasn't a regular happenstance.

"I didn't see an adversity thing, it was part of going to school for me," he says.

When McGriff returned to Philadelphia in 1998, he worked for a while as a teacher.
"I worked as a teacher for the Career and Development Institute on 12th and Vine," says McGriff. "The program was for drop outs and from the fall of '07 to the summer of '08 (When he taught classes) 95 percent of the students were black."

Around the same time, Caprice Laws, 20, was just graduating from high school.

Laws was 17 when she graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology. Residing in Southwest Philadelphia, it wasn't the whites against the blacks that Laws recalls.

In DuBois' time, a student like Laws would have been a very rare individual. DuBois used census data from 1850 which showed that 3,498 black adults could neither read nor write in Philadelphia. He estimated that the entire population at the time was around 8,000. In 1896, DuBois writes, "5,930 Negro children in the public schools of the city, against 6,150 in 1895 and 6,262 in 1897."

Of the statistics that DuBois presents, DuBois cites parents keeping their children home as the main reason for the lack in education among blacks in Philadelphia.

Laws' attendance record was not at all along the lines of the students mentioned in DuBois' study. "Everybody was black and the white students were from South Philly and that made them black to us," Laws says.

As far as racial discrimination from whites, Laws says, "Not really. I mean, you run into stuff here and there, but not a lot."

Now a full time college student, she says that her high school prepared her for life on her own.
"They prepared me in a way. I wouldn't say that they were bad teachers, but when you have to deal with kids that you have to babysit and teach at the same time, it can be hard," Laws says. "On a personal level - when it came to what I would have to deal with in the real world - they taught me a lot."

In 2005, students entering city high schools in the ninth grade were required to take an African-American history class. This made Philadelphia the first major city to require such a course.

In the late 1890s, when DuBois was researching and writing The Philadelphia Negro, blacks used the church as their solace. This had been the case since the 1700s, when Richard Allen and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society. DuBois writes of the black church, "The church really represented all that was left of African tribal life, and was the sole expression of the organized efforts of the slaves."

The Mother Bethel Church WHERE, founded by Richard Allen in YEAR, became the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in the nation -- making it the second oldest black congregation in the nation. St. Thomas WHERE is the first, WHEN with the African Episcopal Church established by Absalom Jones.

While African Americans were convening together in worship as slaves, St. Thomas and Mother Bethel became the first churches of their kind.

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were attending St. George's Methodist Church - this nation's first Methodist church. Allen was invited to preach regularly at the church. As he bgan growing in popularity, the African Americans began attending in larger numbers. According to a statement issued on Mother Bethel's website, Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and another church member were asked to sit in an area of the church designated for African Americans. They were asked in the middle of a prayer. When the gentlemen asked to wait until the prayer was over - they were forced to leave. They then left St. George and formed the Free African Society which then birthed St. Thomas and Mother Bethel.
Of St. Thomas, DuBois writes, "At St. Thomas' one looks for the well-to-do Philadelphians, largely descendants of favorite mulatto house servants, and consequently well-bred and educated, but rather cold and reserved to strangers or newcomers."

Other African Americans were split between the six churches that were in existence in 1813. That included: Zoar, Union, Baptist Race and Vine, Presbyterian, and Mother Bethel.

In his work, DuBois writes about the customs of the black church. After the sermon, he writes, "The Social features begin; notices on the various meetings of the week are read, people talk about each other in subdued tones, take their contributions to the altar, and linger in the aisles until 1 or 2 p.m."

Indeed, according to DuBois, the black church was the center of social life for African Americans. "There is much music, much preaching, some short address;" Dubois writes. "Many strangers are there to be looked at; many beaus bring out their belles, and those who do not, gather in crowds at the church door and escort the young women home."

In an interview, the Rev. Mark Tyler, Senior Pastor of Mother Bethel, speaks of Mother Bethel's success and longevity: "Our history puts us in a special place. So many other congregations look to Mother Bethel for an example of what church needs to be. There is a great expectation on us and our congregation takes that seriously."

The black church remains a permanent staple in Philadelphia's black community. Other religions have come to the forefront making Philadelphia's black religious scene different from what it was during DuBois' time of research.

