1. Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
6th and Lombard Streets (419 S 6th Street)Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church was founded in 1794 by Richard Allen as the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in the country. Furthermore, the church stands on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African Americans in the United States.
The congregation was founded in 1787 as a breakaway faction of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 4th and Arch Streets. Just a year earlier, the pastor of St. George’s invited Allen to preach at the 5 am worship services. Many of the white members of St. George’s were unwilling to allow black leadership and even full black membership, fearing they would lose credibility and respect in the community. Consequently, many of the African Americans were met with hostility by white members and officers. The church mandated African American congregants only take communion after the white congregation and required segregated seating sections. Offering Rev. Allen the early morning service was a way of segregating the black worshippers from the white members who would come for the later main Sunday service.
Allen’s sermons grew immensely popular, attracting a larger number of African Americans to the church. Allen became seen as an important figure in the African American community and, in 1787, he and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society, a mutual aid organization that assisted the community and worked to abolish slavery. To accommodate the growing number of African American church goers at St. George’s, a separate balcony was constructed.
Without knowledge of the new seating, Allen and Jones were praying in the main seating area when an usher attempted to remove the two men and direct them to the balcony. Furious to be interrupted mid-prayer, Jones and Allen led the other African American members out of the church, not to return.
Allen organized the group of black congregants to raise money for their own church. In 1791, Allen bought the lot on the corner of Sixth and Lombard streets and in July of 1794, the first service was held in a former blacksmith shop. Allen became the first bishop of the AME in 1816 and continued to transform Mother Bethel into a center of black life. Prior to Emancipation, the church acted as an important station on the Underground Railroad and a recruiting station during the Civil War. Additionally, the church hosted a school for children and published one of the oldest African American newspapers in the nation, the Christian Recorder, founded in the 1840s. Since the first church, there have been three other church buildings on this site. The fourth and current church was built and dedicated in October of 1890.
The church is still operating today, warmly welcoming visitors to its services. Additionally, the church has a museum featuring church artifacts and memorabilia, items of the Allen family and the tomb where the remains of Allen and his wife, Sarah, are laid to rest. The building itself stands as a symbol of the area’s rich African American history and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
2. 1842 Race Riot
5th and Lombard Streets
Philadelphia’s rich history of immigrants is full of examples of racial tension between various ethnic groups. The wave of Irish immigration during the early and mid-1800s, spurred by the Irish potato-rot and famine, brought thousands of Irish immigrants to Philadelphia. Irish immigrants became neighbors with the growing number of African Americans. During the first half of the 19th century, riots and other forms of confrontation erupted as a result of social and economic competition between Irish Catholics and African Americans. Racial tension became increasingly violent as the movement to abolish slavery gained momentum and the Irish feared African Americans would take their jobs. An anti-abolition sentiment transformed into a hostile anti-black sentiment, causing racially charged rhymes to became popular such as,
“When the negroes shall be free
To cut the throats of all they see,
Then this dear land will come to be
The den of foul rascality.”
On August 1, 1842, the Young Men’s Vigilant Association gathered with over 1,000 of Philadelphia’s pro-abolitionists. A banner of a slave breaking his chains with the slogan “How grand in age, how fair in truth, are holy Friendship, Love, and Truth” was used to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. The parade of people extended along Lombard between 5th and 8th Streets. An unsympathetic Irish mob attacked the abolitionists near Mother Bethel, setting off three days of rioting. It took militia armed with artillery to restore peace.
The students at Masterman High School in Philadelphia researched and successfully lobbied the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission to create this historic marker at the southeast corner of 6th and Lombard Streets.
3. Starr Garden and Theodore Starr
Between 6th and 7th on Lombard Street
Beginning in 1878, retailer and philanthropist Theodore Starr organized a series of charitable organizations that worked to benefit the poor, immigrant and African American populations of this neighborhood. His first establishments were the Progressive Colored Men’s Club, which provided men with the resources for moral and intellectual improvement (gymnasium, baths, library, lectures rooms and healthful games) and a Coal Club. Between 1880 and 1882, Starr bought two plots of land on St. Mary Street that became the Starr Garden, a public playground and gardening center for the neighborhood that worked to improve the environment. Previously, flowers, trees, and grass had been unseen in St. Mary Street and the garden was greatly loved by the community. Additionally, the Starr Bank, Starr Public Kindergarten, St. Mary Street Free Library and Starr Kitchen were all organized before 1895.
