All the Free Fun at #OAH2019

Next weekend’s Organization of American Historians conference program is packed with accessory activities that you can layer atop your panel attendance. We’ve rounded up all the free sparkle for you to enjoy–and none of it requires pre-registration.

Here’s what to do if you want to….

Low-key network over a small plate of snacks

If you are a grad student or early career scholar, I recommend skipping Thursday evening’s Opening Reception for the Dessert before Dinner reception sponsored by the Immigration and Ethnic History Society. It’s sure to be sweet, and likely a chill scene where you can meet a group of smart scholars.

On Friday evening, the OAH’s committees are sponsoring receptions–and they’ll all be in one room, so you can circle around to learn about the great work they’re doing on behalf of the profession. I’ll be making a beeline for the Independent Scholars committee, but there are also committees devoted to disability and disability history, women in the historical profession, graduate students, scholars advancing the histories of people of color in the US, academic freedom, contingent employment, and more.

On Saturday night, attend the Work of Freedom Soul Jam, an afterparty at the African American Museum in Philly. There will be a performance by spoken-word artist Trapeta B. Mayson and music by the Alfie Pollit All-Star Trio. It’s sure to be a fun way to celebrate the end of the conference with all the new friends you’ve made.

Exterior front entrance, U.S. Custom House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, 2007, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Optimize your experience as a first-time attendee

If this is your first year at the OAH annual meeting, add a bee sticker to your name badge at registration. The badge functions as a signal to more seasoned attendees to say hi and welcome you to the conference. It’s a low-stakes way to start a conversation! And stickers are cute.

If you can scrape yourself out of bed by 7 AM on Friday morning, head over to the Welcome Breakfast for the OAH’s new members and first-time conference attendees. Members of the Membership Committee will be there to chat over coffee and, presumably, muffins.

Painting “Celebration” at William J. Green Federal Building, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, 2007, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Immerse yourself in arts and culture

Meet the authors of your favorite recent nonfiction! Scott Stern, Imani Perry, Paul Ortiz, Annelise Orleck, and Mary Frances Berry will be doing book signings during the conference at the Beacon Press booth (#312).

On Friday evening, the artistic director of The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, will lead a discussion about Lynn Nottage’s play SWEAT after a performance of a scene from the Broadway hit.

If you need to ease into panels on Saturday morning, start your day by attending back-to-back film screenings. At 8 AM, Zadi Zokou will be showing their film Black N Black, about the “sometimes fragile connections” between African Americans and African immigrants. From there, continue on to a 10 AM panel with Tom Sugrue, Craig Wilder, Gretchen Sorin, and Ric Burns, who will discuss a new NEH-funded film on the Green Book Travel Guide.

Part of the 9th Street Italian Market, the nation’s oldest working outdoor market, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Talk instead of listen

Spend your lunchtime on Saturday in The Chat Room. Moderators will be leading 45-minute conversations on topics ranging from birthright citizenship (with Hidetaka Hirota) to how to navigate social media (with Kevin Kruse and Nicole Hemmer).

Several of the conference workshops are free and require no pre-registration. I’m particularly interested in the methodology workshops on Big Data and “writing” oral history, but there are also ones about applying for teaching jobs and teaching elementary and high school students about African Americans in early America.

Streetscape view of City Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress


Be a human and a scholar at the same time

At registration, pick up a pronoun sticker for your name badge. Gender neutral bathrooms can be found on the fourth floor.

Nursing moms, there will be a room available at the Marriott for breastfeeding or pumping. If you are bringing your kids but need a break from them, the OAH has provided a list of childcare providers that you can contact.

For those abstaining from alcohol, select receptions will have dry bars.

Tweet about the conference

Use #OAH19! Most sessions also have their own hashtag.

Pretend you are back at #UHA2018

The UHA solicited two panels at OAH. First thing on Friday morning, Martha Jones (chair), Rashauna Johnson, Leslie Harris, Walter Johnson, and Jonathan Wells will be presenting on “how the study of slavery might more directly shape the field of urban history” (Slavery and the City, #AM3149).  On Saturday afternoon at 3 PM, UHA President Heather Ann Thompson will join Minju Bae, Kwame Holmes, Elizabeth Hinton, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, and Donna Murch in a discussion of “The Future of Urban History” (#AM3150).

Wishing you a productive and enriching OAH meeting!

Featured image (at top): Philadelphia in the olden time / SSS & D.C., Fredrick J. Wade, c. 1875, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

Member of the Week: Caitlin Moriarty

0Caitlin Moriarty, Ph.D.

Place Present & Moriarty Meats

Instagram @moriartymeats

Describe your research interests. How have they evolved throughout your career? 

I have always been interested in how retail spaces and commercial streets relate to neighborhood identity, and more broadly, the social and cultural functions of place. Places are more than just the setting of “history” but offer an important lens into the dynamics of change over time. More recently, through my work in historic preservation, I have become interested in the implications of place narratives like the contemporary “comeback” story of cities like Buffalo and how it reinforces the rise and decline framework of American cities that other scholars have shown to be partial and tired.

You spent several years working as a lead historian for an architectural preservation firm. How did that work differ from what you were doing as a grad student? And what did you get out of that experience?

It was satisfying to see history “uncovered” in projects and make the case for why buildings – most of which were vacant or in some state of disrepair – are still important to local history. My graduate program centered on using the built environment as a primary source of information, and we frequently grappled with the relationship between local history and “bigger” history. Buildings are inherently local yet they tell larger stories as well. As real estate developers in Western New York see new opportunities in historic buildings, architectural histories are valuable additions not only to their projects but as broader resources for the public, especially when narratives go beyond architectural style and create richer histories of how and why places were created and changed over time.

On a practical level, being part of larger projects with many moving parts forced me to let go of perfectionism for the sake of completing projects on time. Editing and working with others gave me new perspectives on writing process and effective communication. I hope that I am a better writer for it now!

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I have to admit that I haven’t listened to a recent interview about the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school in Milwaukee, but I am looking forward to it!

Personally, I am starting to conceptualize a project about the historic landscapes of butchery in Buffalo. In January 2018, my husband and I started a whole animal butchery, meaning we source animals from local farmers and Tom breaks them down by hand. Historically, all butchery was done this way but industrial scaling has changed every aspect of the chain. As I learn more about the networks between farmers, our shop, and our customers, I want to better understand how these relationships used and shaped the city in the past. I am particularly interested in the hundreds of small shops and carts that served Buffalo’s neighborhoods and the families who ran them. I’m still working to gather preliminary information and focus the inquiry but am excited to ultimately display the study in our shop.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for careers both inside and outside of academia? 

Be open to opportunities and don’t underestimate how “academic” you can be beyond academia. There are tradeoffs in every scenario so ask yourself what matters most.

You now work for your new family business, Moriarty Meats. What parallels do you see between your academic and preservation careers and your new endeavor as an entrepreneur?

The more you learn, the more you know you don’t know!! I am really enjoying learning new things but, just like grad school, being self-directed comes with its freedom and challenges. The confused look you get when you tell people about your doctoral studies is not unsimilar to the one you get when you say you have a butcher shop, ha!

Our shop is actually located on the commercial street that I studied in my dissertation, which is a cool coincidence. I am seeing the history of the retail street, the legacy of mom and pop shops and the relationship between retailers and communities completely differently after a year of operating my own business here. I definitely have a new respect for the business owners I studied!

Building the Hospital City: The Redevelopment of Philadelphia General Hospital

By Guian McKee

Visitors to this year’s OAH conference in Philadelphia will likely spend much of their time amidst the revitalized restaurants, bars, arts venues, and office towers of Center City. All this is one part of post-industrial Philadelphia, but historians seeking to understand the actual core of the city’s new economy would do well to skip a conference session or two (really, it’s ok!) and head a few blocks west to the banks of Schuylkill River along Civic Center Boulevard. There, you will pass the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the glass façade of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (or CHOP). Moving farther down the boulevard, you will pass Children’s Seashore House Hospital and reach Osler Circle, coming upon large medical research towers associated with Penn and CHOP.

Two sisters Esther and Louisa Page looking intently at a Truman poster outside Convention Hall in Philadelphia, crowd in background,” 1948, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Fifteen years ago, looking across Civic Center Boulevard you would have seen the gray concrete buildings of the Philadelphia Civic Center and Convention Hall, the site of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-nomination for President at the 1936 Democratic National Convention (along with the 1940 Republican National Convention and the 1948 conventions for both parties). Those buildings are now gone, replaced by Penn’s Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, Smilow Research Center, and Jordan Medical Education Building, as well as CHOP’s Colket Translational Research Building and Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care, and a large parking garage built to accommodate the automobiles of staff and patients driving in from the suburbs and beyond. If you peer past those buildings, you might be able to glimpse the east bank of the Schuylkill River, where CHOP is constructing a series of medical research towers (and more parking garages). If you perambulate down the boulevard to University Avenue, you will also pass a Veterans Administration nursing home, which connects via a pedestrian bridge to the main VA hospital.

During this half mile walk, you will have seen the core elements of Philadelphia’s post-industrial economy: According to the U.S. Economic Census, hospitals are the largest employment sector in the city; by 2013 they accounted for nine of the city’s sixteen largest private employers, and as of 2016, hospital employment in the city totaled just under 59,000 people.[1] Although most of Philadelphia’s hospitals are nominal not-for-profits, together they generate more than $9 billion in patient revenues. These statistics, along with the walking tour, suggest that we need to think of Philadelphia, and cities like it, not only as deindustrialized cities, but as medicalized cities. Philadelphia’s medical institutions are emblematic of the political economy of the twenty-first century U.S. city: not-for-profit (but decidedly not non-profit), quasi-public institutions, neither government agencies nor market organizations, that now play a critical part in the tentative and problematic revitalization of American cities such as Philadelphia.

Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia General Hospital, University Museum, aerial view, 1934, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania: University Archives Image Collection.

Where did this massive complex in West Philadelphia come from? What are these institutions, and how should we understand their role in our cities? One clue emerges in our walk down Civic Center Boulevard. Passing CHOP’s Abramson Pediatric Research building, the sidewalk is separated from the research complex by a slightly anomalous fence of wrought iron interspersed with brick and masonry columns. The fence is one of the few surviving remnants of the site’s previous occupant, Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH), which served as the city’s public hospital prior to its 1977 closing by Mayor Frank Rizzo. PGH had struggled for years with an outmoded physical plant and a teaching relationship with Penn and CHOP that allowed the nearby academic medical centers to pull in patients who would generate third-party insurance payments. Faced with these problems, along with a pressing municipal budget crisis, Rizzo made the controversial decision to close the hospital. Despite the angry opposition of PGH supporters, Rizzo went ahead with the plans to shutter the public hospital. Less known is that his administration replaced it with a system of free primary health care provided by neighborhood clinics and supplemented with subsidized care at private hospitals when needed. The Philadelphia Daily News summarized the implications in January 1978: “for all practical purposes, Philadelphia now has socialized medicine.”[2] The new system ultimately failed to live up to this promise, and by the 1990s the city was struggling to fund the program, with costs for hospitalization causing particular strain. At many of the clinics, patients faced lengthy waiting lists for an appointment.

