Tag Archives: Philadelphia

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]

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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]

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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!

Bibliography

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, https://doi.org/10.1177/009614429001600305

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, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144211420644

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, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144217746162

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, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0096144206291107

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, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0096144203029004002.

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, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/009614420002600501

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, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144210365681.

Metraux, Stephen. “Waiting for the Wrecking Ball: Skidrow in Postindustrial Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 25, no. 5 (1999): 690-715, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/009614429902500503.

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, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144212445451

Resnik, Henry S. Turning on the System: War in the Philadelphia Public Schools. New York: Pantheon Books, 1970.

Rosswurm, Steve. “Emancipation in New York and Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 21, no. 4 (1995): 505-510, https://doi.org/10.1177/009614429502100404.

Royles, Dan. “Don’t We Die Too?”: The Politics of Race and AIDS in Philadelphia,” in Rethinking Sexual Politics: Gay Rights and the Challenge of Urban Diversity in the Post-Civil Rights Era, ed. Jonathan Bell. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming.

Ryan, Francis. AFSCME’s Philadelphia Story: Municipal Workers and Urban Power in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

Ryberg, Stephanie R. “Historic Preservation’s Urban Renewal Roots: Preservation and Planning in Midcentury Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 2 (2013): 193-213, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144212440177

Salinger, Sharon V. “The Phoenix of the ‘New Urban History’: Old Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 18, no. 3 (1992): 330-337, https://doi.org/10.1177/009614429201800304

Savage, Michael. “Beyond Boundaries: Envisioning Metropolitan School Desegregation in Boston, Detroit and Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History, (online, 2018) https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144218801595

Schneider, Eric C., Christopher Agee, and Themis Chronopolous. “Dirty Work: Police and Community Relations and the Limits of Liberalism in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History, (online, 2017), https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144217705497

Stein, Marc. City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Stranger-Ross, Jordan. “Neither Fight Nor Flight: Urban Synagogues in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 32, no. 6 (2006): 791-812. https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144205284400

Toloudis, Nicholas. “How Local 192 Fought for Academic Freedom and Civil Rights in Philadelphia, 1934-1941.” Journal of Urban History, (Online, 2018). https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144218778552

Vietillo, Dominic. “Machine Building and City Building: Urban Planning and Restructuring in Philadelphia, 1894-1928.” Journal of Urban History 34, no. 3 (2008): 399-434, https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144207311184

Warner, Sam Bass Jr. The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968.

Weigley, Russell, ed. Philadelphia: A 300 Year History. New York: Norton, 1982.

Willis, Arthur C. Cecil’s City: A History of Blacks in Philadelphia, 1638–1979. New York: Carlton Press, 1990.

Wolfinger, James. Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

——-. Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2016.

Young, David W. “The Battles of Germantown: Public History and Preservation in America’s Most Historic Neighborhood during the Twentieth Century.” PhD diss., Ohio State University Press, 2009.

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.

Member of the Week: Hector Berdecia-Hernandez

s200_hector.berdeciaHéctor J. Berdecía-Hernández

Graduate Student, Program in Historic Preservation

University of Pennsylvania

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

My current research focuses on vernacular architecture and construction policies in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. I am interested in its impact at the urban scale in the Spanish Antilles. After the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico and Cuba in the early decades of the 20th century, after the Spanish American War of 1898, new construction technologies, materials and forms were brought to the islands. These changes had a profound impact on the urban space that has not been studied yet. How did the colonial relationship with the U.S. develop a new architecture that merged with previous Spanish urban traditions? How did these influence newly emerging urban forms on the island? These are some of the questions I seek to address in my current and future research.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your current or future research?

I am not currently taking any urban history-related courses this semester, but next year I will be taking an urban preservation seminar that focuses on urban history. As an undergrad at the University of Puerto Rico, I had the opportunity to take diverse urban history courses and seminars. In one seminar I studied the history of historic preservation between the 1940s and 1970s in Puerto Rico and its influence on the urban landscape, specifically on the early preservation policies for the historic city of Old San Juan.

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

I am currently working with some colleagues on a publication in collaboration with the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture (ICP) and the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office (PRSHPO) titled A Citizen’s Guide for the Conservation of the Built Heritage in Puerto Rico. This guide aims to educate and help residents around the island to protect and develop research on historic buildings. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, there was an increased need to help historic property owners, especially in municipalities with a rich urban heritage such as Ponce, Arroyo, Coamo, San German and Aguadilla. The citizen’s guide will be translated into English and will be published this year.

What advice do you have for new or incoming Masters students in urban-related fields?

My advice would be to take one or two courses related to urban studies, urban planning, urbanism or a related field. Sometimes you can find urban history courses in other academic departments such as history, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, geography and even in the law school. Ask for the syllabus and talk to professors. Also, choose any topic related to your interest in urban history if you have the chance to work on research in a class. Lastly, find academic and professional mentors that can help and guide you.