The Starr Bank was a saving bank that had no minimum deposit at a time when commercial banks required a minimum deposit of one dollar, an amount many families could not set aside at one time. Along with the bank, many of Starr’s organizations taught families “thriftiness.” The kindergarten was open year-round and gave small children an educational and fun place to be rather than the streets while their parents were busy working. The library, later called the Starr Library, was the only free circulating library in this part of the city and provided residents of all ages with a place to read and play games. In 1901, the daily attendance was 200- 300 people. The Starr Kitchen was open every day except Sunday and provided nutritious meals at reasonable rates. Additionally, the Kitchen sponsored a Penny Lunch program for school children. Every day, tables would be set up in playgrounds and school selling a small variety of food items for a penny. In 1898, 56,316 lunches were sold to school children. Additionally, the Starr Centre sponsored lecturers to come and speak at the Church of the Crucifixion at 8th and Bainbridge Streets. Lectures were given on topics from English literature and music to politics.
After Starr’s death in 1884, his organizations were left in the hands of Hannah Fox. In 1887, all of Starr’s organizations were assembled as the Starr Centre Association, and Susan Wharton became chairperson in 1900. The Centre continued to grow and provide assistance to thousands of people in the Philadelphia. After 1900, the Centre added a Medical Department, Rainy Day Society, Modified Milk Club, Stamp Savings Club, Work Bureau and expanded the playground.
4. St. Mary’s Street
Between 6th and 7th on Rodman Street
Here on Rodman Street, between 6th and 7th streets, was the heart of Philadelphia’s worst black slum. Because of this area’s high density of poor, unsanitary dwellings, it saw some of Philadelphia’s first housing experiments. During the early 1880s, Theodore Starr purchased some of the neighborhood’s deteriorating homes on the 700 block of Rodman Street, historically called St. Mary’s Street, which were then fixed up and given modern improvements such as running water, baths and ranges. The homes were rented to working class families as moderate rates. Furthermore, in 1887, Hannah Fox began buying properties on the 600 block of St. Mary that were renovated and then rented out to poor immigrant and black residents.
In 1892, these dwellings became home of the College Settlement Association (CSA) with Susan Wharton as president. Wharton, with other reform-minded women, provided low cost, clean housing and additionally advised their residents in thrift, temperance, sexual morality, hygiene and self-help. It was the CSA that wanted Du Bois to survey the Seventh Ward, and he and his wife, Nina, lived in the settlement house when Du Bois first came to Philadelphia. The work done by Starr, Fox and Wharton provided the foundation for the Octavia Hill Association, which was organized in 1896 to improve the living condition of the city’s poorer districts. The Association had bought and renovated 28 properties by 1901 where more than 80 families of various nationalities were able to find comfortable, sanitary housing. The Association maintained the buildings, keeping them in repair , and also kept oversight of its tenants.
A street corner is shown before (left) and after (right) the Octavia Hill Association renovated and improved the environment.
5. Home of Octavius Catto
8th and South Streets
Octavius Catto was a black educator, intellectual and civil rights activist who is remembered as one of Philadelphia’s most politically active African Americans of the 19th century. After graduating as valedictorian from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1858, he immediately became the assistant to the Institute’s principal and began his influential career in education.
During the Civil War, Catto raised a volunteer regiment of black men to help defend the state. However, General Couch rejected the unit at Harrisburg because the troops were black, fueling Catto to push the color line. He went on to raise eleven regiments of “Colored Troops” that were sent to the front lines. For his efforts during the Civil War, Catto was awarded the position of Major and Inspector General of the 5th Brigade of the National Guard. Following the war, Catto led a boycott to desegregate Philadelphia’s trolley system.
