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, but 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 first city in the US to inaugurate a museum of African American history and culture. The museum is situated centrally, close to what was once the Seventh Ward.

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 and new street murals does, at least to some extent, preserve and remind visitors and new residents of the district’s black legacy.