You are a recent transplant to Philadelphia! What has been the highlight of exploring your new city? And how are you feeling about winter?

Philadelphia is a beautiful and great city. I recently worked on an urban history project in Germantown and I learned so much about the city’s history, its development and the urban renewal policies of the mid-20th century. Philadelphia is a city with many layers of history, so it will probably take me many years to learn everything from its rich past. I already explored West Philadelphia, Center City, Germantown and South Philly. Still, there are many more neighborhoods I am wanting to visit such as the great Latino and Puerto Rican community living in the north side of Philadelphia. It’s my first winter after moving from Puerto Rico, so I am learning to deal with the cold and the snowstorms. Still, I am very happy in Philly.

 

 

Member of the Week: James Wolfinger

James Wolfinger September, 2015James Wolfinger

Professor of History and Education

DePaul University

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

I am currently working on a book about a World War II U.S. airman named Bert Julian.  Julian grew up in the Orange, N.J. area around 1910, in an era when the New Jersey suburbs were being more fully incorporated into New York City and people still rode to town in horse-drawn buggies.  Julian survived the Depression by doing odd jobs and sleeping on people’s couches.  He joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, trained as a waist gunner on a B 24 bomber, and was stationed in New Guinea, where he flew reconnaissance missions in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines.  Julian’s plane crashed in northern New Guinea and he was ultimately captured, interrogated, and killed by a Japanese officer in the commission of a war crime.  The inherent interest of Julian’s death coupled with the larger forces he experienced as an ordinary person swept up in huge events—world war and attendant globalization, urbanization, technological advance, and Depression—all drew me to this story.  What particularly fascinates me is how a young man who knew small town New Jersey, with its neighborhood stores, corner taverns, and concrete sidewalks, wound up on his knees in a muddy clearing in New Guinea with a man standing over him with a sword, screaming at him in Japanese.

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

I teach a class for our graduate history education students with the prosaic title “Readings in American History.”  The class is chronological and covers American history from the colonial period to the present.  I like teaching it because the reading load emphasizes to future teachers that they are entering an intellectual occupation, it allows me to teach classics as well as cutting edge scholarship, and it has deepened my knowledge of many aspects of U.S. history.  Every book I read, whether it is on urban history or not, gives me new ideas on how to think about history, write history, ask historical questions.

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

I am excited about a new book that I am editing for Temple University Press, with the working title “African American Politics in the City of Brotherly Love.” Covering the period from the Great Migration to today, the book brings together mostly young historians who are doing fresh research on black politics in twentieth century Philadelphia.  There is no other book like it—on Philadelphia or other cities—and it gives me the opportunity to work with exciting new authors and help bring their work to a larger audience.  “African American Politics” will analyze formal politics, community organizing, women’s leadership, and many other topics.  It will focus on Philadelphia while offering a model for how scholars might examine the history of other cities.  In today’s political climate, this book will speak to historians but I believe it will also find a much larger audience.

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

Follow your passion!  Research and write about what interests you.  My daughter is currently an undergraduate in college, and I always tell her: “If you don’t do what you love, if you don’t try to make it your life’s work now, then you never will.”  I grew up in Oklahoma City, and I remember as a child listening to Boston Bruins hockey games on my dad’s old shortwave radio.  I was probably the only person in Oklahoma doing so!  Large Northern cities seemed so far away, so foreign to me as a child.  I wanted to learn more about them, live in one of them, be urban.  I have always been fascinated by cities, how they work and how people live in them.  Living in and exploring cities was my passion then, and now.

Do you have a favorite book about teaching? Is it one that’s personally resonant and meaningful? Or is it one from which you learned the most and gleaned the best advice?

Let me change the question a bit, to a favorite book to teach.  More than any other book, the work that helped me see the power of history to illuminate the past and better understand the present is Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom.  To me, Morgan analyzed the central issue for understanding the American experience: the vexed relationship between race and class throughout all of American history.  I tell my students that if there’s one book that they should read as a starting point for understanding the promise and problems of the United States, this is the one.

The Metropole Bookshelf: Timothy Lombardo’s Blue Collar Conservatism

The Metropole Bookshelf is an opportunity for authors of forthcoming or recently published books to let the UHA community know about their new work in the field.

By Timothy J. Lombardo

BCC - Front.jpg

Timothy J. Lombardo. 2018. Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 328 pp. 10 photos. ISBN: 978-0-8122-5054-1. $37.50. Hardcover.