Philadelphia General Hospital, aerial view, 1973, courtesy of University of Pennsylvania: University Archives Image Collection.

The closing of PGH itself is a complex story, the full extent and implications of which lies beyond the short summary above. This blog post focuses instead on one consequence of the decision: the ensuing redevelopment of the PGH site, and how it relates to the larger social and economic transformation of Philadelphia in recent decades.

Penn and CHOP dominated the PGH redevelopment. As the current and recent construction along the Schuylkill suggests, this is a process that is still ongoing. The actions of Penn and CHOP in relation to the city and federal government and to the wider health care industry generate significant questions about whether a distinct “not-for-profit” space can actually be carved out between government and market, at least in the case of these massive and only nominally not-for-profit health care institutions. While in one sense these institutions clearly operate within the sphere of neoliberalism, they are also representative of much older, and much more deeply rooted associational models of interaction between the state and the private sector in pursuit of development and other putative public ends. Relying on voluntary associations with for-profit and not-for-profit corporations has allowed the American state to wield considerable power, despite its decentralized character. This has been particularly common where the public goals involve the development of infrastructure and economic capacity. Private, voluntary organizations – such as not-for-profit hospitals – typically act as crucial intermediary institutions in such relationships.[3]

Bridge across the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In the years after the PGH closure, two broad options emerged for redeveloping the site. The first consisted of a proposal for a mixed-use development from a politically connected suburban developer. Along with an office tower that would be leased to CHOP, the plan included a parking garage, a shopping center, a nursing home, and a 700-unit housing development, with the latter to include approximately 150 Section 8 units. The Section 8 allotment was intended to induce HUD to release $21 million in Community Development Block Grants that had been frozen after Mayor Rizzo blocked the Whitman Park housing project in a white South Philadelphia neighborhood.[4] Along with the provision of some low-income housing, this plan would have generated property, wage, and commercial tax revenues for the city. It quickly foundered, though, because of opposition from Penn, which wanted the site for hospital expansion. Additionally, the weak economy and soaring interest rates of the early 1980s prevented the developer from securing financing.

The second option – the one that was actually chosen – consisted of the reuse of the site for medical and scientific purposes. Since the PGH closure announcement, both Penn and CHOP had eyed the property for expansion. Constrained by lack of space and outmoded research buildings, Penn in particular found it increasingly difficult to attract leading medical researchers and win external grants. Medicare reforms and the emergence of managed care among private insurers had set off a decline in patient revenues, making it imperative for both institutions to increase their access to outside research support – and to do so, they needed new research facilities capable of attracting top-flight scientific talent.

Penn and CHOP found allies in City Hall. During the 1980s, Mayors William Green and Wilson Goode, who followed the Rizzo administration, prioritized the health care sector as a potential source of economic development that might replace jobs lost through deindustrialization. Viewing the city’s major health care institutions as an economic development engine, Green and then Goode welcomed the possibility that Penn and CHOP – both major employers – might lead the redevelopment project. For all the sector’s potential, though, relying on health care as a source of economic growth came at a significant cost, as it still does today. As not-for-profit institutions, hospitals are generally exempt from paying property taxes to the city. In a few cities, such as Boston, major institutions provided a “payment-in-lieu-of-taxes” (or PILOT) to reimburse the city for the provision of municipal services. Philadelphia’s “eds and meds” made no such payment. Devoting the PGH site to HUP and CHOP expansion would thus prevent it from being added to the city’s tax rolls. In addition, the jobs created would be of mixed quality. Hospitals provide employment over a wide range of skill and educational levels, often in close proximity to poor and minority neighborhoods, but they feature a starkly bifurcated wage structure with a feminized, minority work force at its service-intensive lower end. Hospital unionization has long been a contentious issue as well. CHOP has been unionized for many decades, but Penn remains unorganized.[5]

Sculpture “Sentinel” at Philadelphia Veterans Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” Carol M. Highsmith, 2007, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Putting such concerns aside, Penn and CHOP announced the formation of the PGH Development Corporation in the spring of 1983. They were joined in the project by Children’s Seashore House, an Atlantic City children’s rehabilitation hospital with a predominantly Philadelphian patient base; it would move from its aging facility (located literally on the New Jersey shore) to a new building on the PGH site. Penn and CHOP also invited the Philadelphia VA hospital to join the consortium, displacing yet another early plan that would have given it most of the site’s twenty-one acres. In June 1984, the development corporation announced plans for a $250 million, seven-building development. “When this project is complete,” Penn vice president of health affairs Thomas Langfitt told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Philadelphia will have the premier academic health center in the country.”[6] The economic benefits, Langfitt promised, would include 2,000 construction jobs, 2,100 permanent jobs, and over $1.5 million in local wage tax revenues.

Fairmount Water Works on the east bank of the Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Although private institutions had taken the lead in planning the Philadelphia Center for the Health Sciences, as the project soon became known, they still required substantial public involvement to bring the redevelopment effort to completion. This involved direct and indirect public support, across multiple levels of the U.S. state. After initially demanding that the city donate the PGH land, the development corporation agreed to purchase the site for the still relatively nominal fee of $2.5 million. In November 1985, the City Planning Commission approved the sale of the first parcel of land to Penn for the construction of a clinical research building.[7] Later in the project, the city Hospital Authority issued tax-exempt bonds that provided critical financing for both the new Children’s Seashore House facility and CHOP’s Abramson Pediatric Research Building. (Such financing by tax-exempt public authorities had become a common pattern for hospital capital projects beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s). During the 1990s, the city’s industrial development authority issued additional bonds to finance a 1,300-space parking garage.[8] Despite the hospitals’ non-profit status, these quasi-public financing devices made them actors in expansive financial markets.

The larger purpose of the PGH Development Corporation, though, was to partner with the city in applying for a federal Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) that would pay for much of the necessary infrastructure. This approach formalized the public-private development partnership and tied it to the associational tradition of state-led economic development in the United States. After an initial rejection by HUD, in 1986 the city received a $5.4 million UDAG covering “a parking facility, roadways, and utilities.”[9] The following year, HUD approved a second UDAG of $4 million, including infrastructure costs. Federal participation also came from the National Cancer Institute, which provided $2.5 million for Penn’s Clinical Research Building, and from the VA, which provided $16 million for a veterans’ nursing home. On February 14, 1986, the VA broke ground on its new facility, marking the start of the actual redevelopment of Philadelphia’s former public hospital site.

With public sector action and support, the identity of Philadelphia’s medical institutions as constitutive of a neutral, not-for-profit sector collapsed into conceptual incoherence. Instead, these institutions are better thought of as part of the long-standing U.S. associational state, through which government pursues ostensibly public ends (in this case, economic development and expanded medical services and research) by subsidizing private development. This is a tradition that can be traced to (at least) the early republic.

Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Construction on Penn’s clinical research building, CHOP’s administrative and ambulatory care facility, and the new Seashore House followed shortly thereafter.[10] By the time those buildings approached completion in 1989, CHOP had begun planning a $75 million pediatric research building while Penn was planning a $100 million life sciences research building. With the additional facilities the total cost of the project reached $457 million and created approximately 2,500 new jobs. Over the last decade, the Center has expanded beyond the old boundaries of PGH, as Penn and CHOP purchased and demolished the Civic Center to the south and built the new research buildings mentioned during our virtual walk. More recently, CHOP acquired former industrial properties on the east bank of the Schuylkill River. These purchases, with their attendant transition to the institutions’ tax exempt status, removed $112,307 from the city’s annual tax rolls.[11] Nonetheless, CHOP today employs more than 10,000 people, while the overall Penn Medicine system employs nearly 22,000. Within the scope of its stated goals, the redevelopment of the Philadelphia General Hospital site has clearly succeeded. The hospital city has been created.

Acknowledging the success of the project in terms of its stated goals, though, is insufficient. The redevelopment of the PGH site took place in the context of the decentralization of population and the shift away from a manufacturing-based economy. It also coincided with technologically-driven changes in medicine, as well as shifts in health care financing and the funding of medical research. Not least, the PGH redevelopment occurred in conjunction with the wider shift to a market-oriented approach to public policy. All this contributed to conditions of austerity in federal urban policy as well as to the ongoing fiscal crisis of the local state. The overall result should not be seen as the rise of an autonomous non-profit sector, but instead the expansion of associational arrangements that assign potential governmental functions to the private sector – specifically, economic development and health care provision. Much of this activity, whether through UDAGs or through Medicare and Medicaid payments, has been publicly funded. With their intertwining of public and private functions, of market and state, these massive health care institutions exist as components of both. As such, they form part of a multi-layered, associational model that incorporates features of market organizations including private control, revenue-generation through competition, and participation in financial markets, but that also undertakes tasks associated with or assigned by the government such as provision of health services, medical research, and economic development. All of this takes place under the banner of a not-for-profit status that justifies tax-exemption.

Passyunk Street Bridge offered an excellent view of Philadelphia’s oil refineries that were a staple, and eyesore, of industrial Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

It is true that the key institutional actors in question are technically not-for-profits. But not-for-profit status as such means relatively little when the institutions involved generate billions in revenue and millions in net income – as both Penn and CHOP do – and when they are deeply intertwined both with financial markets through their bond issues and with the private health insurance industry. We should also note that with the exception of a five-year period during the 1990s, Philadelphia’s hospitals have continually used their non-profit exemption to avoid paying property taxes despite the city’s persistent fiscal crisis and, especially, that of its school system.

While it may have taken on new forms during this period, the complex associational model deployed in the PGH redevelopment has deep roots in the history of the U.S. state. The results of such public-private action are often problematic, as the assertion of public purpose does not prevent the pursuit of private interest – as has happened in the case of Philadelphia’s emergent hospital city. It may be true, as an analysis of neoliberalism suggests, that recent patterns reflect an intensification of such relationships, or perhaps even a significant rearrangement of their constituent parts. The deep involvement of massive not-for-profit institutions characterized by both governmental and market organization may even reflect a new stage in the associational model. But the underlying structures are not new, and they need to be assessed within such broader contexts of state development, as well as in the context of deep structural changes both in the U.S. city and in the wider political economy.


