1967 Philadelphia Student Demonstrations

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The 1967 Philadelphia Student Demonstrations was a student strike and subsequent police riot which took place on November 17, 1967. The demonstration was part of a larger trend of racial tension and unrest in the United States during the 1960s.

Causes[edit]

The demonstration was led and planned, in part, by the student-run and organized Central Coordinating Committee (CCC). The CCC demanded better schools for all students in Philadelphia, especially African-Americans, and an end to tracking and the forced vocational education system which affected African-American students at that time.

The Student Action Committee (SAC) was another organizing force behind the demonstrations. It was made up of high school students from various schools across Philadelphia. SAC met for at least three years before the demonstration, and published and distributed a student-run newsletter. SAC was active in a number of demonstrations in that period, such as the Philadelphia Post Office demonstration to demand African-Americans to be hired on an equal basis, the Girard College integration marches, various civil rights marches as well as a number of anti-war marches

CCC was in negotiations with public school superintendent Marc Shedd, who was known as a reformer, for at least a year before the demonstration. A number of demands had been presented to school administrators at meetings held on North Broad Street. The issue of ending vocational tracking and other situations drew supporters from all areas of the city of Philadelphia. Other demands included the removal of uniformed police officers from public schools, and the addition of African-American studies to the curriculum. The CCC also met with white students a number of times outside and inside Philadelphia to discuss joint demands for a student bill of rights.

Lack of action after those discussions with the school board prompted the November demonstration.

Student strike and police response[edit]

On November 17, 1967, 3,500 students walked out of their classes and assembled in front of the Board of Education building at 21st and the Parkway.[1] The demonstrators included youth groups, Catholic high school students and public high school students.

The demonstrators were met by two busloads of police, and the encounter quickly turned violent. Twenty-two people were seriously injured and 57 were arrested.

The Commissioner of Police Frank Rizzo was on the scene, and witnesses quoted him as telling his officers to “Get their Black asses!” [1]

Aftermath[edit]

Reaction to the riot was split. Some criticized the brutal response of police officers against unarmed student, while others praised Rizzo’s action to suppress the demonstration.[1] The North City Congress, a social service organization, produced a report on November 29, 1967, entitled, “A Comparison of Police Action in Kensington Riots of 1966 and at the School Board Demonstration, November, 1967” noted the discrepancies in the actions of the Philadelphia Police Department, in the decision to attack the students at the Philadelphia school board demonstration as opposed to a riot which had occurred in a white community.

At least two court cases were filed against the Philadelphia Police Department for their role in the riot: Heard et al. v Rizzo et al. and Traylor et al. v. Rizzo et al. [2]

Frank Rizzo was exposed to direct and intense criticism for the actions of the police at that demonstration, but he was also credited with keeping the peace. He was later elected Mayor of Philadelphia.

Mark Shedd made some initial reforms in the aftermath of the riot, including granting student demands for draft-counseling services, drafting a students’ bill of rights, and granting them a voice in curriculum and disciplinary procedures. However, his reforms were not well-received, and he was eventually forced to resign.[3]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Countryman M.J. "From protest to politics": Community control and black independent politics in Philadelphia, 1965-1984 (2006) Journal of Urban History, 32 (6), pp. 813–861 [4]
  • Slavery in Philadelphia, by Stephanie Wicks.[5]
  • Forer, L. "No One Will Lissen": How Our Legal System Brutalizes the Youthful Poor; The Universal Library/Grosset & Dunlap (1971)[6]

References[edit]