Frank Rizzo embarked on his first campaign for mayor of Philadelphia in 1971. Promising “law and order” and running as the self-proclaimed “toughest cop in America,” his campaign focused on turning out voters from Philadelphia’s white ethnic, blue-collar neighborhoods. With a month before the election Rizzo campaigned heavily in South Philadelphia, where he had been born and raised. During a stop at a neighborhood tavern, a campaign reporter asked the bar’s patrons what they liked about Rizzo. One replied that the city needed “an 11th grade dropout” to straighten things out. “He’ll win because he isn’t a Ph.D.,” he continued. “He’s one of us. Rizzo came up the hard way.”

Frank Rizzo went on to win the election and serve two terms as the mayor of Philadelphia, becoming the first former police commissioner elected mayor of a major American city. As police commissioner, Rizzo earned a national reputation for his tough stance on crime, the heavy-handed tactics of his police force, and his openly hostile treatment of civil rights activists. Although Rizzo was a Democrat, he maintained his base of support by opposing public housing, school desegregation, affirmative action and other liberal programs that he and his supporters deemed unearned advantages for nonwhites.

Rizzo was perhaps the archetypal example of late twentieth-century urban, white ethnic, populist conservatism and the quintessential “backlash” politician of the 1960s and 1970s. He is rightly remembered as one the most controversial figures in the city’s history. Yet his white ethnic, blue-collar supporters never wavered in their support of the tough-talking former cop they called “one of us.”

Blue-Collar Conservatism tells the story of Frank Rizzo’s white ethnic, blue-collar supporters and their evolving politics in the long postwar era. It focuses on the working- and middle-class white Philadelphians that fought the integration of their children’s schools, their neighborhoods, and their workplaces while clamoring for “law and order.” It locates their “blue-collar conservatism” in a mutually reinforcing promotion of law-and-order conservatism and selective rejection of welfare liberalism. In Frank Rizzo they found a champion and defender of their blue-collar traditions and institutions. They responded not only to his forceful rhetoric, but also his up-from-the-streets “one of us” populism.

The standard explanation for the rise of working-class anti-liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s has relied on a familiar narrative of racial backlash. This focus, while not inaccurate, has obscured the importance of class ideologies and identities in this political history. Blue-Collar Conservatism shows how Frank Rizzo’s supporters attempted to use class identity and blue-collar discourses to obfuscate the racial politics of modern liberal policymaking. The result was the establishment of a populist variant of modern conservatism shaped by the racial upheavals of midcentury urban America, but imbued with blue-collar identity politics.

The context for this political development is the urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s. The upheaval that led to high rates of unemployment, shrinking city tax bases, fiscal shortfalls, rising crime and, most dramatically, waves of urban uprisings, produced the spatial and political realignments that shaped modern American political culture. Blue-collar whites in Philadelphia and throughout the country were caught up in the many transformations wrought by the urban crisis. Blue-Collar Conservatism shows how their political transformation sprang from both the economic instabilities of a changing era and their responses to a shifting racial order.

In the end, Blue-Collar Conservatism offers a nuanced social and political history of a pivotal period in modern America, set in one of its most dynamic cities. It uses Frank Rizzo, his supporters, and his city to explore how white working-class engagement with the politics of the urban crisis led to one of the least understood but most significant developments in modern American political history. The book ultimately shows how urban blue-collar whites joined the conservative movement that reached fruition in the 1980s and reshaped it into a coalition that backed populist politicians from Frank Rizzo to Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump.

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Timothy J. Lombardo is a Philadelphia native and an Assistant Professor of History at the University of South Alabama. His work has appeared in The Journal of Social History, The Journal of Urban History, The Journal of American History, and The Washington Post. Blue-Collar Conservatism is his first book. Follow him on Twitter @TimLombard0

The Value of Farmland: Rural Gentrification and the Movement to Stop Sprawl

This post by Angela Shope Stiefbold is our second entrant into the Second Annual UHA/The Metropole Graduate Student Blogging Contest. We invited graduate students to submit essays on theme of “Striking Gold,” whether lucre or archival treasures. Stiefbold’s essay hews towards the former interpretation, examining how rapidly rising metropolitan land value can mean “Striking Gold” for some land owners while threatening the livelihood of others.

Rents are rapidly rising. Property values are skyrocketing. Real estate taxes are ever-increasing. Long-time owners are selling out and moving away. Newcomers express values and politics at odds with older residents. This sounds like a gentrifying urban neighborhood—but it was the situation in not-long-to-be-rural, mid-twentieth century Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

J. Warren Shelly, whose family began farming in Bucks County in the 1700s, worried that he would have to sell the 65-acre farm where he was born, because its real estate tax assessment was increased 900 percent in 1972. Yet, as he noted, “The land isn’t for sale, so the market value doesn’t mean anything to us.” He went on to observe “It’s a funny thing…A lot of people came here originally because they like the way it is out here, with the open spaces and green fields. Those are the same people who are taxing us out of existence.”[1]

geographic Position 1954 plan
“The Geographic Position of Buck’s County.” Source: “General Background, Buck’s County Regional Plan, Part 1” (Doylestown, PA: Buck’s County Planning Commission, 1954), follows p. 1.