Guian McKee.jpgGuian McKee is an associate professor in Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. He received a PhD in American history at the University of California, Berkeley in May 2002, and he is the author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia, published in 2008 by the University of Chicago Press. McKee’s research focuses on how federal policy, especially in the executive branch, plays out at the local level in American communities. He is currently working on a book project that examines the rise of the health care economy in American cities after World War II, focusing on the development of hospitals and academic medical centers as critical but problematic urban economic anchors as well as drivers of cost in the larger health care system. This project builds on his earlier work by connecting social, political, and economic developments in specific places (Baltimore provides a core case study for the book) with larger policy structures. As part of the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program, McKee edited Volumes 6 and 7 of The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson (published originally by W.W. Norton and in a digital edition by the University of Virginia Press). He is also the editor of a thematic volume that will include all of Johnson’s recorded conversations about the War on Poverty. This project is published digitally by the University of Virginia Press through its Rotunda electronic imprint.

Featured image (at top): “Panorama aerial view of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,” Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 Economic Census of the United States, “Table: EC1200A1: All sectors: Geographic Area Series: Economy-Wide Key Statistics: 2012, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania”; Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia 2013: The State of the City, (Philadelphia: The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2013), 16-17, 20; Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, “Industry Employment 2016-2026 Long-Term Projections,” 4.

[2] Kit Konolige, “Socialized Medicine in Philadelphia; PGH Replacement an Improvement,” Philadelphia Daily News, January 24, 1978.

[3] William J. Novak, “The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,” American Historical Review 113:3 (June 2008): 752-772; Brian Balogh, The Associational State: American Governance in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015); James Sparrow, William Novak, and Stephen Sawyer, eds., Boundaries of the State in US History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Brent Cebul, Lily Geismer, and Mason B. Williams, Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019).

[4] For the wider context of race and housing policy under Rizzo, See Timothy Lombardo, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

[5] For a preliminary discussion of hospital labor issues in Philadelphia, see my essay “Hospitals (Economic Development),” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Rutgers University, 2017).

[6] Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, “Minutes of the Stated Meeting,” 18 June 1993, Minutes of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, UPA 1.1 1990 – 1999, Penn Archives, 16-18; Gregory Byrnes, “$250 Million Health Center Proposed For PGH Site,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 June 1984; Byrnes, “Group is United on Plan for PGH Site,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 June 1984.

[7] Roger Cohn, “Sale of land For Health Center OKD,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 22 November 1985; “Minutes of the Stated Meeting of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania,” 25 October 1985, Minutes of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, UPA 1.1 1980 – 1989, Penn Archives, 191-192.

[8] As this post incidentally suggests, parking is a perpetual priority in urban hospital development, and as such forms a component of the wider problem of cost in the U.S. health care system; health care analysts, who as a rule see the health care system as ungrounded in place or space, have not noticed this relationship.

[9] “News From Senator John Heinz: Heinz Announces $5.9 million in UDAG’s For Philadelphia; 642 Permanent New Jobs,” 27 June 1986, Senator John H. Heinz III Collection, “Press Releases-May 27-September 17, 1986,” Carnegie Mellon University Digital Collection; Kurt Logsdon, “Heinz, Specter Announce $12 Million in PA Economic Development Grants; 846 New Permanent Jobs Across the State,” 31 March 1987, Senator John H. Heinz III Collection, “Press Releases-May 27-September 17, 1986,” Carnegie Mellon University Digital Collection; Gregory Byrnes, “Phila. Snares More Than $6 Million in Federal Grants for Three Projects,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 June 1985.

[10] “Minutes of the Stated Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania,” 12 September 1986, Minutes of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, UPA 1.1 1980 – 1989, Penn Archives, 382.

[11] Patrick Kerkstra, “Exempt Sites Complicate Tax Fixes,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 September 2012; Inga Saffron, “Board Demands Changes in Waterfront Hospital Design,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 2 April 2014.

African American Politics in the City of Brotherly Love

By James Wolfinger

A Huffington Post reporter contacted me in early August, 2016. “What’s going on in Philadelphia?” he wanted to know. “How can you as a historian help me make sense of what I’m hearing?” Donald Trump had just received the Republican Party’s nomination a couple weeks earlier and the Huffington Post was canvassing the city to take the pulse of Philadelphia voters. What reporters found surprised them. Nearly every African American voter the Post spoke to said they would vote for Hilary Clinton. “For the most part,” as one respondent put it, “it feels like she is for the people.” Yet, in a city known as a Democratic stronghold, many voters signaled a willingness to at least flirt with Donald Trump. The city clearly had a racial divide in its political views.

The Posts article, which focused on South Philadelphians, featured sentiments from Trump’s supporters that will surprise few readers after two years of his administration. “He seems to have a head on his shoulders. He does know what he is talking about,” said one woman. “It’s the change that we need for a long time instead of politics as usual,” said a technician. “He seems down to earth – an average type of guy.” Others pointed to, of course, immigration: “I have no problem with people that come here and go through the proper channels,” a man said. “I have a massive problem with illegal immigration and people who are here gaining benefits … and not following the rules and doing better than people who are citizens and work here and are on the street.”

As we all know, Donald Trump carried Pennsylvania and its crucial twenty electoral votes, winning the state by 44,000 ballots. In Philadelphia, Hilary Clinton claimed 82 percent of the vote to Trump’s 15 percent. Clinton had a crushing victory in Philadelphia—by far her best countywide tally in the state—but her percentage slipped three points from Barack Obama’s count, and Trump’s 109,000 votes in the city were enough to assure his statewide triumph. Postmortems of Philadelphia’s votes showed that black and Latino wards voted overwhelmingly for Clinton while those with larger white populations gave the Democratic candidate significantly less support, or in some cases even went for Trump. Those wards were overwhelmingly concentrated in the city’s northeast, not South Philadelphia where the Huffington Post’s reporters had roamed.

A. Philip Randolph (right) at a ceremony commemorating the freedom of the slaves, held by members of the National Negro Congress in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Dr. W. Harry Barnes (left), of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, watches as Mayor S. Davis Wilson presents Addie W. Dickerson, president of the International Council of Women of Darker Races, with the gavel he used to strike the Liberty Bell,” between 1940 and 1969, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

I thought about these returns, the national importance as well as the vagaries of Philadelphia politics, often in the months after the election. I also thought about how reporters identified surprising politics afoot, and turned to a historian for explanation (even if most of my great quotes—as always, alas!—were left on the cutting room floor). The election of 2016 planted the seeds for an edited collection that I have coming out from Temple University Press. When the press’s editor contacted me in January of 2018 to meet at the AHA, I knew a real opportunity existed to pull together some of the exciting new scholarship regarding Philadelphia’s African American political history. Such a collection could contribute not only to scholarly understanding of the city and the historical experience of its black population; it promised a historically grounded way of thinking about how Philadelphia and the nation had arrived at this current political moment.

In an age of the Black Lives Matter movement, the campaign for a living wage (Fight for $15), the activism around the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other African Americans, the reaction to the assault on the social safety net by the Trump administration, and many other issues, it is impossible to ignore the importance of African American political activism. African American Politics in the City of Brotherly Love aims to give readers a deeper historical sense of how black political engagement has developed over the last century while at the same time emphasizing how Philadelphia has served as a critical site for African American politics. The book covers the long twentieth century, spanning the late 1800’s through the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Authors explore Philadelphia’s history chronologically, helping readers understand the impact on politics of the growth of black Philadelphia’s population in the 1910s; the cultural ferment of the 1920s; the dire economic circumstances of the Great Depression; World War II’s economic respite; the growth of the Democratic Party in the 1950s; the hope and disillusionment of the 1960s; the rise of Frank Rizzo and reactionary politics; economic decline and new alliances in the late twentieth century; and a new era of more radical activism in the Obama years and beyond.

First African American motorman in Philadelphia, Thomas Allen, leaves trolley barn under police escort,” circa 1944, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

African American Politics in the City of Brotherly Love takes an expansive view of politics. Elections and political office of course matter. The importance of electing Wilson Goode, John Street, Michael Nutter, and Dwight Evans to the mayor’s office and Congress cannot be underestimated. But this collection extends beyond these stories and digs deeply into the city’s social movements that drew on class, gender, and other markers of identity to mobilize black Philadelphians throughout the twentieth century. These mobilizations led to advocacy for a wide array of changes in the city and beyond: job rights, access to housing, equal educational opportunities, and fair treatment by the police among many other goals. In the end, the book will offer a holistic treatment of black Philadelphia’s history that helps readers understand how the interplay between activism and the broader political context shaped developments in the African American community and the larger city.

What especially energizes me about this collection is the stable of vibrant, young scholars who are making exciting contributions to the field, augmented by a few seasoned hands who bring a more experienced perspective.

  • Heather Ann Thompson, fresh off her Pulitzer Prize winning Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy and now working on a book about MOVE, offers the Foreword.
  • Clemmie Harris draws on his forthcoming Reconstructing Philadelphia: The Persistence of Racism and the African American Struggle for Political Leverage and Civil Rights to explore the massive demographic changes that took place in Philadelphia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and how those changes shaped African American politics.
  • David Canton, author of Raymond Pace Alexander: A New Negro Lawyer Fights for Civil Rights in Philadelphia, examines the development of black political power in Philadelphia from the Great Migration to the Great Depression.
  • Stanley Arnold draws on his Building the Beloved Community: Philadelphia’s Interracial Civil Rights Organizations, 1930-1970 to explore the city’s political realignment between 1929 and 1945
  • Abigail Perkiss, author of Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Post-WWII Philadelphia, analyzes how legal, policy, and demographic changes led to intentionally constructed integrated neighborhoods and political conflicts over this urban space in the postwar period.
  • Clemmie Harris analyzes the implications of African American support for the post-World War II liberal Democratic reform movement on the growth and loss of black political power by the 1960s.
  • Timothy Lombardo, who recently published Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics, explores how African Americans accommodated and challenged Frank Rizzo to remake the city’s politics in the 1970s.
  • Alyssa Ribeiro, who is working on a book manuscript that traces how North Philadelphia residents responded to the pressures of deindustrialization, fiscal austerity, and growing political conservatism from the 1960s to the 1980s, analyzes multiracial coalition-building and the challenges African American populations faced after gaining more formal political power in Philadelphia with the election of Wilson Goode as mayor.
  • Stephen McGovern, who has written extensively on urban politics, examines activism around race, class, law enforcement, and mass incarceration in Philadelphia since 2000 with particular attention to the period associated with the current mayor, Jim Kenney.