Juanita Beasley has been a lifelong resident of Philadelphia. She currently lives in North Philadelphia on 12th Street, just a few blocks from where she was raised. "But I was born and partially raised in the Germantown section of the city," she says.

At age twelve, Beasley declared herself Muslim. It was while attending Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School that she embraced Islam under the Sunnah (She took her Shahada) in July of 1995. Beasley is a part of Philadelphia's growing population of African American Muslims. Philadelphia influenced her decision to convert in a large way.

"Diagonally across the street from my elementary school sat Muhammad's Temple #12 where Malcolm X was the minister while in Philadelphia," says Beasley. "There was a lot of racial tension in the city during the 60s and 70s and the Temple felt like a familiar place for me."

The black church, according to DuBois - represented a familiar place for blacks who were unable to gain social acceptance elsewhere. He wrote, "The Negro churches were the birthplaces of Negro schools and of all agencies which seek to promote the intelligence of the masses; and even today no agency serves to disseminate news or information so quickly and effectively among Negroes as the church."

"The biggest accomplishment for Mother Bethel is that it is rooted in its early days. To think that America is in a post-racial society is to completely miss the point. The issues that were prevalent then, are still with us today even though they are not easily seen by others," Rev. Tyler says. "The black church is still very much needed for those who cannot be heard."

In 1813, Mother Bethel had 1272 members according to DuBois' data. Mother Bethel was among six other black congregations in the city. In 1867, Mother Bethel's congregation dropped to 1,100 members, but the property was worth $40,000.

Statistical data for this story in the area of education, was requested from the Philadelphia Board of Education but was not obtained.

In 1899, a sociological study was published. "The Philadelphia Negro" was the first study of its kind. Prior to the University of Pennsylvania commissioning W.E.B DuBois to do a study of blacks in Philadelphia, no formal research or surveys had been conducted by a city that had the fourth-largest black population among large cities. An Illinois Senator gave a speech at Philadelphia's Constitution Center when he was campaigning for President of the United States. In his speech, he recalled a lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, as a contributing factor to the erosion of black families. President Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States in 2008. He was inaugurated in 2009. The lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods, according to President Obama, all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us. Indeed, America and Philadelphia have a dark past where the black community is concerned. W.E.B DuBois wrote at length about the Negro Problem in Philadelphia. The big question now - is the Negro Problem still a problem?

DuBois' study was based on almost every aspect of black life in Philadelphia. He divided the black population into wards with the Seventh Ward having the largest black population. He would concentrate on this ward for a majority of his study.

Education and religion were two main factors that DuBois wrote about in reference to trying to figure out a solution to the Negro Problem. In addition, he researched black politics, jobs, poverty, and crime.

Almost 5,500 blacks were eligible to vote in the city of Philadelphia in 1870 according to DuBois' research. The black vote, DuBois writes, "Has never exceeded four percent of the total registration."

According to DuBois, Philadelphia politics had a disreputable record for misgovernment. In his study, DuBois divided black voters into three categories. The first, being the majority - a group of black voters that followed the white majority. He counts their biggest error in their vote to be lack of political knowledge. The second group is what he called the corrupt class - a group that sold their vote openly to the highest bidder. And lastly, there were those who accepted bribes in the form of objects or employment in exchange for votes.

Of blacks in office, DuBois writes, "The Negro's record as an office-seeker is, it is needless to say, far surpassed by his white brother and it is only in the last two decades that Negroes have appeared as members of councils and clerks."

With contributions from notable political figures like Senator Hardy Williams who died just a month ago, Philadelphia politics was getting a serious tan so to speak. Williams, who actually lost to Rizzo, paved the way for a groundbreaking election that would happen twelve years later.

From 1984 to 1992, Wilson Goode Sr. who worked on Williams' campaign, served as mayor for Philadelphia. He was first black mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to being the mayor, he was the commissioner for the state Public Utility Commission and he was managing director for the City of Philadelphia. During Goode's run, Philadelphia had gotten used to blacks in city politics, but Milton McGriff can remember a time when a black mayor wasn't likely.