Shelly was one of many Bucks County farmers who found their lives upended as the demand for exurban estates and suburban tract homes transformed their rural townships and caused land prices to sharply appreciate. Some farmers happily sold their land and pocketed the windfall, which allowed them to comfortably retire from the hard work and financial uncertainty of farming. But other farmers found increased property values and the higher real estate taxes they produced problematic if they wanted to continue to farm or to live out their retirement years on land that had been in their family for generations.

While many of the new arrivals were sympathetic to the plight of neighboring farmers, the novelty of the problem and the glacial rate of change in state and local government policy resulted in many long-time residents being uprooted from their land. When programs were finally enacted to preserve prime farmland and agriculture, the new policies were implemented largely because farmers found allies in their exurban neighbors who valued the amenity that a farm landscape provided.

The history of suburbanization has largely been written in order to understand the experience and motivations of the people who moved from city to suburb.[2] I am interested in the perspective of the farmers who were living in the rural areas to which suburbanization came. The legacies of conflicts over land, how it is regulated and taxed, and who can afford to live on it, continue to reverberate not just in cities, but at the rural-urban fringe.

UFPA Newsletter 1933
Newsletter of UFPA. Source: Agrarian Periodicals in the United States, 1920-1960 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977), microfilm.

For generations, Bucks County residents sustained their households by both consuming and selling to urban markets the products of their land.[3] Family farms, along with a few large commercial farming enterprises established in the 1920s, shipped tons of produce to Philadelphia, New York, and other nearby cities. According to the 1940 U.S. Agricultural Census, Bucks County farmers produced thirty percent of the state’s total sale value of vegetables, harvesting more broccoli, parsnips, spinach, rhubarb, turnips, carrots, and green beans than the rest of Pennsylvania combined.[4]

Yet even with such productivity, many of the county’s farmers struggled during the Great Depression. Crop prices dropped after WWI and were slow to recover. Additionally, the agricultural industry was changing, and many family farms could not compete with larger, more efficient, better capitalized and better-connected commercial operations. Bucks County farmers lobbied for tax relief and policies that would help the small operator, both through the Grange, the largest farm organization in the county, as well as a more radical local group, the United Farmers Protective Association (UFPA). The UFPA went so far as to disrupt sheriff’s sales and threaten to block milk deliveries in the early 1930s. Ultimately the county’s “dirt farmers” got little relief and many gave up and sold their farms—often to a new type of Bucks County landowner.

Starkey Bean Field 1941 LOC
Marion Post Wolcott, Portable irrigation unit in bean field. Starkey Farms, Morrisville Pennsylvania, May 1941, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017806944/.

Howard Paxson, lifelong Solebury Township resident and farmer, commented in 1942 that “there had been great changes in his community since he started farming. Few farms were today in the same hands…only one farm was being farmed by the third generation.”[5] The county’s countryside attracted wealthy summer visitors from Philadelphia and New York City, and in the 1930s they purchased Bucks County land in growing numbers. Some new owners tried their own hand at agriculture, but more often they converted the farms to manicured estates, rented the bulk of the fields to a neighboring farmer, or hired managers to run the farm, sometimes consolidating and converting several diversified, general farms into cattle or horse breeding operations. One thing that held true for almost all of these estate-farm owners was that they did not need to be profitable farmers—for them agriculture was a hobby.

Long-time local farmers, like Benjamin Kirson, complained that “wealthy men who have bought farms in this vicinity [a]ffect other farmers. They have raised inspection standards too high and the high wages they pay and superior living conditions they provide make it hard for th[e] average farmer to keep help satisfied.”[6] Of other exurban estate owners, William Greenawalt, agricultural extension agent, said “…I met many who had no idea of what to do with the farm after they had it. Apparently they had put most of their cash into the purchase and for repairs to buildings and then didn’t have the capital for equipment or stocking. They had no particular interest in the land other than as a home in the country.”[7]

Farm 1939 LOC
Marion Post Wolcott, Farm. Bucks County, Pennsylvania. June 1939, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017801231/

After WWII, Bucks County’s farmland faced what Dr. Gerald Brees, director of the Bureau of Urban Research at Princeton University, described as “the path of two giant steamrollers, one from New York City and the other from Philadelphia.”[8] Real estate promoters had long encouraged industrial growth in the lower end of the county, the location of highways and railroads connecting Philadelphia and New York. In the 1950s that growth finally took off, with large industrial and residential development projects making significant changes in the landscape. They included U.S. Steel’s Fairless Works, which employed over 7,000 on a 3,800-acre site and Levitt and Sons’ second Levittown development of over 17,000 houses across eight square miles.