This is an exciting lineup of scholars offering fresh insights on black politics in Philadelphia. Their work promises to change scholars’ understanding of African American political development. Just as importantly, with an anticipated publication date of spring, 2020, their research should inform voters as they head to the polls in November that year. It is my honor to bring these fine scholars together so their work can help shape discussions about race and politics in urban America.

Vice president, Philadelphia branch, George B. Morris, explains NAACP program at neighborhood meeting held in north Philadelphia,” Smith’s Photo Service, circa 1950-1960, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

When in the mid-1990s I first started to research and write about twentieth-century Philadelphia, especially its African American community, there was only a limited body of scholarship on the subject. As Philadelphia Divided came out, Matthew Countryman’s Up South, Guian McKee’s The Problem of Jobs, and Lisa Levenstein’s A Movement Without Marches joined my work. We in some ways jumpstarted the historical study of contemporary Philadelphia. A wave of young scholars has since come along to ask new questions, find new sources, and advance the field. I am excited to know that future Huffington Post reporters will not only have this book to turn to, but many more scholars to consult.

Wolfinger_2016James Wolfinger holds a joint appointment in history and education. He serves as associate dean for curriculum and programs in the College of Education, and is the director of the DePaul University and Facing History and Ourselves Collaboration. In addition to his two books, his articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, Journal of Urban History, Labor, and Pennsylvania History.

Featured image (at top): “Philadelphia Convention including Mary Ovington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter White, and James Weldon Johnson, posed standing, full-length,” between 1920 and 1938, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Member of the Week: Tracy Neumann

BilbaoTracy Neumann

Associate Professor of History

Wayne State University


Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

My current book project looks at how urban and international development became linked after World War II through the activities of philanthropic foundations, international organizations, and universities. I came to the project through my first book, which talks in part about Pittsburgh as an international model for urban revitalization first in the 1950s and in again in the 1980s. I wanted to know more about how urban planning models are developed and circulated internationally, and why certain models become enshrined as “best practices” while others never gain traction. When I got into the archives, I realized that the same people popped up over and over again in domestic and international urban development initiatives supported by institutions such as the Ford Foundation and the UN, and I’m trying to map the network of actors who influenced urban development globally in the second half of the 20th century.

The other project I’m really excited about right now is a Global Urban History “Elements” series Michael Goebel, Joseph Ben Prestel, and I just signed on to edit for Cambridge University Press. (We also edit the Global Urban History blog.) We’ve managed to enlist some really incredible global urban historians to write the initial volumes in the series, which should begin to appear in the next year-and-a-half.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

This semester, both of my classes directly relate to my scholarship: I’m teaching a general education course on the History of Detroit and a course on Modern American Cities, which is a mix of undergrads and grad students.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

 To be honest, I am *most* excited about the stack of mystery novels on my nightstand (it’s spring break for us right now). Once I’m finished with those, though, I want to check out Shaped by the State: Toward a New Political History of the Twentieth Century, edited by Lily Gesimer, Brent Cebul, and Mason Williams. Clay Howard’s The Closet and the Cul-de-Sac: The Politics of Sexual Privacy in Northern California is out soon, and I can’t wait to pick that up. I’m also looking forward to two forthcoming books on Detroit as a borderland, one on immigration and policing in the first part of the twentieth century by Ashley Johnson Bavery and one by my Wayne State colleague Karen Marrero on the role of indigenous and mixed blood peoples in the development of the region in the eighteenth century. On a longer time horizon, I’m really eager to read Ayala Levin’s work on how Israeli architecture and planning models were exported to Africa, Paige Glotzer’s work on U.S. suburban housing developers and their ties to transnational financiers and real estate interests, and whatever Nancy Kwak and Lily Geismer publish next, because their first books are two of my favorites.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

 I’d echo the same advice others have offered in this space: read widely outside of your field and outside of history. Take classes on topics outside of your primary geographic and temporal interests, and in other departments. Talk to geographers, sociologists, and anthropologists and learn something about their research methodologies. Ask good questions and think carefully about the scale at which they can best be answered. And even though you didn’t actually ask for it, here’s my top piece of advice for young scholars about to go to graduate school (or already there) in any discipline: join your union! Organizing with your grad union will give you an invaluable education in the politics of academic labor and the structures of higher education.

How has being at Wayne State shaped the last few years of your life, intellectually and personally, and how do you feed that back into the work you are doing in the classroom, on Twitter, and as an all-around human being?

 Wayne State has been a really good fit for me, both in terms of my research and teaching interests—we are a public research university with an urban mission, and Detroit is a fascinating place to be for an urban historian—and in terms of the kinds of activities I care about as a faculty member. For instance, I love that I’m able to partner with organizations like the Detroit Historical Society to get students in my classes involved with community-driven, hands-on history projects, like conducting oral histories in Detroit’s Mexicantown this term. Urban history aside, my primary interests as a faculty member are graduate education and academic labor issues. I got my PhD (and my current job) in 2011, which as we know from recent AHA data was the only year in which there was a small uptick in history jobs after the 2008 recession. I’m still mind-boggled by how fast the academic labor market and career horizons for PhD students have changed over the past decade, both because of the acceleration of casual labor and because of heightened expectations for peer-reviewed publications and evidence of public engagement for entry-level jobs. I’m proud of how my Department and University have responded: we recently started a public history program to better prepare our master’s students for the kinds of jobs they actually end up getting, and we have been part of the last two rounds of the AHA Career Diversity Initiative, which has led us to rethink our doctoral curriculum and become more expansive in our efforts to support our doctoral students’ career goals. And I deeply value being at an institution with a unionized faculty; I’m one of my Department’s shop stewards, and I really enjoy the work I do with the union.

Buried Legacies: Former Landfills and Philadelphia’s Future

By James Cook-Thajudeen

Garbage, rubbish, litter, and other forms of solid waste are among the most pressing policy challenges faced by Philadelphia in the early twenty-first century. Bold efforts such as Philadelphia’s Zero Waste by 2035 goal and the city’s seemingly endless battle against illegal dumping and littering have recently been front-page news and fodder for discussion among American urbanists. But in a city with a nearly 340-year history, new news is often old news. Much of the history of solid waste management in Philadelphia lies in decaying clippings, blurry microfilms, and dusty reports, but thousands of Philadelphians experience that history in a visceral way each day. Few of the city’s neighborhoods illustrate the ramifications of past actions and inaction with regard to solid waste than Eastwick in Southwest Philadelphia.

Most people experience Eastwick in passing; many of the attendees of this year’s Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting will speed through the area while riding the train from Philadelphia International Airport to Center City. However, were they to disembark they would be struck by evidence of Philadelphia’s steep environmental inequality, much of it a legacy of the dumping and landfilling that occurred along Eastwick’s western edge during most of the twentieth century. The area is home to one of Philadelphia’s four Superfund Sites and borders another in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, both of which are the remnants of former landfills. The story of how and why Eastwick residents came to live in a toxic shadow cast by the very soil and marshland that surrounds them is a microcosm of the history of how Philadelphia disposed of its solid waste, as well as a cautionary tale for the city’s present-day leaders.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wheelhouse of an abandoned ship near the city dump used as an occupied shack, Paul Vanderbilt, c. 1938, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

For decades prior to the 1950s, Eastwick was Philadelphia’s afterthought. It was a place where trains gathered steam on their way to points west and south, and where dirty business that would not be tolerated in wealthier, more densely populated parts of the city could be carried on unimpeded. By the end of the Second World War, Eastwick had become a center for operators of privately owned dumps—expanses of land where matter and objects that were thrown away would be laid to rest. A dump operator made the most of their land by setting fire to its contents, thereby reducing their volume and making room for more refuse. Dump burning annoyed residents, pedestrians, and motorists, but little was done to mitigate it because of the role dumps played in the disposal of refuse from industrial and commercial establishments, which were not typically served by the city’s Department of Streets and its incinerators. It was so common that the abatement of dump burning became a marquee issue for Philadelphia’s famous reformist Democratic mayor, Richardson Dilworth, who served from 1956 to 1962.[1]

Under Dilworth’s direction, Philadelphia began closing open dumps within city limits. Early in Dilworth’s first term as mayor, the Philadelphia health department demanded that sixteen private dumps cease burning trash. Dump operators fought against city efforts to curtail burning, but lost. On December 31, 1957 the city shut down the offending dumps for good.

City leaders predicted that the dump burning ban would quickly have a positive impact on the city’s air quality, but shutting down the dumps did not eliminate the demand for their services on the part of the their clients. Many commercial establishments reported increases of 30 to 75 percent in the price of refuse disposal following the implementation of Philadelphia’s dump ban, but they found a way to accomplish it nevertheless. The answer lay in dumps beyond the city line, where ordinances and mayoral decrees had no impact. One such facility, owned by Edward Heller, a public official in the nearby town of Upper Darby and a long-time private waste hauler, was adjacent to Eastwick and, despite belonging to Darby Township, was only accessible by road from Philadelphia. Dump fires burned with impunity on Heller’s land.

Eastwick residents promptly complained to the city about Heller’s activities, prompting action. Mayor Dilworth ordered police to barricade the entrance to the dump with railroad ties, but to no avail. Trucks from Heller’s waste hauling company, City-Wide Services, merely bypassed them using a path that observers likened to the Burma Road, the rough, overland route that linked southwest China and Southeast Asia during the Second World War.

pick-it-up-logo.jpgEdward Heller not only subjected Eastwick residents to the smoke that Philadelphia’s leaders had tried to shield them from, he was also embroiled in a scandal in Upper Darby, where he served as sanitation chief. Upper Darby faced its own solid waste problem, which its leaders tried to resolve by agreeing to purchase the land Heller used as a dump for the purpose of erecting an incinerator. The deal appeared to wildly inflate the price of the land, prompting an investigation by a Delaware County grand jury into whether a conspiracy involving Heller and several others had attempted to defraud Upper Darby taxpayers. Despite the legal scrutiny, and despite not having a dumping permit from Darby Township, City-Wide Services continued to deposit and burn trash on the site. Facing the prospect of testifying before the grand jury, Heller asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In April 1958 the grand jury issued its report on the alleged lease conspiracy, recommending the indictment of Heller and eight others, including the township commission presidents of Darby and Upper Darby. However, the matter went no further; the Delaware County district attorney declined to bring charges against the figures singled out by the jury.