In 1869, Catto was made head of the boy’s department at the Institute while he remained politically active in the city. Additionally, he helped found the first black baseball team in the country, the Pythians. The baseball teamwas forced to play most their games in New Jersey as the majority of Philadelphia’s baseball fields were located in predominately Irish neighborhoods where a black baseball team was not welcome. Despite their popularity among blacks, the Pythians were denied admission to the all-white Pennsylvania Association of Amateur Baseball Players in 1867.
Blacks in Philadelphia were first granted the right to vote during the October 1871 election, creating a particularly tense atmosphere in the Ward. Catto returned home to put on his militia uniform so he could help keep order. Near his home at 8th and South Street, Catto was accosted by an Irish Democrat, Frank Kelly, who proceeded to shoot Catto three times. Kelly, who was later acquitted, fled the scene and left Catto to die of his wounds. The public funeral for Catto included a procession that was the largest the city had seen since that of Abraham Lincoln.
6. Pennsylvania Hospital
Between 8th and 9th on Pine Street
The Pennsylvania Hospital was founded in May of 1751 by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond as the first hospital in the United States. The hospital was intended to be a partial solution to Philadelphia’s growing numbers of sick, poor and mentally-ill who were wandering the streets. The building on Pine Street opened its doors in 1756; it is now used for offices and houses the hospital’s archives and historic library.
Before slavery was abolished in Pennsylvania, slave owners would take their slaves to Pennsylvania Hospital for treatment, but after Emancipation, few blacks visited the hospital. Many blacks found it difficult to seek medical attention because of the hospital requirements, such as the need of a tax-paying citizen to vouch for your identity. Also, because there were no certified black nurses, practitioners, or doctors in Philadelphia hospitals, many blacks feared receiving poor medical treatment. Dr. Nathan Mossell was the only black doctor working in Philadelphia’s hospitals during the 1880s. He helped found the Frederick Douglass Hospital in 1895, the first hospital to train black nurses and admit anyone regardless of race or economic status. Shortly thereafter, the Mercy Hospital (1907) was built to serve a similar function. In 1903 the Phipps Institute, just outside the Seventh Ward, was created for the sole purpose to care for tuberculosis patients. It wasn’t until they hired a blacknurse, Elizabeth W. Tyler, in 1910 that Pennsylvania Hospital earned the trust of black Philadelphians.
7. Home of Susan Wharton
910 Clinton Street
Susan Wharton was a member of the wealthy Quaker family that donated significant amounts of money to the University of Pennsylvania and for whom the Wharton School, originally dedicated to social sciences but now the business school, is named. As a member of the board for the College Settlement Association, Wharton became increasingly concerned about the well-being of the growing black population in the Seventh Ward. Wharton invited local leaders, including Institute for Colored Youth leader Fanny Jackson Coppin and University of Pennsylvania provost Charles C. Harrison, her neighbor, to a meeting at her house to discuss a study of blacks in the Seventh Ward. In addition to working closely with the College Settlement Association, Wharton worked with the Octavia Hill Association and the Starr Centre, holding various leadership roles at each organization. All these organization worked to better the living and economic conditions of the city’s poor black and immigrant communities—with more than a touch of condescension and racism.
8. Engine Company 11
Engine Company 11 was established in 1871 when Philadelphia organized its first Municipal Fire Department. It wasn’t until 1886 when Philadelphia hired its first African American firefighter, Isaac Jacobs, who was stationed at Engine Company 11. However, Jacobs was not allowed to fight fires and remained in the firehouse to care for the company’s horses. In 1905, Philadelphia hired its second African American firefighter, Stephen E. Presco. Unlike Jacobs, Presco was allowed to fight fires and died while attempting to extinguish a fire at a shirtwaist factory. In the early 20th Century, Engine 11 became the firehouse where all African American firefighters were stationed. The men of Engine 11 often worked under white supervisors and chiefs and consequently were often treated as second class citizens and firefighters. However, these men risked their lives for citizens of all color.