Aerial-View-of-Levittown
“Levittown dwarfs a neighboring farmstead,” http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/levittowns

This wave of development displaced thousands of county farmers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there were 4,299 Bucks County farms in 1940, but only 1,159 in 1969.[9] Herman L. Margerum, Jr., president of the Morrisville Bank, commented in 1953 that due to the new suburban growth “many old-timers have moved after selling out at good prices. Some purchased rich farmland up-county, others bought farms in Delaware and a few retired to Florida.”[10] By 1960, farmer Harry Atkinson, Jr. complained that “There has been no land sold south of Doylestown in the last 10 years that a farmer could afford to buy and farm.”[11]

If a farmer wanted to stay put, forgo the windfall of increased property value, and tolerate the change in the community, property taxes posed a final obstacle. Suburban development required substantial local investment in new public facilities, primarily funded by real estate taxes. When the Bucks County Board of Assessment released the results of a county-wide reassessment in 1972, farmers saw their property valued at levels two to ten times higher. Operating on the slimmest margins of profitability, they lobbied for relief. Otto Fink, a poultry farmer in Milford Township, said in reaction to his new assessment, “Either the new assessment on my farm is lowered for 1973 or I’m out of business. It’s as simple as that.”[12] The prospect of many farmers doing the same was expressed by Walter Wurster, representative of the Bucks County Farmers’ Association, who reported “it’s not an assessment notice, it’s an eviction notice.”[13]

Given the declining importance of agriculture in Bucks County, one would imagine that farmers faced an uphill battle to convince local authorities to help their situation.[14] In 1970 farm operators made up less than half of one percent of the county’s total population (415,056).[15] In 1974, the value of the county’s agricultural production was $22 million, a small fraction of the $2.7 billion in revenue produced by the county’s manufacturing firms.[16] Only one third of the county’s land area remained agricultural use.[17]

However, the county’s farmers found strong allies among non-farm residents, many of whom moved to Bucks because they wanted to live in a farming landscape. Additionally, there was a growing movement for environmental protection, including preserving prime agricultural soils for local food production. James Iden Smith, the ninth generation of his family to own his farm and a Quaker involved in the UFPA in the 1930s and soil conservation efforts throughout his life, found himself serving as a spokesperson for farmland preservation in the 1970s. He observed that “Land produces everything we need for clean, healthful living. If we use that up eventually the country is going to suffer for it.”[18]

The first protectors of the rural countryside, beginning in the late 1930s, tried to restrict growth using township zoning ordinances that required large lot sizes and prohibited multi-family housing. By the early 1970s, a more ecological approach to guiding growth was promoted by the Bucks County Planning Commission. It urged limiting development of areas with environmental constraints or significant natural resources. They recommended agricultural soils with prime productivity remain 95 percent undeveloped.

NR Protection Map 1977 Comp Plan.JPG
Blue Areas are designated Prime Agricultural District. “Comprehensive Plan: Bucks County, Pennsylvania” (Bucks County Planning Commission: Doylestown, PA, June 1977).

The first protectors of the rural countryside, beginning in the late 1930s, tried to restrict growth using township zoning ordinances that required large lot sizes and prohibited multi-family housing. By the early 1970s, a more ecological approach to guiding growth was promoted by the Bucks County Planning Commission. It urged limiting development of areas with environmental constraints or significant natural resources. They recommended agricultural soils with prime productivity remain 95 percent undeveloped.

Many farmers opposed these approaches to preserving the agricultural landscape because they reduced the wealth embodied in their land—their retirement nest-egg. If fewer homes could be built on their farm, developers would pay less for it. Objecting to zoning proposed in Buckingham Township, farmer Edwin Daniels testified that because the future profitability of agriculture was questionable and it was unlikely farmers’ children would continue farming, it was important “for us to hang onto the value of our farms for them.”[19] In the early 1970s housing developers and landowners brought successful court challenges against restrictive zoning in several Bucks County townships.