Milton McGriff, author of the novel, "2236" and Philadelphia activist served in Philadelphia's chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in 1969. He recalls running for state office himself - and losing.

"I thought that the Black Panther Party in theory had analyzed things and they saw the government as I think black people should see the government," says McGriff. "We've had a government historically that has only been contempt towards black people."

The Black Panther Party had an agenda, McGriff says, "It wanted to transform society which meant transforming the government. In practice, I think we made some mistakes," says McGriff. "I think the party lost its way because leadership lost its way."

Still in 1969, McGriff was on a ticket with another Black Panther for City Council of Philadelphia.

"We didn't get a lot of votes," McGriff recalls. "But it was something that we did to get the message out."

Mission accomplished?

"Those were the Rizzo (Frank) days and it was here that Panthers were stripped on the streets and those pictures ran in papers across the world. There was police brutality, and unemployment was rampant," says McGriff.

In spite of, McGriff and the other Black Panthers in Philadelphia tried to maintain with the Free Breakfast Program - a national program headed by the founding Oaklyn, C.A. Panthers and the free clinic located in North Philadelphia.

McGriff's belief is that some of the same things still go on in Philadelphia.

"We (blacks) don't have power despite having far more elected officials today than we did say 40 years ago. We were able to play a part in electing the first black president, but we need that kind of energy on a day to day basis," McGriff says.

McGriff says that the black community still has a lack of political and economic power.

"We don't control the dollars that come through our community. We spend billions but we do not reap the benefits of people who have that kind of spending power."

One of the problems, McGriff says, is that the black community in Philadelphia is not thinking like they used to, during his time as a Black Panther.

"Unlike then, we don't think in terms of what Malcolm suggested when he said by any means necessary to bring about change. I think we are fragmented," he adds.

McGriff admits that there are a couple of politicians that look out for the black community, "there are a few," McGriff says. "All black politicians are not accountable to their community and the black community overall doesn't do enough to make them accountable."

Wilson Goode Jr. followed in the footsteps of his father. He is currently City Council at Large for Philadelphia. The Capital Access Report co-authored by Goode and his aide during his freshmen year in city council, showed that in 1998, about 90 percent of small business lending done in middle and upper class income areas and over 90 percent of the loan dollars went to areas with a black population of less than twenty percent.

"I think that Philadelphia politics is still dominated by the Democratic Party structure. Almost four decades ago, there was the founding of the Black Political Forum whose mission was to create a movement that would elect blacks independent from the Democratic Party," Goode Jr. says.

His father was a founding member of that organization that would later be instrumental in his election into the office of mayor.

"Because of that movement, three of our last four mayors have been black," says Goode Jr. who was able to vote for his father in the election that would make history in Philadelphia.

Though the problem as DuBois called it may not be as it was when he was compiling his research - Goode Jr. still thinks that Philadelphia's black community could be better where politics are concerned.

"I would say that the African-American community realizes that it has the strength to elect any blacks to any office. The real challenge now, is to have that political empowerment translate into economic empowerment," Goode Jr. says. "And unless that political power creates jobs and economic opportunity, African Americans will remain second class citizens."

Most recently, Philadelphia swore in Seth Williams, the city's first black district attorney.

Standard of Living - Socioeconomics
On jobs, DuBois referred to blacks in Philadelphia as trying to better their condition while seeking to rise. He writes that while Philadelphia blacks are willing, honest and good-natured they are also careless, unreliable, and unsteady - something he blames on generations of being encouraged to shirk work.

In the Seventh Ward, of 257 boys and men between the ages of ten and 20, in 1896, 39 percent were porters and errand boys; 25.5 percent were servants; 16 percent were common laborers, and 19 percent had miscellaneous employment.
In 1970, the Nixon Administration sought to increase black employment rates when they sponsored a plan that was expected to force contractors bidding on large federal projects to actively recruit blacks. Philadelphia was the test run for the plan where employers were supposed to raise the number of blacks among new workers from about 5 percent to 25 percent in 1975. The government project's additional hires of 1,000 blacks ended up being a mere 60 new hires. Those in opposition of the project took their issues to court citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act which is supposed to prohibit racial quotas in hiring.