The city of Philadelphia did not desegregate its fire service until 1952. The slow process of integrating black and white firefighters continued over the next two decades. Engine Company 11 is now located a few blocks away at 6th and South Street. The current building is home to a mural, “Mapping Courage: Honoring W.E.B. Du Bois & Engine #11,” that was painted in 2008.
Muralist Willis Humphrey designed and painted “Mapping Courage.” The Mural shows Du Bois to the left, looking out into a Seventh Ward scene with each resident colored according to Du Bois’ social class hierarchy. In the mural, the men of Fire Engine Company 11 are honored as the protectors of the Ward.
8. Institute for Colored Youth
9th and Bainbridge Street
In 1837, Richard Humphreys, a wealthy Quaker, gave an endowment for the establishment of a school that would train blacks to become teachers. By 1840, this school was named the Institute for Colored Youth and was situated on a farm outside of the city until it relocated to a new home at 9th and Bainbridge Streets. During the first few decades of operation, the school implemented a classical curriculum without any emphasis on teaching or other skills training as Humphreys had wished.
In 1866, Fanny Jackson Coppin was hired as the head of the girls’ departments while Octavius Catto was head of the boys’ department. Together, the two made the school into a very well respected institution of higher education at a time when blacks had very few such opportunities. After Coppin joined the Institute, the school began fulfilling Humphreys’ vision by focusing its curriculum on teacher training while still maintaining the classical studies. Furthermore, the library was expanded and opened to the community. This, along with sponsored lectures, allowed the black community to further their education without attending school or paying fees they could not afford.
In 1896, Fanny Jackson Coppin was first hired as the head of the girls’ departments while Octavius Catto was head of the boys’ department. Together, the two made the school into a very well respected institution of higher education at a time when African Americans had very few such opportunities. After Coppin joined the Institute, the school began fulfilling Humphreys’ vision by focusing its curriculum on the teachers training while still maintaining the classical studies. Furthermore, the library was expanded and opened to the community. This, along with sponsored lectures, allowed the African American community to further their education without attending school or paying fees they could not afford.
In 1869, Coppin was made principal and proceeded to challenge the Board of Managers to further develop the school. In 1877, Jackson succeeded in her long campaign to abolish tuition. Coppin also fought long and hard to against the Board to incorporate an industrial training curriculum, inspired by the industrial exhibits at Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exposition. Finally, in 1884, Coppin was allowed to open a dressmaking department. In 1888, after a specially adapted industrial building had been constructed, courses were offered in carpentry, bricklaying, shoemaking, and millinery. Over the next few years, more courses were offered that taught typewriting, printing, sewing, and plastering. The Institute’s industrial training was immensely popular among the black community. It attracted not only young people, but an entire cross-section of the community, people between the ages of 12 to 57 looking to better their condition. By 1900, the Industrial School had actually grown bigger than the academic Institute itself. Coppin wanted the industrial department to become even further improved, however this resulted in tension between her and the white Quaker-led board who wanted the school to maintain its focus on teacher training. Therefore, the school was closed in 1902 and later reopened as Cheyney University, a teacher-training school in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The building at 9th and Bainbridge Streets is now condominiums.
The school attracted and produced many famous blacks. Graduates include Octavius Catto (famous civil rights and political and founder of the first black baseball team), Julian Abele (the first African American to graduate from the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania and contributing architect to Philadelphia’s art museum and free library), and Rebecca J. Cole (the second black women doctor in the U.S.).
10. J.S. Ramsey School
Quince and Pine Streets
The building that housed the J.S. Ramsey School was constructed in 1850 and now houses the Kahn Place Park apartments. The school provided both grammar and secondary schooling to the black and white populations of the Seventh Ward. However, the school was made up of primarily black students and in Du Bois’ study, he identified the school as “nearly all colored.” In 1896, the Ramsey School had 496 students, making it the largest school in the Ward. Although most of the students were black, all the teachers of the Ramsey School were white until 1905. At the time, the city of Philadelphia prohibited blacks from teaching white students.
Although the Ramsey School was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, the building was drastically modified during its transformation into apartments. Most people who walk by this building are unable to tell this building is even historic, let alone understand its history.