Following this setback, the county planning commission, proponents of open space preservation, environmentalists, and anti-growth activists began collaborating with farmers. They embraced programs designed to protect farmland not by prohibiting non-farm uses, but by encouraging the success of farming operations. As the Bucks County Planning Commission’s director of community planning James C. Lodge noted, “using agriculture as an activity and preserving agriculture itself is going to be one of the mechanisms to preserve land.”[20]

Ag Loss Diagram 1979 Report.png
Graphic used by Bucks County Planning Commission to describe factors contributing to farmland loss. “Agricultural Preservation in Bucks County” (Bucks County Planning Commission: Doylestown, PA, July 1979)

Bucks County civic leaders helped propel bills through the state legislature that provided real estate tax relief to landowners who promised not to develop farmland. County and township officials implemented a purchase of development rights program, funded through state, county, and local bond initiatives (overwhelmingly approved by voters), which paid farmers the difference between the market value of land and its farm-use value, in return for an easement on the land forever prohibiting its development. Between 1989 and 2016 over $151 million was spent through the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program to preserve more than 15,000 acres of farmland.[21] This subsidy provided farmers access to the development value of their land without destroying the productive value of its soils or the amenity of its pastoral landscape, appreciated by farmers and non-farmers alike. Yet this solution came much too late for most of Bucks County’s farmers. In 2012 only 17 percent of the county remained in farmland, down from 67 percent in 1930 and the number of farms had fallen from 4,360 to 827.[22]

Concurrently, individual farmers made changes in their operations in order to prosper in a suburban market, with the advice and assistance of county agencies, farm organizations, and the Penn State Extension Service. They increasingly sold plants, fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products directly to local consumers, shifted to organic production or specialty crops, and incorporated farm-based-entertainment into their operations. These farmers practiced a form of agriculture very different from that of the “dirt farmers” of the 1930s, who were unsuccessful at rallying local support for the distressed family farmer. Instead, they survived because they provided a service and amenity valued by their non-farm neighbors. One can see similarities with the experience in gentrifying city neighborhoods, where the influx of new, affluent residents redefines what is considered appropriately authentic urbanism.

1977 video with James Iden Smith talking about farming and preserving farmland from 31:00 to 33:40

In my forthcoming dissertation, I further investigate the diverse and complex motivations for and opposition to farmland preservation. In presenting this summary, I have simplified a great deal of the contentious public debate over the fate of Bucks County’s farmland and farmers. Residents and local officials debated: the rights of land owners; the fairness of using real estate taxes to fund public services; the viability of small-scale agriculture; and the responsibility of government to represent and protect the interests of its citizens, both current and future. Rarely admitted publicly, but likely motivation for some anti-sprawl, pro-farm activists included keeping low-income and minority residents at a distance. Homebuilder and Bucks County Planning Commission member Ralph Pisani said of the fight over development, “…it’s difficult to tell the good guys from the bad [g]uys…farmers, land owners, legitimate environmentalists, bigots (disguised as environmentalists), professional planners, municipal officials and land developers comprise the list of combatants…the battlefields are the farms…the weapons are the federal and state constitutions.”[23] Protecting farmland was a way to slow suburban sprawl while supporting the indisputably worthwhile causes of protecting the environment, the food supply, the American farmer, and the rural landscape.

Stiefbold PhotoAngela Shope Stiefbold is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati, where she studies urban history, planning history, and public history, and has become increasingly interested in their intersection with agricultural and rural history. She earned a Master of City and Regional Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill, and her career in city planning included working as a Senior Planner for the Bucks County Planning Commission. She has also served on her local historic preservation, economic development, and planning commissions.

[1] Clark DeLeon, “Farmers’ Choice: Raise Crops…Or Tax Money,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1972, Newspapers.com.

[2] Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987); Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth (New York: Pantheon, 2003). One of the few works to discuss the agency of the rural landowner in the history of suburbanization is: Mark Linder and Lawrence S. Zacharias, Of Cabbages and Kings County: Agriculture and the Formation of Modern Brooklyn (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1999).

[3] For a comprehensive history of Pennsylvania agriculture, see Sally McMurry, Pennsylvania Farming: A History in Landscapes (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017).

[4] “County Farm Situation Is Undergoing Changes,” Daily Intelligencer Clippings Files, “Bucks Co Agriculture, 1915-1945,” Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1940, Volume 1 First and Second Series, State Repots, Statistics for Counties,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[5] Minutes, March 4, 1942, Minute Book, Box 2, Folder 7, Pomona Grange #22 Collection, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society.

[6] Minutes, September 6, 1944, Minute Book, Box 3, Folder 1, Pomona Grange #22 Collection, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society.

[7] William F. Greenawalt, “Annual Report: December 1, 1949-November 30, 1950” (Agricultural Extension Association of Bucks County: Doylestown, PA),” n.d., 1.

[8] “Claims Present Bucks Situation Was Inevitable,” Bristol (PA) Courier, March 3, 1952, Newspapers.com.

[9] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1940, Volume 1 First and Second Series, State Repots, Statistics for Counties,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1942), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus; U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1969, Volume 1 Area Reports, Part 9 Pennsylvania, Section 1. Summary Data,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[10] William G. Weart, “Bucks County Boom Beset by Problems,” New York Times, December 26, 1953, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.

[11] Minutes, March 2, 1960, Minute Book, Box 2, Folder 7, Pomona Grange #22 Collection, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society.