An American Community Survey compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2008 showed that a majority of the working black men in Philadelphia held service occupations - 28,542 to be exact. For black women, sales and office occupations took majority with 43,524 in such positions. Management and service occupations also ranked in high numbers with over 40,000 employees in each category. This is also the case for black males with over 28,000 employees in management positions.

In 1848, blacks in the city of Philadelphia paid a combined amount of $199,665.46 in rent with an average of $49.68 per family. In 1896, blacks living in the Seventh Ward paid $25,699.50 each month with $126.19 per family.

Faynell Sewell owns a home with her husband in Northeast Philadelphia. She moved from South Jersey to Philadelphia over five years ago and is glad to have made the move.

"I love owning a home in Philadelphia. I love the neighborhood, everyone seems friendly and as a black woman, I have not encountered any issues of racial discrimination about my owning a home," Sewell said.

Sewell said that Philadelphia seemed like an easy choice because everything was close and convenient. She is one of the 126,017 black homeowners in Philadelphia, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There are currently, 122,778 black renters in Philadelphia.

Sewell and her husband are just one couple in Philadelphia.

Currently, there are 44, 504 black married couples living in Philadelphia according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 75,736 women are heading their families without a male present and 17,828 men are doing the same without a female present.

DuBois showed in his study, that in the Seventh Ward, 30.5 percent of blacks were single, 47.1 percent were married, and 22.4 percent were permanently separated and widowed.

Of unmarried couples, DuBois writes, "The lax moral habits of the slave regime still show themselves in a large amount of cohabitation without marriage. In the slum districts there are many such families, which remain together years and are in effect common law marriages."

The 1890 census showed that 81.8 percent of the black population in Philadelphia was single, 93.8 percent were married, 1.4 percent were divorced, and 23 percent had souses that died.

Of the spouses that died were in a number of blacks that died in the city of Philadelphia annually. Mortality rates among blacks showed that per every 1,000 blacks, from 1891 to 1896, 28.02 blacks died - this included still births.

Of the numbers DuBois presented in his study, a majority of the deaths of blacks involved consumption. Of consumption, DuBois writes, "Bad ventilation, lack of outdoor life for women and children, poor protection against dampness and cold are undoubtedly the chief causes of this excessive death rate."

Blacks living in slums were especially prone to death by consumption according to DuBois.

Jessica M. Robbins and David A. Webb's study, "Neighborhood Poverty, Mortality Rates, and Excess Deaths among African Americans: Philadelphia, 1999-2001," showed that of the 661,040 blacks residing in Philadelphia, those with less than 30 percent neighborhood poverty experienced 9,648 deaths between 1999 and 2001. Whites with the same poverty level had almost less than a third of that with 3,984 deaths. Blacks with 20 to 29.9 percent of neighborhood poverty experienced 7,356 deaths. Whites with the same circumstance experienced 3,821 deaths.

W.E.B. DuBois' great-grandson Arthur McFarlane has a B.A. in psychology with a minor in African American studies, and a Master's Degree in social psychology. He currently works for the state department of public health for Colorado.

In 2008, McFarlane came to Philadelphia for an unveiling by the Mural Arts Program and the Mapping DuBois initiative. When asked about the Philadelphia Negro, McFarlane acknowledged his grandfather's work as the only work of its kind.

"I suspect that if someone were to do the study that grandpa made now, they would see that the same disparities between blacks and whites continue to exist," McFarlane says. "If someone were to follow the statistical data that my grandpa made, we would see how much progress we made, or the lack thereof."

Of his great-grandfather's research, McFarlane says, "Grandpa was trying to make clear that the country needs to address issues that blacks have gone through in reference to poverty." He adds, "The real underline thing that needs to be fixed is that black income is so different from white income. The ability to get transportation, even work - we find that black people are on the short end of the stick in almost every one of those situations."

McFarlane doesn't think that the black community has done a good job of addressing the issues that face them today.

"The bottom line is that we have not had the social and political will to address the problems and one of those problems is racism and it is still alive and well."


Aisha Al-Muid now lives in West Philadelphia, but she grew up in Southwest Philadelphia. Her experiences as a black woman in Philadelphia have been positive she says.