As the efforts of local authorities to halt the continued burning of rubbish on Heller’s dump faltered, the State of Pennsylvania explored intervening, but at the time possessed no agencies involved in the regulation of solid waste and pollutants. In the end, state involvement in the impasse amounted to little more than a few stern warnings; state officials had little confidence that their mandate extended any further. Philadelphia redoubled its efforts to block access to the offending dump, but a more permanent barrier on the street did not close off the “Burma Road.” Eastwick residents continued to call city officials and protest outside the facility’s entrance, but to no avail.

BigBelly overflowing with residential trash, photo sent to Philly311 in January 2017 courtesy of

Once the scandals of 1958 fell from the spotlight a process of forgetting quickly began. By September 1958 the owners of the offending dump had obtained an injunction barring Philadelphia from barricading its entrance. Broader social forces also worked to the advantage of polluters. Aided in part by the rapid transformation of Eastwick through Philadelphia’s extensive urban renewal program, City-Wide Services and its burning dump ceased to concern city officials. Eastwick, always marginal, became more deeply marginalized during the 1960s.

The re-marginalization of Eastwick enabled the rebranding of the dump as the Clearview Landfill, a name that associated the facility with the comparatively safe practice of sanitary landfilling despite little evidence of substantive change. The Clearview Landfill continued to operate openly until 1973, when it was officially closed. However, the closure of Clearview did not stop Richard Heller, Edward Heller’s son and current owner of City-Wide Services. In defiance of state law, City-Wide Services continued to dump waste on the site into the late 1990s. Finally, in 2001 the State of Pennsylvania imposed a large fine on Heller and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency placed the site on its National Priorities, or Superfund, list. Remediation efforts in areas adjacent to the Clearview Landfill continue more than six decades after the site first became a dumping ground.[2]

In the late-2010s the people of Philadelphia continue to battle the environmental hazards caused by solid waste. New challenges for city leaders have arisen in areas prone to illegal dumping, in particular where the issue often shades into the similarly thorny problem opioid addiction. The story of the Clearview Landfill reveals how difficult it can be for American cities to manage environmental problems—even when the responsible parties were easy to identify. In the case of Clearview, Philadelphia’s difficulties arose from the fact of municipal boundaries, the unwillingness of courts to interfere with a property owner’s access to his land, and the lack of a clear mandate for a higher authority, such as the State of Pennsylvania, to intervene. As a consequence, the palpable traces of Philadelphia’s past include not only such landmarks as Independence Hall, the row houses of Rittenhouse Square, and William Penn’s gridiron streets, but the soil, air, and water. In seeking to create a zero-waste future, Philadelphia’s leaders would be wise to consider not just the waste being produced in the present, but the depth and breadth of its abundantly wasteful past.

James_Cook_Thajudeen_photo.jpgJames Cook-Thajudeen is a PhD candidate in History at Temple University. He is currently writing a dissertation on solid waste and public policy in the Philadelphia metropolitan area from the nineteenth century to the present. 

[1] For more information on the place of Eastwick and the mayoralty of Richardson Dilworth, see: Guian McKee, The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2010). For more on the limitations of liberal reform in Philadelphia, see: Matthew Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).

[2] For more on the technical distinction between dumps and landfills, as well as a nationwide account of solid waste issues in the postwar period, see: Martin V. Melosi, The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Featured image (at top): Reading Terminal builder Charles McCaul prepared this lithograph of Phiadelphia, Pennsylvania’s new train terminal and market for the building’s opening in 1893, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

UHA Award Season Kickoff

If you are an urban scholar who put a book, article, or dissertation out into the world in 2018, we encourage you to check out the Jackson, Hirsch, Katz, and unnamed “best non-North American book” awards and consider applying.

The selection criteria for all awards is the samee: significance, originality, quality of research, sophistication of methodology, clarity of presentation, cogency of arguments, and contribution to the field of urban history. Membership in the UHA is not required, but all works must be in English or in English translation. And all the awards have the same deadline of May 1, 2019!

Best of luck in your pursuit of these major awards!

Sanctuary and the City

Editor’s note: In anticipation of next’s month’s #OAH2019/#OAH19 in Philadelphia, the March Metro of the Month is the City of Brotherly love. To get more info about the conference click over to the organization’s website, where you can also download the OAH’s program for the event.

By Domenic Vitiello

In the age of President Donald Trump, most Americans know what a “sanctuary city” is. It goes something like this:

RESOLVED: That no agent or agency, including the Philadelphia Police Department and its members, shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of the citizenship or residency status of any person unless such inquiry or investigation is required by statute, ordinance, federal regulation or court decision…[1]

 Since debates about illegal immigration blew up in 2006, as Congress has failed to pass immigration reform, and especially since Trump’s election in 2016, more and more cities have refused to cooperate in detention and deportation of people in the country illegally. But this is only one part of what it means to be a sanctuary city. And today is just the latest era in a long history of sanctuary cities in the United States, in which Philadelphia has featured prominently.

The sanctuary city declarations and policies of today read much like those of the 1980s, when the administration of President Ronald Reagan refused to grant asylum to Guatemalans and Salvadorans fleeing civil wars and murder by militaries trained and funded by the U.S. In response, activists around the country and in Mexico established the Sanctuary Movement to harbor people they called “refugees,” even as the federal government persisted in labelling them “illegal economic immigrants.” They helped people cross the border and sheltered select individuals and families in churches, synagogues, and meetinghouses from New England to the West Coast. They lobbied politicians in Washington to stop supporting wars, and the terror they wrought, in Central America, and to change asylum policy. In 1985 and ‘86, they gained national media attention as the federal government put some of the movement’s founders on trial for trafficking Central Americans across the border near Tucson, Arizona. They used this moment to push city and state governments to establish sanctuary policies.

The quote above comes from a draft resolution written for the City Council of Philadelphia in the winter of 1986 by activists in the West Philly-based Central America Organizing Project, as well as the local chapters of the national Committee in Support of the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Democratic Socialists of America, and National Lawyers’ Guild. “In response to our national government’s policy of deporting Central American refugees and harassing their supporters,” they wrote to other sanctuary activists in Philadelphia, “a number of cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Cambridge, Mass., Chicago, Seattle, and Ithaca have declared themselves to be Cities of Refuge or Sanctuary Cities.”[2] So did other centers of the American Left, including New York City; Burlington, Vermont (mayor: Bernard Sanders); Ann Arbor, Michigan; Takoma Park, Maryland; and the states of New Mexico and Wisconsin.[3] Los Angeles, home to the largest number of Central Americans in the country, some 300,000 people, established this era’s first sanctuary city policy in 1979, even before the Sanctuary Movement arose.


In their resolution, the Philadelphia activists recognized a deeper history of sanctuary, casting it as an original purpose of the city and nation:

WHEREAS: Both the United States and the City of Philadelphia have for centuries served as a haven for refugees of religious and political persecution from all parts of the world, and much of the historical and moral tradition of our nation is rooted in the provision of sanctuary to persecuted peoples.[4]

Founded by Quakers, this was “the city to which religious dissidents of all kinds could come during the colonial era,” and “a major link in the Underground Railroad,” the activists stressed in another outreach letter. They equated sanctuary city protections with certain antebellum cities and states’ refusal to return escaped slaves to the South in compliance with the Fugitive Slave Act.[5]

Cities have functioned as sanctuaries for people fleeing persecution since ancient times. Not just a Western tradition, state and religious authorities designated certain cities as sanctuaries in ancient South Asian Indian, Hawaiian, Hebrew, medieval European, and colonial-era Native American societies. In the Bible, Joshua (20:2) proclaims, “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge”; and in Numbers (35:15), Moses declares areas in the Promised Land “shall be a refuge, for the children of Israel, and for the stranger.” As Exodus (21:12-14) explains, ancient sanctuary cities typically sheltered people from retribution for involuntary manslaughter, to prevent blood feuds, or after defeat in battle. The Greeks, Romans, and early Christians shared this tradition, though their sanctuaries were generally temples and churches as opposed to entire cities. In the twentieth century, sanctuary towns in Europe, often organized by Catholic congregations, harbored Jewish refugees from the Spanish Civil War and the Nazis.[6]

As Sanctuary Movement activists explained in the 1980s, “At different times and places, under varied circumstances, the significance of sanctuary has been recovered and taken on new meanings.”[7] In the twenty-first century, “cities of sanctuary” in Britain promote a culture of welcoming for asylum seekers. The European “cities of refuge” project recruits city governments to protect artists and writers persecuted in other societies.

In the United States, the meanings of sanctuary and sanctuary cities transcend the contested forms of protection that local and state governments, their police and prisons, offer to immigrants whom national governments seek to deport. In almost every sanctuary city resolution of the 1980s and today, local governments affirm something to the effect: “That no agent or agency shall condition the provision of City of Philadelphia benefits, opportunities or services on matters related to citizenship or residency status.”[8] Municipal services like schools, health clinics, libraries, business licensing, and more enable immigrants, including people in the country without documentation, to incorporate, survive, and contribute to the life of cities. Indeed, some mayors and city officials, especially in the twenty-first century, justify their sanctuary policies principally in terms of immigrants’ crucial role in urban revitalization.[9]

Yet often government is not the most important provider of sanctuary. The Philadelphia activists alluded to this in their draft resolution:

RESOLVED: That the City Council supports and commends the citizens of Philadelphia who are providing humanitarian assistance to those seeking refuge in our City; and be it further

RESOLVED: That the people of Philadelphia be encouraged to work with the existing sanctuaries to provide the necessary housing, transportation, food, medical aid, legal assistance and friendship that will be needed…[10]

These forms of sanctuary, as humanitarian assistance, usually come from friends and family, neighbors, and civil society – during the Central American crisis of the 1980s, mainly sanctuary congregations and their allies, including groups like Central America Organizing Project. In this broader perspective, sanctuary cities are the places where immigrants, refugees, and their allies help one another rebuild lives and communities.

By 1987, some twenty-four city governments in the U.S. had declared sanctuary.[11] But Philadelphia did not. Activists abandoned their campaign after a few meetings—their draft resolution never arrived in City Hall. Ironically, City Council had already passed resolutions, and would pass more, celebrating the Sanctuary Movement and condemning Congress and the White House for supporting violence and oppression in Central America.[12] However, as Rev. David Funkhauser, founder of the Central America Organizing Project, wrote at the start of the short-lived campaign, “since Philadelphia has very few refugees, there is no need to rush the proposal.”[13] His colleague Anne Ewing explained, “We’ve decided to spend our energies on direct work with refugees” from Guatemala and El Salvador.[14] As in other “direct action” movements, this was more important than anything local government could do. Many sanctuary activists remained ambivalent about the limits of sanctuary city policies, which could not prevent federal detention and deportation, nor employers’ exploitation of Central American refugees.[15]

Philadelphia in the 1980s was a different sort of sanctuary city than Los Angeles with its large Central American population, or Tucson where activists helped people cross the border. Sanctuary activism in the City of Brotherly Love grew largely from a preexisting set of transnational solidarity movements supporting human rights movements in Chile, Panama, and other parts of Latin America. Some were based out of the locally-headquartered American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker institution. Their allies in Guatemala and El Salvador, mostly union and student organizers and indigenous communities, were the prime targets of disappearances, torture, and bombings during those nation’s civil wars. For Central American activists, sanctuary in the U.S. represented a protected space from which to continue working for peace and justice back home.

