Seventh Ward, Philadelphia

In 1899 W.E.B. Du Bois published The Philadelphia Negro, a landmark sociological text based upon a survey of African Americans living in the Seventh Ward, an area located just to the south of central Philadelphia. Critical labour shortages during and after WWI drew thousands more black people from the South to the city’s Seventh Ward. A second, far larger Great Migration occurred after World War II, almost tripling the African American population of the city by 1970.

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The Seventh Ward became one of many black neighbourhoods in Philadelphia, many of which now have their own heritage, but it has maintained its reputation as the heart of black life in the city. Du Bois’ survey of living conditions in the Seventh Ward brought attention to the ignominies suffered by black residents, while the 1964 Philadelphia ‘race riots’ (an echo of those which occurred in 1842) revealed how strained race relations in the city had become by the civil rights era. In 1976, Philadelphia was inaugurated a museum of African American history and culture.

(Right, W.E.B. Du Bois mural, South Street, Philadelphia PA, photo by Monique Perry for AIC ©)

However, as Marcus Hunter explains in Black Citymakers, today the Seventh Ward is no longer referred to locally or administratively by this name. In fact, ‘[m]ost of the black churches, stores, and social clubs […] are all gone’ (ibid). Gentrification of the area combines an artsy aesthetic with luxury upscaling such as new condominiums. However, physical preservation of historic buildings, street markers, and new street murals does, at least to some extent, preserve and remind visitors and new residents of the district’s black legacy.

(Left, historical marker for Lombard Street riot, Lombard Street, Philadelphia PA, photo by Monique Perry for AIC ©)