Of blacks in Philadelphia, she says, "I think that African Americans in Philadelphia are treated as if they are not valued as citizens. The services in predominantly black neighborhoods are not adequate, we are the last to get service and crime is still rampant."

In 1896, there were 58,072 arrests in Philadelphia. According to DuBois, over nine percent of those arrests were of blacks. A year prior, 285 people were committed to the Eastern State Penitentiary. Of the 285 people, 70 were black.

In 1964, a three-day riot broke out in Philadelphia where 341 people were reportedly injured, 774 people were arrested and 225 stores were damaged or destroyed. The riot took place in North Philadelphia where roughly 400,000 of the 600,000 black residents resided.

The riot was said to have happened after Odessa Bradford - a black woman began to argue with police after two officers one of which was also black approached her car and told her to move it immediately. Bradford's car was apparently stalled and she wasn't able to move it. When the officers tried to remove Bradford from the car, she resisted and was arrested. Within hours, news broke that a pregnant woman had been beaten to death by two white police officers. Her arrest happened on Columbus Avenue which is now Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

McGriff cites local authorities as a negative factor in Philadelphia crime.

"We still have situations everywhere we go with the police. When police officers do wrong, they are not punished unless they in some way embarrass the police department," he says.

On blacks in prison, McGriff says, "there is a disproportionate amount of blacks in prison. There must be a relationship between that and racism in the criminal justice system." McGriff also said that the black community in Philadelphia needs to adjust the racism in the criminal justice system.

In 1956, Alphonso Deal might have agreed with McGriff when he founded the Guardian Civic League which is the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Police Association. The organization's original goal was to bring together all police officers - that mission still holds true today. Rochelle Bilal is an officer in the H.I.T.A. (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) unit. She is the second woman elected president of the organization.

The Guardian Civic League was very much involved in the case in 2009. A group of black police officers filed suit against their department saying that the website was, "infested with racist, white supremacist and anti-African-American content."

The attorney that represented the Guardian Civic League also represented the North Philadelphia camp that was turned away from a pool after being told that the pool didn't accept minorities.

"This institution (Philadelphia Police Department) has been around for a long time and it is entrenched with some of the old racist and infectious attitudes within," says Bilal of the Philadelphia Police Department. "We still deal with the people that have the mindset that think that African-Americans and even females don't measure up to be a part of this institution."

Bilal says that the Guardian Civic League's main goal is still to level the playing field where people across the board can be treated fairly. As for a timeline she says, "I don't know if it will happen in my lifetime, but we are going to try."

Over 28 years ago, former Philadelphia Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal was sent to jail for killing Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25. The former journalist, turned author has written books about his case and has built quite the following. Most recently, the Supreme Courts ruled to let the conviction stand - as such Abu-Jamal continues to sit on death row.

In 2009, Philadelphia police officer John Pawlowski was killed in the line of duty making him the seventh officer to be killed since 2007 making Philadelphia the leading city for cop killings. In 1996, Lauretha Vaird became the first policewoman to be killed in the line of duty.

Statistics gathered by Action news show that a Philadelphia officer is more likely to be killed by gunfire than in any other major city in the United States. According to Action News, the 35th district seems to be the center of the cop killings with two officers lost thus far.

The murder rate among blacks in Philadelphia is 30 black murder victims per 100,000 people.

The Negro Problem - Closing

After all of this, what is the Negro Problem in Philadelphia?

Education and illiteracy, crime, politics, religion, and poor standards of living?


DuBois presented statistics and opinions based on the statistics that he presented.

Then, and at the end of his study he gave instruction.

Of the duty of blacks in Philadelphia, he wrote, "Simply because the ancestors of the present white inhabitants of America went out of their way barbarously to mistreat and enslave the ancestors of present black inhabitants gives those blacks no right to ask that the civilization and morality of the land be seriously menaced for their benefit."

Of the duty of whites DuBois writes at length about discriminatory practices where jobs and various opportunities for black are concerned. He writes, "Such discrimination is morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful and socially silly. Therefore, he writes, "it is the duty of the whites to stop it, and to do so primarily for their own sakes."

Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community