After the civil wars in El Salvador and then Guatemala ended in the 1990s, North and Central American sanctuary activists assisted people in returning home and rebuilding their towns, livelihoods, and institutions of government. They monitored elections, supported truth and reconciliation processes, and raised funds for community and small enterprise development. Much of this work continues through organizations like the AFSC, CISPES, SHARE Foundation, and Rights Action, and via sister city and church partnerships, including with Philadelphia congregations. In these ways, the work of sanctuary continues as a project of promoting and protecting human rights. One way to understand Philadelphia’s Sanctuary Movement is that it grew out of, and then morphed back into, a set of transnational solidarity movements.

Philadelphia became a sanctuary city in terms of municipal protection in the spring of 2001, through policy memoranda issued by African American Mayor John Street (2000-2008) and his police commissioner John Timoney, an immigrant from Ireland. Immigration to the city, like the nation at large, took off in the 1990s, especially from Mexico but also from Haiti, Central America, and other regions whose peoples faced big obstacles to immigrating legally. Mayor Street and his next police commissioner, an African American Muslim, were sympathetic to issues of racial and religious profiling, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Street and his allies also valued immigrants and their children as neighbors and political supporters.



The city’s next mayor, Michael Nutter (2008-2016), an enthusiastically neoliberal African American, supported the city’s sanctuary policies largely since they promised to protect a key driver of the city’s revitalization. The unauthorized immigrants whose labor undergirded Philadelphia’s burgeoning restaurant, construction, and other service industries were also chiefly responsible for ending the city’s 55-year population decline (1952-2007). I have calculated elsewhere that without illegal immigration, Philadelphia would not have started growing as it has in the twenty-first century.[16] Nutter’s commitment to sanctuary was thin. At the end of his second term, in an attempt to curry favor with the administration of Barack Obama, he canceled the policy. About two weeks later, on his first day in office, new Mayor James Kenney (2016-), of Irish and Italian American heritage, signed it back into force. A longtime champion of immigrant communities in City Council, his support for sanctuary derived in great part from his Catholic faith.

Since 2014, excepting the momentary lapse at the end of the Nutter administration, Philadelphia has had the strongest sanctuary policy in the nation. Unlike other sanctuary cities, it has refused to turn over even people convicted of serious felonies, based on the premise that they have served their time in prison and are part of families and communities in the city.

Philadelphia’s sanctuary policy is due at least as much to its activist community, which has continually pushed the city to expand and uphold it. In 2007, a group of activists, mostly too young to have participated in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, established the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (NSM). Around the same time, similar groups formed in Chicago and New York. As they did during the 1980s, these groups operated autonomously, not as a single organization. NSM cultivated a network of member congregations and allied organizations, also much like the 1980s. Some of the congregations have hosted immigrant families on order of deportation, increasingly since the election of Donald Trump.

So what’s new about the New Sanctuary Movement? Unlike the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, it is not an anti-war movement, but a more general immigrant rights movement. Its engagement and leadership from new immigrant communities has been greater, which is logical given the growth of those communities. NSM has supported families from Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico, Central America, Jamaica, and other places. Activists in the 1980s made a specific argument, repeating the mantra of Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees: “if you knew the truth,” about what the U.S. was doing in Central America, “then surely you would help us.” NSM embraces a broader mantra, “no human is illegal,” and articulates a more enduring and global vision:

We believe Sanctuary is a vision continuously created through decades of struggle, through thousands of years of struggle. We are working, organizing, reaching and yearning towards that vision – a vision of collective and personal transformation.

We strive with fierce faith to build sanctuaries in ourselves as people and in our communities.  All our work, campaigns and community building are part of a larger vision to build Sanctuaries within ourselves, our cities, and our world.[17]

NSM also pursues a more concerted urban strategy. Sanctuary city protections are more widespread and more important today, as immigrants have settled in more parts of the country. NSM has launched campaigns supporting drivers licenses for undocumented people in the U.S., and against policies that require the towing of vehicles they drive. NSM’s Sanctuary in the Streets campaign has trained native- and foreign-born Philadelphia residents to resist and disrupt deportation raids, much like the Community Resistance Zones organized by its sometimes-partner, the community organizing group JUNTOS, whose members helped establish NSM. Like the meanings and practices of sanctuary, the geography of sanctuary is fluid, extending from sanctuary congregations to neighborhoods, cities, and communities in other countries.

The sanctuary movements of Philadelphia remind us of the larger field of geopolitics in which sanctuary and sanctuary cities operate. The leaders of the 1986 sanctuary city campaign wrote, “we also need to think about what it means that this country is so attractive: that we are an island of plenty in an impoverished world, and that our government is supporting oppressive governments… in many countries (Chile, the Philippines, South Africa, and many more).”[18] Ultimately, sanctuary and sanctuary cities help us reflect and act upon the injustices our nation perpetrates on peoples around the world, working to repair them in some small but profound ways. In this broader perspective, sanctuary cities are the places where immigrants, refugees, and their allies help one another rebuild lives and communities. Philadelphia remains an important center of that work.

Domenic Vitiello is a professor of city planning and urban studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus on urban and planning history, immigrant communities, and urban agriculture. His most recent book is an edited volume with Tom Sugrue, Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States. Domenic is currently writing a book titled The Sanctuary City that examines Central American, Southeast Asian, African, Arab, and Mexican immigration to Philadelphia since the 1970s. You can read his essays on immigration and community development in the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (, and find other recent work at Domenic has been a member of the Coalition of African Communities in Philadelphia (AFRICOM), served on the board of the African Cultural Alliance of North America (a Liberian organization), as board co-chair of JUNTOS/Casa de los Soles, and has worked with many other immigrant and refugee community organizations in Philadelphia and other cities. In his younger days, he played for Guatemala in the Hispanic Soccer League of Philadelphia, and more recently refereed the annual African and Caribbean Soccer Tournament.

Featured image (at top): “Liberty Forsaken” mural in North Philadelphia, photo by Domenic Vitiello, 2002. 

[1] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary,” n.d. (winter-spring 1986), Philadelphia Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) Records, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[2] Outreach letter, April 1986, Central America Network files, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[3] “New Mexico Is Declared Sanctuary for Refugees,” New York Times (March 30, 1986).

[4] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary.”

[5] “Why Philadelphia Should Become a Sanctuary City,” n.d. (winter-spring 1986), Central America Network files, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[6] Linda Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum: A Social and Political History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016), 34ff; Ann Deslandes, “Sanctuary Cities Are as Old as the Bible,” JStor Daily (March 22, 2017), accessed September 5, 2017 at:

[7] Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America and Tucson Ecumenical Council Central America Task Force, “Sanctuary” (September 1982), reprinted in Angela Berryman, Central American Refugees: A Survey of the Current Situation, revised edition (American Friends Service Committee, May 1983), 35.

[8] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary.”

[9] Domenic Vitiello and Thomas J. Sugrue, “Introduction: Immigration and the New American Metropolis,” in Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States, Vitiello and Sugrue, eds. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 3-4.

[10] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary.”

[11] Christian Smith, Resisting Reagan: The U.S. Central America Peace Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 185.

[12] Resolution No. 732, Journal of the City Council (Philadelphia, 1982), 331-332, 351; Resolution No. 1156, Journal of the City Council (Philadelphia, 1983), 737-738, 781; Philadelphia City Council, Resolution 707 (February 1, 1990); Philadelphia City Council Resolution (September 30, 1999), reprinted on School of the Americas Watch, visited December 11, 2015, at:

[13] David Funkhauser, “Some Thoughts on CAOP Direction, 1/13/86” (PAACA DG181 – box 9), Philadelphia Area Alliance for Central America Collection, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[14] Ron Devlin, “Sanctuary for Refugees Spreads across U.S.,” The Morning Call (November 30, 1986).

[15] Jim Corbett, “Sanctuary, Basic Rights, and Humanity’s Fault Lines: A Personal Essay,” Weber vol. 5.1 (Spring/Summer 1988). Accessed December 11, 2015 at:

[16] Domenic Vitiello, “What does unauthorized immigration and sanctuary mean for Philly’s revival?” PlanPhilly (January 2017).

[17] New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, “2017 Statement on Sanctuary,” accessed January 31, 2019, at:

[18] “Why Philadelphia Should Become a Sanctuary City,” Central America Network files, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

Member of the Week: Ken Alyass

50211478_1237703249711565_3079804422419644416_o (1)Kenneth Alyass

Senior, Wayne State University

History Major



Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I’ve been admitted to Northwestern and Harvard’s history PhD programs, and the project I proposed to both of those schools focus on Modern American urban history post-1970. More specifically, I want to study the intersection of suburbanization, the carceral state, and deregulation of finance in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. My ultimate goal is to understand the suburbanization of poverty in the post “riot” period of urban America. This history draws my interest because I live in suburb that isn’t lily white, affluent, or lined with white picket fences. Poverty and structural issues are so evident all around me, and I couldn’t help but notice that only a few miles north of my hometown, there were a couple neighborhoods where the wealthiest families in Michigan lived. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, what I was seeing was what scholars call uneven development.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your honors thesis?

Currently I am taking a seminar called “Modern American Cities,” with my professor and thesis advisor, Tracy Neumann. The class takes a look at postwar American urban history. We’re reading books like Sugrue’s The Origins of Urban Crisis, Andrew Needham’s book on the politics of energy production, Power Lines, and a few other interesting pieces. This class directly fits in with my thesis work. I’m writing a paper preliminary titled “Law and Order, with Justice” Redevelopment and the Rise of the Carceral State in Detroit, which is the second part of my honors thesis.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

Julio Capó Jr.’s book, Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940, was particularly impactful on me. The book is a really interesting examination of Miami’s queer community, with a focus on policing the community, before 1940. It is slightly unusual for me because I mostly study postwar urban history, so it is refreshing to see a book that goes a little further back to unpack the early origins of policing, urban renewal, redevelopment, and even gentrification. One of my favorite things about it is that it approaches urban history with a more American Studies perspective, so he looks at visual media and architecture, something not all historians do.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing an honors thesis related to urban history or urban studies?

