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Te Lombard Street Riot: an often-ignored chapter in Philadelphia’s history

By Nicole Contosta Staff Reporter


t’s tourist season. People flock from all over the world to visit America’s birthplace. On any given day, long lines form outside Independence Hall as sight- seers wait to visit the site where our founding fathers penned the famous line, “We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are cre- ated equally.”

Of course, radical histori- ans like Howard Zinn have argued, the founding fathers only guaranteed equal access of “life, liberty and the pur- suit of happiness” to a select percentage of the population, that is, white males who also owned property. For some, this might seem like a moot point. In today’s world, the founding fathers’ vision ap- plies to everyone regardless of gender, color or creed. However, sometimes as we

look at our history, there is a discrepancy between what the founding fathers wrote and what history actually unveiled. And the Lombard Street Riot is no exception. It all started on the morn- ing of August 1st

, 1842. Over

1,000 members of the black Young Men’s Vigilant As- sociation had organized a parade on Lombard between Fifth and Eight Streets. Their purpose? They had gath- ered to celebrate the end of slavery in the British West Indies. In doing so, they carried a banner that read: “How grand in age, how fair in truth, are holy Friendship, Love and Truth.”

By all documented ac- counts, members of the Vigilant Association did not engage in any form of dis- ruptive behavior that would incite a riot. But the Phila- delphia of the 1840’s was hardly a harmonious melt- ing pot. During the decades

Cedar Park Neighbors

proceeding the riot, Phila- delphia’s African American population had increased by fifty percent as both freed or fugitive slaves made their way north. Irish immigration to Philadelphia increased as well. Society at-large treated both African Americans and Irish immigrants with intol- erance. Both groups often competed for similar low- paying jobs, which created tension. That tension came to a head as the parade neared the Mother Bethel Church at Sixth and Lombard Streets. Mobs of Irish Catholics at- tacked the marchers. The paraders asked the mayor and the police for protection against the mob. Initially, the police arrested the victims but not the rioters. Over the next three days, rioters con- tinued to attack the Second African American Presbyte- rian Church, the abolitionist Smith’s Hall and numerous homes and public buildings

were looted and burned, many of them destroyed. Eventually, the rioting began to subside and the local mili- tia was brought in to restore order.

It’s a story that the vast majority of Philadelphians have never heard. After all, this is not a story that is ever mentioned in US his- tory books. If not for the historical marker on 6th


Lombard, the public-at-large wouldn’t have any way of learning about the riot. Even more remarkably, the historical marker wouldn’t even exist if not for the ef- forts of a senior class at Masterman High School in 2005. That’s when the class teacher, Amy Cohen, asked students to research Phila- delphia’s riots. When one student discovered the Lom- bard Street Riot, it sparked an immense reaction from the class. They applied for the marker through the Phil- adelphia Historical Commis- sion based on the argument that the marker highlighted the city’s history of racial intolerance—factors that are

Every Friday, from 6pm - 8pm

beginning May 25, 2012 Dr. Ketchup

June 1 Stickman Wyatt Trio

June 8 The Webb Thomas Fleet

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In Cedar Park 49th & Baltimore

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June 15 Rich Tucker and the Universal Koncept

June 22 Perserverance Jazz Band

June 29th Budessa Brothers

July 6 Mike Tyler Funk

July 13 The Jazz Doctors with Jeannie Brooks


Historical Marker honoring the Lombard Street Riot. On August 1, 1842 over 1,000 members of the black Young Men’s Vigilant Association marched down Lombard Street to celebrate the end of slavery in the British West Indies. They were attacked by mobs of Irish rioters who looted and burned African American homes & churches. Photo: C. Christian

often obscured for tourists. Today that marker reads: “Here on August 1,1842 an angry mob of whites attacked a parade celebrat- ing Jamaican Emancipation Day. A riot ensued. African Americans were beaten and their homes looted. The riot- ing lasted for 3 days. A local church and abolition meet-

ing place were destroyed by fire.”

Research for this article was compiled from documents gathered by the Preservation Alliance and an article written by former Philly Weekly re- porter Kia Gregory in 2005.

Caribbean Festivals Summer 2012

South Jersey: Wiggins Park, Camden, NJ: Noon to 8 pm. Food, music and entertainment.

July 14 Atlantic City Boardwalk, Noon July 21

Peoples’ Festival: Noon to 10 pm at the Tubman Garrett Riv- erfront Park, Wilmington, De, Special Tribute to Bob Marley.

July 28

50th Anniversary Independence Day Celebration PPL Park Stadium at 1 Stadium Drive, Chester City, PA. Red Stripe Beer / The Jamaica Tourist Board (J.T.B.) among other or- ganizations from Jamaica will be present. (Hand cart laden with only Jamaican / Sugar cane/ Coconuts / Oranges / Banana / Peanuts etc)

August.4 Great Plaza at Penns Landing, Phila.: Noon to 8 pm August19


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