[12] Sonya Sharp, “Farmers Feel New Assessments Will Put Them Out of Business,” Morning Call (Allentown, PA), August 2, 1972, Newspapers.com.

[13] Clark DeLeon, “Farmers’ Choice: Raise Crops…Or Tax Money,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1972, Newspapers.com.

[14] For a history of federal efforts to preserve farmland, see Tim Lehman, Public Values, Private Lands: Farmland Preservation Policy, 1933-1985 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

[15] Richard L. Forstall, “PENNSYLVANIA: Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990,” U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/population/cencounts/pa190090.txt.

[16] Bucks County Planning Commission, “Comprehensive Plan, Bucks County Pennsylvania,” (Doylestown, PA: June 1977), 22.

[17] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1974, Volume, Part 38, Pennsylvania State and County Data,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977), http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[18] Michael B. Smith, “Bucolic Buckingham Township Resists the Developers’ ‘Cure’,” Philadelphia Inquirer May 26, 1974, Newspapers.com.

[19] Lawrence C. Hall, “Officials Reveal New Zone Plan,” Daily Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA), July 27, 1973, Newspapers.com.

[20] Meeting Minutes, March 14, 1979, Minute Book 4, (Bucks County Planning Commission: Doylestown, PA), 87.

[21] “Annual Report, 2016” (Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation Program: Doylestown, PA, August 2016), 9-10. Privately-funded nonprofit organizations also pursued development rights purchase programs in the county.

[22] U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 2012,” https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_2_County_Level. U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Agriculture, 1930,” http://agcensus.mannlib.cornell.edu/AgCensus.

[23] Ralph Pisani, “In Development War, There Are Only Victims,” Daily Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA) December 15, 1977, Newspapers.com.

Member of the Week: Cynthia Heider

meCynthia Heider

M.A. Student in Public History, Temple University

Digital Projects Assistant, Center for Digital Scholarship at the American Philosophical Society

@comebackcities

Describe your current public history project(s). What about it/them are you finding interesting, challenging, and rewarding?

I suspect that some readers may be confused by or unfamiliar with the term “public history,” so I’ll begin with the short definition given by the National Council on Public History (NCPH): “[P]ublic history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world. In this sense, it is history that is applied to real-world issues.” You can learn more in this section of the website.

Part of the challenge and reward of public history work is that it can be highly variable in topic and audience. I enjoy this because I’m interested in lots of different historical topics, and it keeps my research skills sharp. Currently, I’m working as Digital Projects Assistant at the Center for Digital Scholarship at the American Philosophical Society Library, which allows me to make notable Early American documents available to a wider audience through digitization, transcription, data visualization, and open data initiatives. I’m an emerging scholar currently finishing my master’s thesis on data collection and exhibition practices of Progressive era settlement houses as well, part of which includes an institutional history project in partnership with a still-operational settlement house in Philadelphia. I am finding these projects rewarding due to their potential for near-immediate community impact.

What is one of your favorite examples of public history, and why?

I’m very excited about the National Public Housing Museum which will be opening next year in Chicago. From everything I’ve seen, it is going to be really relevant, showing examples of family life in the public housing units as well as engaging contemporary issues of housing insecurity, gentrification, zoning, and other topics particularly pertinent to urban settings. It has been a long time coming, in planning since 2007, which is sometimes a reality of public history projects. But if it can involve the local community in a fundamental way, while starting fruitful public conversations about these issues, I think it will have been worth the wait.

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

I recently published a dataset in the Magazine of Early American Datasets (MEAD), and I expect to publish another within the calendar year. This open data initiative records receipt and dispatch of all mail in the Philadelphia Post Office between May 25, 1748 and July 23, 1752; it should be of interest to scholars of Benjamin Franklin, informational networks, and/or the early colonial postal service.

As for other scholarship, I just recently read and admired Joyce M. Bell’s The Black Power Movement and American Social Work (Columbia University Press, 2014), which gave greater depth to my understanding of the historical context of American social work institutions including settlement houses. I look forward to learning more about women’s role in the movement in Ashley D. Farmer’s Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era (UNC Press, 2017).

What advice do you have for urban historians who want to work with the public but might not know where to start?

I think the idea of working with the public can be rather intimidating sometimes; there’s an assumption that you have to act or be a certain way in order to “connect” with them. But “the public” is just composed of individual people, many of whom have deep community roots or feel strongly about neighborhood issues. The best place to meet the kind of people who might want to work with a historian is anywhere where people gather: city council meetings, churches, recreation centers, cafes, city parks, even online. Strike up a casual conversation, see where it takes you- but remember first and foremost to listen.

What’s the coolest document you’ve discovered in your own research? And what’s the wackiest document you’ve processed as an archivist?

