Celebrating its a hundred and twenty fifth anniversary, WEB Du Bois' The Philadelphia Negro offers lasting lessons on gentrification in Philly's historically black neighborhoods

Society Hillwhere Sixers star Joel Embiid recently put his penthouse apartment in the marketplace $5.5 millionhas long been one in every of Philadelphia's most exclusive neighborhoods.

It's a far cry from what the neighborhood looked like 125 years ago, when sociologist and civil rights activist WEB Du Bois published: “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study.”

The book examines in great detail the social conditions of hundreds of black Philadelphians who lived in what was then the Seventh Ward, a neighborhood that overlaps with today's Society Hill.

We are sociologists and Du Bois scholars whose research focuses on Gentrification And Anti-Black Racism. We are too Guest editor of a special issue of Magazine for town and community which will probably be dedicated to the historical study of Du Bois.

As it celebrates its a hundred and twenty fifth anniversary, The Philadelphia Negro offers precious lessons about why many historically black neighborhoods in Philadelphia look the way in which they do today—and where they is likely to be headed.

Family portrait of WEB Du Bois, his wife Nina and their young son Burghardt in 1898.
Family portrait of WEB Du Bois, his wife Nina and their son Burghardt, 1898.
WEB Du Bois Papers, 1803-1999, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries

Du Bois examines the seventh District

Du Bois and his wife Nina, arrived in Philadelphia in 1896 on the invitation of the University of Pennsylvania and with the support of the local settlement house movement. With The Philadelphia Negro, published in 1899, these benefactors commissioned Du Bois to research it “The Negro Problems”.

As Du Bois wrote“There is a large group of people here – perhaps 45,000, a city within a city – who do not form an integral part of the larger social group.” He noted that 1 / 4 of all black Philadelphians lived within the Seventh Ward. a then limited quarter east to west between seventh and twenty fifth Streets and north to south from Spruce Street to South Street.

Philadelphia within the late nineteenth century a producing giant and the second largest city within the USA. But as Du Bois detailed in his study, black Philadelphians were concentrated in “certain slum neighborhoods,” areas with “poor houses and poorer police protection.” They were excluded from well-paying jobs and faced higher rates of incarceration and lower pardon rates for crimes than white Philadelphians. These challenges, Du Bois explained, are rooted in systemic racism with historical ties to slavery.

“Such discrimination,” Du Bois declared plainly, “is morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly.”

Mural depicting WEB Du Bois in Philadelphia's Seventh Ward
A mural dedicated to Du Bois and the old Seventh Ward is painted on the corner of sixth and South Streets in Philadelphia.
Paul Marotta/Getty Images

By the time Du Bois arrived in Philadelphia, the technique of devaluation and disinvestment in black neighborhoods just like the Seventh Ward had already been underway for many years. During the nineteenth century, Philadelphia's population grew significantly Industry expanded and prosperity increased. Property values ​​rose across town. Still, black residents were less prone to own property than white residents. He found that racial discrimination resulted in Philadelphia's black residents getting lower-paying jobs and being segregated into neighborhoods with older homes that were poorly maintained.

Urban renewal and resistance

Almost 50 years after Du Bois's study, urban planner Edmund Bacon helped organize one “Better Philadelphia” exhibition. in 1947 with a vision of personal reinvestment in town's failing downtown economy.

Bacon, is taken into account “Father of contemporary Philadelphia“, has largely prevailed. He turned his gaze toward Society Hilland his vision for this neighborhood became one Blueprint for urban planning. Expensive high-rise apartments displaced poor residents, including blacks and Eastern European immigrants, who had lived there for many years.

Other parts of the Seventh District later experienced the results of urban renewal. The Black Seventh Warders fought a protracted, successful struggle within the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies to move off a proposed expressway that might have cut up their neighborhood. However, the sociologist Marcus Hunter documents in his book “Black city makers“The neighborhood experienced significant changes from 1975 to 2000. South Street east of Broad Street developed right into a “distinctly artistic and commercial district,” while west of Broad Street “became a combination of high-end condominiums and shops.”

Modern Philadelphia Gentrification

With its visible marks on luxury apartments and stylish cafes and restaurants, gentrification has transformed neighborhoods across Philadelphia. from Germantown to Fishtown. While the ZIP codes that include Point Breeze in South Philadelphia and Northern Liberties north of Center City should not a part of the old Seventh District, are amongst probably the most gentrified within the country since 2000.

A large building under construction at 27th and Girard in Brewerytown, Philadelphia
Construction is underway on a $10 million apartment complex at twenty seventh and Girard in Brewerytown, Philadelphia.
Jeff Fusco /The Conversation US, CC BY-NC-ND

However, in a few of Philadelphia's historically black neighborhoods, disinvestment and decline over the many years have been so extreme that they should not prone to gentrification sometime soon. Middle-class home buyers, corporations, and real estate developers and investors consider them too dangerous and stigmatized.

Meanwhile, black Philadelphians did expressed his frustration about how latest research centers at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania—paradoxically, the identical institution Du Bois hired to conduct his study—displaced residents within the historic Black Bottom, a neighborhood that has since been renamed University City.

Gentrification advantages many white, middle-class residents who buy reasonably priced homes that rise in value quickly because the neighborhood's demographics change. But long-term residents and businesses often face higher rents and property taxes that could make life harder Homes and neighborhoods they grew up in unaffordable. Cultural institutions like black churches close their doors permanently when the people they serve leave the neighborhood. The First African Baptist Church in South Philly, one in every of the oldest churches of its kind within the country, was sold to developers in 2016 and have become a boutique hotel.

If Philadelphia residents pushed out of the gentrifying districtsthey often move to lower-income areas, a process that Hunter “Secondary migration.” For those who can afford to stay, There is “cultural repression” as gentrified neighborhoods now not feel like home.

Yet black Philadelphians have all the time been “Placemaker” – People who use creative and political agency to create spaces during which they will thrive and reply to changes within the neighborhood. And organizations that fight for housing justice, resembling: Philly is flourishing, have helped advance anti-gentrification efforts in town. The Jump-starting Germantown The program trains area developers to take a position in local communities and construct community prosperity.

Meanwhile, middle-class black residents have chosen to take a position in Philadelphia Opening of outlets where everyone seems to be welcome. An example is Uncle Bobbie'sa well-liked coffee shop, bookstore and gathering place for the Germantown community.

While the Seventh District isn’t any longer an official designation, a creative homage teaches latest generations concerning the wealthy black history on this area. It is a story about neighborhood change and the potential of a more equitable future for black Americans—something Du Bois hoped for when writing The Philadelphia Negro and throughout his profession.

image credit : theconversation.com