Make sure you understand that urban history is really a combination of different thematic fields. We’re all doing social, political, economic, cultural, and other histories when we write about urban places. Having a grasp of the basics of those fields comes to be really helpful when you’re trying to understand them in unison. Another piece of advise I wish I took early on is read some spatial theory. People like Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have been super influential in how I understand “space” – even if theory is a little hard to read.

You are graduating soon and leaving Wayne State! What will you take with you from your experience there, and how do you think what you learned (and who you met) will shape the next few years of your life?

I’ll argue this until I’m blue in the face: there is no better place to study labor and urban history than at Wayne State University. We have the largest labor and urban affairs archive in the nation right on campus, and from my first course here to my last, I have utilized the collections there. Tracy Neumann, David Goldberg, and Paul Kershaw, have been great influences on me. As I continue down the road into academia, their advice on how to be a good scholar and person will stick with me for a long time.

The Complexities of Brotherly Love: Frank Rizzo, Blue Collar Conservatism and LGBTQ Rights in 1970’s Philadelphia

Editor’s note: In anticipation of next’s month’s #OAH2019/#OAH19 in Philadelphia, the March Metro of the Month is the City of Brotherly love. To get more info about the conference click over to the organization’s website, where you can also download the OAH’s program for the event.

“You know how it works in South Philly. Our strength has always been in our numbers.” local barkeep Max tells Philadelphia Eagles hopeful Vincent Papale in 2006’s Invincible. The underemployed Papale, a part-time bartender and substitute teacher, epitomized the downward economic trajectory of his fellow blue-collar white ethnics in 1976. The union was on strike, manufacturing was fleeing the city, and the Eagles were terrible. As the elder Frank Papale exhaustingly proclaims earlier in the film, “A man can only take so much failure.”

Despite the 1976 bicentennial, the city and nation had seen better days; a “crisis of confidence” had struck the nation, President Jimmy Carter would tell Americans in 1979. Though the Papales might not have articulated it in such terms, Philadelphia and the United States were both mired in “collective ‘existential despair.’”[1]

Broing down with Mark Wahlberg

A brogasm of Wahlbergian spectacle, Invincible depicts Philadelphia in all its white working-class patina-tinged glory; Mark Wahlberg’s everyman struggles to earn his place on a dismal Eagles team that resents his amateur presence, yet his plight captures his fellow citizens’ imaginations and attention as the newly appointed head coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), attempts to right a ship that had gone far off course.

As with their team, white, blue-collar Philadelphians similarly found themselves drifting listlessly into economic uncertainty; Wahlberg’s quest for a roster spot at least gave his fellow struggling white ethnics some measure of validation. “You’re one of us,” Max assures Papale. Papale securing a roster spot in the NFL pushed back against the erosion of national and local confidence, or as Carter put it, “the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives.”[2]

Unsurprisingly, the 1970s offered no shortage of similar takes on the city, the most obvious example being Rocky, a film released the same year as the real-life Papale’s ascent onto the Eagles roster. Its most iconic scene, Rocky Balboa “atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” was “made possible by the Bicentennial.” Historian Christopher Capozzola writes that “the museum’s renovation” was financed as “part of the city’s Bicentennial cleanup campaign.”[3]

More recently, “Breaking Bad”—and to a far greater extent, “Better Call Saul”—featured the travails of the former Philadelphia cop Mike “No Half Measures” Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Ehrmantraut’s character is particularly resonant since the city’s police force helped to define the white blue-collar identity depicted so faithfully in contemporaneous films (such as the aforementioned Rocky and later, nostalgically, in Invincible). “Police work was a blue collar job and tradition, often passed down generation to generation,” notes Timothy Lombardo in his most recent work. “White police officers also shared the blue collar identity that developed in the city’s white working and middle class neighborhood.” Police embodied the identity and at the time, their work literally defended white interests. When White ethnic Philadelphians’ defended of local law enforcement, it only underscored this deeper connection.[4] Officers helped to defend their communities from crime and upheld long-standing values such as tradition, honor, hard work, and law and order.

4th of July, 1976 : demonstrate! : Philadelphia“, July 4th Coalition, Artworks Organization, 1976, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

While the end of the ‘70s remains defined by malaise, during the late 1960s and early 1970s white blue collar Philadelphians enjoyed cultural, and to some extent political ascendency behind the populist and controversial Mayor Frank Rizzo who himself had risen from the ranks of the PPD—first to Chief of Police during the mid-1960s, and later to the city’s highest office in 1972.


Long the junior party to Philadelphia’s WASP elite, the white working class residents envisioned a city remade in their image. Rizzo, described as “a cop’s cop,” embodied the hopes, resentments, and fears of his fellow white ethnics. He decried elites, personified working class masculinity, and criticized civil rights activists through a studied colorblind discourse that understood open displays of racism were no longer politically and socially viable. “If there is one thing I’m not,” he told a local journalist, “it’s against somebody because they are Negro or an Irishman, or anything else.”[5]

The former police chief crafted campaign slogans that effectively conveyed double meanings but steered clear of overt racial appeals. One, “Rizzo Means Business,” promoted his no nonsense blue collar approach and juxtaposed his masculinity against both the effete, pinheaded intellectual class and the burgeoning threat of Black Power activists. It also evoked the kind of “law and order” policies that defended the very neighborhoods inhabited by his supporters.[6] Rizzo understood the value of symbolism, be it appearing at an urban disturbance in a tuxedo with a billy club protruding from his cummerbund or endorsing Richard Nixon and handing the President a lighter emblazoned with Snoopy and the words “Fuck McGovern.”[7]

Yet Frank Rizzo’s ascendency has as much to do with the arc of twentieth century urban history and municipal policies as his combative style. Postwar reformers embraced New Deal municipal programs that promised (and sometimes delivered) benefits to its white residents, but that also reified structural inequalities, particularly in regard to race. “The gulf between the promises and limitations of urban liberalism established the urban crisis that shaped Philadelphia’s long postwar period,” Lombardo points out.[8] Public housing further carved the city’s neighborhoods into racial fiefdoms. Critically, it naturalized white privilege—or, to paraphrase William Upski Wimsatt from his underground 1994 memoir on tagging, Bomb the Suburbs, whites believed that having the proverbial wind at their back was the natural order of things.

GENERAL VIEW – Falls Bridge, Spanning Schuylkill River, connecting East & West River Drives, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA, Jack E. Boucher, 1972, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

When urban decline and deindustrialization began to chip away at metropolitan economies, racial conflicts blossomed into urban tensions and uprisings. When civil rights activists demanded a piece of the share from which they had been denied, white ethnics revolted, embracing their cultural identity and retreating to neighborhoods like Bridesburg, Whitman, and Morrell Park in Greater Northeast Philadelphia.

“‘Defense of the neighborhood’ was at the root of nearly every conflict that contributed to the transformation in white working and middle class politics of the 1960s and 1970s,” writes Lombardo.[9] School integration and busing enabled Philadelphia’s Italian, Irish, and German American residents to organize around the collective identity they had come to define and the communities in which they resided. The Northeast became its own territory. “This isn’t Philly,” one civic leader noted. “This is Bridesburg.”[10]

If police officers represented one distillation of the blue-collar identity, construction work embodied another and also helps to explain how liberal urban policies contributed to the sort of expectations and disappointments that fueled white, blue-collar politics. By the mid-1960s, federal, state, and municipal expenditures on economic development poured over 17 billion into construction coffers; even as the city shed manufacturing employment during the 1950s and 1960s, federal urban renewal programs maintained a steady stream of work.

Attempts to broaden the workforce’s diversity met with resistance. Building and trade unions pushed back against attempts to integrate. “I never said no to a negro,” Joseph Burke of the Sheet Metal Workers told journalists, admitting in the same breath that “We didn’t go out looking for them either.”[11]

Leaders like Burke insisted the union hall promised black construction laborers their best hopes for work, yet refused to acknowledge the ways in which their control over apprentice programs and rules privileging seniority prevented black workers from gaining a real foothold in the industry.[12]

VIEW OF BROAD STREET FACADE – Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Broad & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA, Jack E. Boucher, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In spite or maybe because of this, the affirmative action plan the city enacted in 1967 became the nation’s first; it would develop into a national model. However, the Nixon administration’s institutionalization of the program had less to do with a sense of concern for the plight of non-white workers but rather, as Jefferson Cowie writes, as a means to outflank “the liberals and … flood the inflation-minded labor market.” Secretary of Labor George Schultz warned that the integration of the building trades would probably “help foment conflict between the two core constituents of the New Deal – labor and blacks.” A conflict that, as historians such as Rick Perlstein and Bruce Schulman contend, the president (and by extension Rizzo) had few qualms about fanning.[13]


Then again, white ethnic blue-collar Philadelphians did not hold a monopoly on identity formation during this period. The city’s gay community also asserted itself, amidst the same forces that produced its full-throated white, working class howl. As historian Kevin J. Mumford notes, the LGBTQ community’s quest for equal protection led to clashes with “religious and racial conservatives who challenged not only their rights but also their legitimacy as a minority.” The process necessitated a reconstruction of identities while “negotiating race relations and extending liberal impulses of the 1960s into the 1980s.”[14] In contrast to the blue-collar revolt that rejected racial compromise and built an identity in opposition to the liberal policies that helped buoy them, the push for LGBT equality worked, with admittedly varying degrees of success, to navigate racial tensions and harness social liberalism rather than repudiate each.

Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings circa 1965 in the nation’s capital. The two LGBTQ leaders helped to organize the 1965 Annual Reminder demonstration in Philadelphia the same year, c. 1965, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

In 1965, the Janus Society conducted sit-ins at a Philadelphia restaurant following an incident in which the manager refused to serve customers on the suspicion of their homosexuality. The protest resulted in several arrests, but more importantly drew publicity for the cause. On July 4th of the same year, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Lilli Vincenz, among others, organized the first Annual Reminder demonstration outside Independence Hall emphasizing their rights as citizens.[15] These protests pre-dated the Stonewall Rebellion by several years and helped to lay the groundwork for a more militant Gay Liberation Movement, perhaps best represented by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), that blossomed during the early 1970s.