11. 418 Camac Street
This home has a unique story that is shared in the documentary, “Legacy of Courage.” Veronica “Ronnie” Hodges had always remembered her grandmother’s stories of living with her family here at 418 Camac in the early 1900s. Ronnie would walk down Camac Street and try to imagine what life would have been like in this neighborhood nearly a hundred years ago. One day, the current owner of 418 Camac, Jimmy Calnan, saw Ronnie looking at his home and asked her to share her story. At Jimmy’s invitation, Miss Veronical returned to the block to share stories with neighbors. She recalled children running up and down the block andaround the corner to St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, which she described as a second home. Miss Vernonica rememberd who lived at each house and where they baked bread halfway down the block. Jimmy and his neighbors invited Miss Veronica back to celebrate her 90th birthday with a block party on Camac Street. When Miss Veronica passed away shortly after, Jimmy was an honored guest at her funeral mass.
12. Home of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
1006 Bainbridge Street
Harper was a well-known antislavery activist and supporter of black suffrage who played an active role in Philadelphia and helped with the city’s Underground Railroad. Although she was born in Baltimore, Harper spent much of her time in Philadelphia, living here from 1854 until her death in 1911. In addition to her role as a black activist, Harper was prominent poet most famous for her poem, “Burry Me in a Free Land,” which she wrote in 1865. In the final verse of her poem, Harper writes:
I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves.
13. St. Peter Claver Catholic Church
12th and Lombard Streets
During the late 19th Centruy, Philadelphia’s black Catholics, many of whom were immigrants from the West Indies, were not welcome in the city’s Catholic churches. In many cases, blacks were required to worship separately from the white congregation. When blacks were allowed to attend mass, they often had to sit in segregated seating.
As a result, black Catholics formed the St. Peter Claver Union in 1886. With the help of other Catholics in the community, most notably Saint Katherine Drexel, the Union purchased the former Fourth Presbyterian Churchin 1890. The building was remodeled and dedicated as St. Peter Claver Catholic Church by Archbishop Partrick Ryan on Junuary 3rd, 1892. The church was named after the 16th Century saint who fought the slave trade. Accompanying Ryan was the first officially recognized black Catholic priest in the United States, Father Augustus Tolton, who gave the congregation’s first mass. In 1906, the church had raised enough money to build a school for “Colored Catholics” that was erected next door to St. Peter Claver. The church acted as the center for black Catholic life throughout the rest of the 19th Century and 20th Century until it closed in 1985. Today, the church is the St. Peter Claver Evangelical Center and is used to host religious and charitable events.
14. Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital
15th and Lombard Streets
The Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School was founded in 1895 by Dr. Nathan Mossell, the first black person to earn a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. The Douglass Hospital was the second black hospital in the United States and it was home to the first approved black training school in the country. Prior to the establishment of Douglass Hospital, black nurses and doctors were generally denied employment in the city’s hospitals. Additionally, black women were denied admission to all but one of the city’s nurse training schools. Therefore, in addition to serving Philadelphia’s black community, the Douglass Hospital also gave medical training and employment opportunities to many black nurses,and doctors. Although the hospital was largely under black control, the staff was made up of both white and black physicians and surgeons. Black citizens could go to the hospital without fear of receiving poor medical treatment, a fear that existed when black citizens went to the white-staffed Pennsylvania Hospital on Pine Street. No one at Frederick Douglass was ever turned away because of color or because they were too poor to pay.
The Dogulass Hospital was one of the most modern hospitals in Philadelphia and was well regarded across the country. The hospital was built upon the “most approved plans of modern hospital construction” and hosted all the latest modern equipment. Additionally, the hospital was among the first to direct a city-wide educaiton campaign on tuberculosis and ran a night chest clinic where day workers were able to receive medical attention during the evening hours. In 1948, the hospital merged with Mercy Hospital to form Mercy-Douglass Hospital, which remained opened until 1973. The building, despite its historical significance, no longer stands and little has been done to preserve the hospital’s history, in stark contrast to the Pennsylvania Hospital.