Lombard Street Riot
The Lombard Street Riot, one of the Abolition Riots, was a three-day race riot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1842. The riot was the last in a 13-year period marked by frequent racial attacks in the city. It started on Lombard Street, between Fifth and Eighth streets.
In the early decades of the 19th century, there were significant increases in the city's African American population as large numbers of freed and fugitive slaves joined recent immigrants in Philadelphia. During the twenty-five years prior to the run of riots, the city's African American population grew more than 50%. At the same time, there were increasing numbers of Irish immigrants who were also separated from the larger society by their generally rural backgrounds as well as by their Catholic religion. Given European political and religious tensions and the British occupation of Ireland, there had long been strong anti-Catholic feeling among many American Protestants.
During the years immediately before the riots, there were periodic outbreaks of racial, ethnic and religious violence among Irish Catholics, German Protestants, African Americans and even pacifist Quakers. These were the result of social and economic competition, especially between Irish Catholics and African Americans, who were generally at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Many Irish refused to work on labor teams with African Americans, adding to the difficulties of both groups in getting work.
Irish Catholics, often competitors for the lowest-paying, unskilled and menial jobs, perceived the city's more successful African American residents as flaunting their success, setting the stage for the blacks to become targets for the immigrants' frustrations and jealous rage.
On the morning of August 1, 1842, a parade was held by over 1,000 members of the black Young Men's Vigilant Association on Philadelphia's Lombard Street between Fifth and Eighth Streets in commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies.
As the paraders neared Mother Bethel Church, they were attacked by an Irish Catholic mob. The rioters moved west, setting fires and attacking fire fighters and police as they went, heading for the home of African American leader Robert Purvis. Purvis and his home were saved from the Irish mob only through a Catholic priest's intervention.
Requests to the mayor and police for protection initially led to the arrest of several of the victims and none of the rioters. Over three days of attacks, the Second African American Presbyterian Church (on St. Mary's Street near 6th Street), the abolitionist Smith's Hall and numerous homes and public buildings were looted and burned, many of them destroyed. The mayor had credible evidence of a plan to burn several local churches, which he ignored.
Afterward, the mayor refused to arrest most of those known to have led the riot. Of those arrested by the militia, most were found not guilty or otherwise released. The three or four who were convicted received only light sentences.
In March 2005, the Pennsylvania Historical and Cultural Commission approved a historical sign at Sixth and Lombard streets to mark the event. It reads
Lombard Street Riot — Here on August 1842 an angry mob of whites attacked a parade celebrating Jamaican Emancipation Day.
A riot ensued. African Americans were beaten and their homes looted.The rioting lasted for 3 days. A local church and abolition meeting place were destroyed by fire.
The marker was the result of work by a class of Philadelphia students challenged by their rookie history teacher to research a race riot in the city and argue for its significance. After researching the riot, the students decided that the event was an aspect of a significant part of the city's history that is often ignored. Petitioning for the marker was their way of highlighting the racial intolerance often left out of versions of city history presented to tourists.
The marker stands at Philadelphia's first public recreation facility, Starr Garden, which is a popular playground.
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- Independence Hall Association. "Philadelphia Timeline, 1842". Accessed April 30, 2008.
- Runcie, John. Pennsylvania History, April 1972, Penn State University Press. "'Hunting the Nigs' in Philadelphia: The Race Riot of August 1834". 39.2, pp 187–218.
- Hopper, Matthew S., Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, "From Refuge to Strength: The Rise of the African American Church in Philadelphia, 1787-1949". Accessed 30 December 2012.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania, "Lombard Street Riots". Accessed 15 August 2012.
- Contosta, Nicole. University City Review, 11 July 2012, "The Lombard Street Riot: an often-ignored chapter in Philadelphia's history". Accessed 28 December 2012. "Mobs of Irish Catholics attacked the marchers."
- The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, "YEARS OF GROWTH AND CHALLENGE, 1830-1880" (Archived copy available at . Accessed 30 December 2012.
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- Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. March 2005. "PHMC APPROVES 27 NEW HISTORICAL MARKERS". Accessed April 30, 2008.
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