In Philadelphia, the GLF established a branch in 1971. Influenced by the Black Power movement, activists began declaring “gay is good” much as Stokely Carmichael coined the slogan “black is beautiful.” Even the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), which had been critical of BPP’s homophobia and had formed after objecting to the GLF’s attempts to court the local Black Panther Party (BPP), was clearly influenced by Black Power rhetoric. Though perceived as whiter, more academic, and less street oriented, the GAA adopted BPP language in its fliers and memos declaring “gay is angry!” and “gay is proud!”[16]

Despite this apparent convergence in the effort for equal rights, Philadelphia’s black community did not warm to the LGBT movement initially. Homophobia pervaded many of the “rights movements” of the time. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), feminism, and the New Left all struggled with such bigotry, and the Black Power movement was no exception. Many leading black religious figures criticized efforts by the gay community to establish a city council bill protecting the rights of the homosexual community, both due to their Christianity and worries about “the politics of respectability.” Reverend Melvin Floyd, a former Philadelphia cop who had established Neighborhood Crusade, Inc. and dedicated his life to social uplift, particularly in regard to the black community, questioned the effort. “The one thing about everything else that can destroy that kind of manhood is to come up with a generation or generations of homosexual black males,” he told the council during hearings. He also pointed to one of the LGBT movement’s largest weaknesses, its lack of diversity. “100 percent [of the people] of any organizations of gay rights are white.”[17]

President Gerald Ford at a farmers’ market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marion Trikosko, September 1976, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

However, there existed a wide diversity of viewpoints on the matter within the larger black community. According to a 1977 Gallup opinion poll, non-whites expressed “slightly more tolerance for homosexuals” than white respondents. Brother Grant Michael Fitzgerald, member of the Catholic religious order Society of the Divine Savior and a black gay activist, defended the bill during the same hearings. Gay men and women should be able to publicly hold hands just as “black people … and interracial couples can do … today,” he told council members. The black newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune, which admittedly sometimes trafficked in sensationalism when it came to the city’s LGBT community and was not always a reliable ally in this regard, decried Floyd’s remarks as “absurd.”

Rizzo’s hypermasculinity and penchant for saying things such as “I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot” failed to endear him to the city’s gay residents.[18] The rise of the New Right, Anita Bryant’s homophobic crusades of the 1970s, and Rizzo’s own rhetoric sparked fresh activism in the city such as the formation of Gays at Penn in 1975, which consisted of staff and students at the University of Pennsylvania.

Three years later, behind Reverend James H. Littrell and organized by Penn staff and students, Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (PLGTF) was established and it soon aligned itself with the Philadelphia Coalition of Black Gays. During the 1980s lesbian feminist activist Rita Addessa took the helm and the PLGTF launched a new effort to get a major rights bill passed in Philadelphia. The end of Rizzo’s administration, new elections, and a new mayor who publically supported gay rights marked a new day and in 1982 hearings on a new bill went very differently. Granted, the new law, Bill 1358, failed to pass, but the council agreed to amend the Fair Practices Ordinance by adding sexual orientation. Unlike Rizzo and his followers, gay rights advocates, though “slow to grapple with intersections of identity” such that its political base had become too white and too male, still “drew on the long civil rights movement and sought protection from discrimination in what were essentially civil rights statutes,” writes Mumford.[19]

Post-Rizzo Philadelphia, like its football team, struggled as the 1970s ended and the 1980s commenced. The MOVE bombing of 1985 arguably represented its nadir. Though his administration deployed rhetoric and policies favored by the city’s white, blue-collar community, the addition of sexual orientation as a protected class to city statues represented only one aspect of “Rizzocrat” frailty. Throughout the 1970s, deindustrialization was afoot and no amount of rhetoric could change that fact. “Blue collar ascendency did not change the reality of blue collar decline,” writes Lombardo. Even as Rizzo burnished Philly’s white working class bonafides, the ground underneath it had already shifted. “Ironically, Philadelphia’s blue collar reputation emerged just as it was in the midst of a transition to a more white collar and service sector economy.”[20]

Twin towers of Liberty Place, photographed here at dusk, rose in 1987 and 1990 respectively in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As the city stumbled out of the twentieth and into the twenty first century, Philly was, as the kids like to say, very seen. The 1993 movie Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks as a lawyer named Andrew Beckett who was fired by his firm for both his contraction of HIV and his sexuality, neatly captures the limits of the LGBT community’s success in the city. The only attorney willing to take his case, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), cannot hide his own homophobia, though much like black leaders in the early 1980s, he too comes around on the issue of sexuality by the film’s conclusion.

Later the nihilistic but often very funny sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” followed the exploits of “The Gang,” their South Philly Irish bar and their various morally dubious adventures. Silver Linings Playbook came after (2012), continuing the theme of tortured Eagles fans—though no one would describe Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as distinctly blue collar or particularly ethnic.

Today, Philly is known as much for its ascendant professional sports teams and burgeoning hipster art and music scene as for its white, working class. The War on Drugs epitomizes the latter—hardly a testament to Rizzo’s legacy, though one could argue that the Flyers mascot, Gritty exists as nod to this past. Yet one barely need mention, if you look at our political debates nationally, the late mayor seems to have represented more than just an undercurrent in American politics.

As always, you’ll find our bibliography below, with special thanks to James Wolfinger and Abigail Perkiss for their recommendations. We know it’s incomplete so any book recommendations exploring eighteenth and nineteenth century Philly are very welcome, as are any others we might have missed that examine city during the last and current century. All suggestions welcome in the comments!


Adams, Carolyn. Philadelphia: Neighborhoods, Division, and Conflict in a Postindustrial City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.
Arnold, Stanley. Building the Beloved Community: Philadelphia’s Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930-1970. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.
Banner-Haley, Charles. To Do Good and To Do Well: Middle-Class Blacks and the Depression, Philadelphia, 1929-1941. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1993.
Bauman, John. Public Housing, Race, and Renewal: Urban Planning in Philadelphia, 1920-1974. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Binzen, Peter, and Joseph R. Daughen. The Cop Who Would Be King: The Honorable Frank Rizzo. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Birger, Jon S. “Race, Reaction, and Reform: The Three Rs of Philadelphia School Politics, 1965– 1971.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 120, no. 3 (July 2006).

Clark, Dennis. The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban Experience. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973.
Cole, Peter. Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Countryman, Matthew. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Curry, Leonard. “Philadelphia’s Free Blacks: Two Views.” Journal of Urban History 16, no. 3 (1990): 319-325,

Davis, Allen F. and Mark H. Haller, eds. The Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower-Class Life, 1790-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973.
Delmont, Matthew. The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

——-. “Making Philadelphia Safe for ‘WFIL-adelphia’: Television, Housing and Defensive Localism in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 38, no. 1 (2012): 193-213,

Davidow, Julia. “The Crusade is Now Begun in Philadelphia: Municipal Reformers, Southern Moderates and African American Politics.” Journal of Urban History 44, no. 2 (2018): 153-168,

DuBois, W.E.B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899. Reprint, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Feffer, Andrew. “Show Down in City Center: Staging Redevelopment and Citizenship in Bicentennial Philadelphia, 1974-1977.” Journal of Urban History 30, no. 6 (2004): 791-825, DOI: 10.1177/0096144204263814

Ferman, Barbara, Theresa Singleton, and Don DeMarco. “West Mount Airy, Philadelphia.” Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 4, no. 2 (1998).

Grant, Elizabeth. “Race and Tourism in America’s First City.” Journal of Urban History 31, no. 6: 850-871.

Heller, Gregory L. Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Hempell, C. Dallett. “Review Essay: Whose City? Whose History?: Three Class Histories of Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 33, no. 1 (2006):108-119,

Hepp IV, John. The Middle-Class City: Transforming Space and Time in Philadelphia, 1876-1926. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Hershberg, Theodore, ed. Philadelphia: Work, Space, Family, and Group Experience in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Hillier, Amy. “Who Received Loans? Home Owners’ Loan Corporation Lending and Discrimination in Philadelphia in the 1930s.” Journal of Planning History 2, no. 1 (2003).

——-. “Redlining the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation.” Journal of Urban History 29, no. 4 (2003): 394-420,

Katz, Michael B., and Thomas J. Sugrue. W. E. B. DuBois, Race, and the City: “The Philadelphia Negro” and Its Legacy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Kilbride, Daniel. “The Cosmopolitan South: Privileged Southerners, Philadelphia, and the Fashionable Tour in the Antebellum Era.” Journal of Urban History 26, no. 5 (2000): 563-590,

Knowles, Scott Gabriel, ed. Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Lane, Roger. Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860-1900. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Levenstein, Lisa. A Movement Without Marches: African American Women and the Politics of Poverty in Postwar Philadelphia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Licht, Walter. Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1950. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.
Lombardo, Timothy J. Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
Lyons, Paul. Philadelphia Communists, 1936-1956. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.
McKee, Guian. The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

——-. “Are Urban Histories Bowling Alone?: Social Capital Theory and Urban History.” Journal of Urban History 36, no. 5 (2010): 709-717,

Metraux, Stephen. “Waiting for the Wrecking Ball: Skidrow in Postindustrial Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 25, no. 5 (1999): 690-715,

Mumford, Kevin J. “The Trouble with Gay Rights: Race and the Politics of Sexual Orientation in Philadelphia, 1969-1982.” Journal of American History 98, no. 1 (June 2011): 48-72.

Paolantonio, S. A. Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America. Philadelphia: Camino Books, 1993.

Perkiss, Abigail. Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Postwar Philadelphia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014.

——-. “Managed Diversity: Contested Meanings of Integration in Post-WWII Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 38, no. 3: 410-429,

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Featured image (at top): Philadelphia Museum of Art, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress 

[1] William Graebner, “America’s Poseidon Adventure: A Nation in Existential Despair,” in America in the 70s, eds. Beth Bailey and David Farber (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2004), 157-158.

[2] Graebner, “America’s Poseidon Adventure,” 158.

[3] Christopher Capozzola, “It Makes You Want to Believe in the Country,” in America in the 70s, eds. Beth Bailey and David Farber (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2004), 29.

[4] Timothy Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 52.

[5] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 136.

[6] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 138,148.

[7] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 133, 157.

[8] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 24.

[9] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 25.

[10] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 41.

[11] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 118.

[12] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 119.

[13] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 117; Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010), 150; Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (New York: Scribner, 2008); Bruce Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (New York: Da Capo Press, 2002).

[14] Kevin J. Mumford, “The Trouble with Gay Rights: Race and the Politics of Sexual Orientation in Philadelphia, 1969-1982,” Journal of American History (June 2011): 49-50.

[15] John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983), 174.

[16] “The Trouble with Gay Rights,” 54-55.

[17] Mumford, “The Trouble with Gay Rights,” 52, 54-5, 60.

[18] Capozzola, “It Makes You Want to Believe in the Country,” 41.

[19] Mumford, “The Trouble with Gay Rights,” 68-72.

[20] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 158.