I’ve had the good fortune to have worked in a wide variety of archival collections–from the point of view of both researcher and archivist. I am fascinated by the decision-making processes that go into archiving things. For instance, my absolute favorite archival find from a research point-of-view was an extraordinarily formal letter sent by Bernard J. Newman of the Philadelphia Department of Health in 1911 that simply said, “I am sorry you did not wait at my office as I was only away to get a bite to eat.” I love, by the form and content of the letter, the insight it gives into this man’s fussy personality, and I’m so intrigued by the fact that it was archived at all! Similarly, from the archivist’s point-of-view, I’ve come across items that I waffled about archiving- for instance, an eminent scientist’s ca. 1970 copy of High Times. I’ll leave it unanswered whether I chose to accession this item or not.

Member of the Week: Timothy Lombardo

Profile PicTimothy J. Lombardo, PhD

Assistant Professor

Department of History, University of South Alabama

Twitter: @TimLombard0

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

I am currently finishing my first book. It is a study of post-World War II Philadelphia and the blue-collar supporters of 1960s police commissioner turned 1970s mayor, Frank Rizzo. The book examines white, blue-collar Philadelphians’ engagement with the politics of law enforcement, education, employment, and housing and traces the establishment of an urban, class-conscious variant of populist conservatism. I came to the project for a number of reasons. The first is because I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I had long known of Rizzo’s reputation, but never really thought about it in a broader context until graduate school. I didn’t initially set out to write a dissertation on my home town, but I took a seminar on Conservatism in the Modern United States that piqued my interest. I also thought I recognized a gap in the literature. The majority of the urban history books we read in that seminar covered the Sunbelt or Suburban communities in the South and West (think Lisa McGirr, Becky Nicolaides, Matthew Lassiter, Kevin Kruse, Robert Self, etc.). These were all great books, but they didn’t seem to account for the kinds of urban conservative politics I was familiar with at home. I quickly decided to change my dissertation topic and spent the next few years chasing resources from the white, working- and middle-class neighborhoods that provided Frank Rizzo with his most enthusiastic support. Years later, the book is now under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press under the title Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and the Politics of the Urban Crisis.

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

I just finished my second year at the University of South Alabama. In addition to my modern US survey courses, this past year I also taught a writing seminar on post-World War II US history and a research seminar on 20th century US History. In the next academic year I will offer an honors class on American urban history called “The Urban Crucible: Cities and Suburbs in Modern America” and another course on America in the Sixties. All of these classes relate to my scholarship in a number of ways. My post-1945 US, urban history, and Sixties classes all take up the intersecting themes of race, class, and American political development that I write about in my book. I also try to integrate bits of my research into every class I teach, from surveys to research seminars.

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

Since you’ve already given me the space to make a shameless plug about my own book, I will say that I’m most looking forward to (finally) reading Ansley Erickson’s Making the Unequal Metropolis. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but the recent controversy over the book’s treatment by the American Historical Review has reinvigorated my interest. I had actually chosen the book as one of my course readings in my upcoming urban history class well before the AHR review came out, so now I’m really looking forward to figuring out how I’m going to incorporate it into the class.

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

Be flexible. Be flexible with your research, with your reading, with your writing, and with your career path. Urban history/studies is a growing field with a lot of possibilities, but young scholars shouldn’t let it also be a limitation. I think the flexibility to read across specialties and disciplines, to publish in different forums, and to research beyond what we usually consider urban history are important parts of scholarly development and maturation. I didn’t start out doing urban history; my research took me in that direction. It also helps to be flexible in where young scholars think they can do urban history. I’m pretty sure there was never a point when I was growing up in Philly, or at any point thereafter, that I told myself that I wanted to end up in Mobile, Alabama. But I remained open to different possibilities and followed them when they opened up. Now I’m lucky to be forging a career at a good university, with great students, and excellent colleagues.

What museum or historical site would you recommend to urban historians visiting Mobile, Alabama?

First of all, more urban historians need to visit Mobile, Alabama, where I’d be happy to show them around when they get here! We have a really good museum in the History Museum of Mobile. For those interested in the city’s architecture, I would direct them to some of Mobile’s historic neighborhoods like the Oakleigh Garden District, De Tonti Square, and Church Street East Historic District. I would suggest they visit Africatown, which is the community built by the last group of African slaves captured and brought to the United States, illegally smuggled in through Mobile Bay in 1860. And, finally, I wouldn’t want an urban scholar to leave without touring Mobile’s lively and growing downtown entertainment district. Like a lot of cities, Mobile’s downtown suffered from disinvestment and decline in the late 20th century, but a concentrated effort in the last decade or so began rejuvenating the area. Current planning documents call for future redevelopment that should allow for more walkability, bikeability, and green spaces. All in all, downtown Mobile offers urban scholars and students an excellent opportunity to see urban renewal in action.