Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Republicans Figured Out How to Run Philadelphia Politics

James Wolfinger. Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

This book observed how the Republican Party in Philadelphia in the 1930s through the 1959s used racial issues to their electoral advantage. They used the increased competition for jobs and housing to appeal to white voters who were upset over the New Deal programs of Democrats that were improving the standing of African Americans. The basis of modern liberalism is rooted in these New Deal efforts, plus, those opposing using tax dollars being spent on others formed the basis of modern conservatism, according to the author.

Philadelphia Republican leaders presented their party as one representing the interests of working class whites who were being overwhelmed by taxes for new programs that were demanded by Black voters. While this was a recognized tactic by the national Republican Party in the 1960s, Philadelphia Republicans used this appeal to control city politics from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Housing issues were very racially sensitive. Blacks moving into Philadelphia neighborhoods that were mostly Irish American or Italian American could spark riots. Whites were found to fear Black neighbors would bring increased crime and sexual promiscuity into their communities. White also believed Black neighbors would lower property values. Meanwhile, Blacks demanded an end to discrimination against them as well as housing desegregation.

When Blacks sought to enter employment in all-white Philadelphia industries, white employees responded with strikes and physical threats against Black job seekers.
These divisions in Philadelphia prevented the creation of a liberal alliance between Blacks and whites that was created in other cities. Philadelphia had one of the largest Black populations of northern cities. Democrats sought to appeal to this large Black vote. Republicans used racial appeals in their Philadelphia campaigns. Philadelphia Republicans did not rely much on the national Republican tactic of charging that communism was a part of the New Deal. This charge worked in other parts of the country but was found to have made little impact in Philadelphia. It was the racial issues that dominated Philadelphia politics then.

In 1850, 70,000 of Philadelphia’s 400,000 population were Irish born,. By the mid-20th century, most of the Philadelphia Irish American were home owners.

In 1870, there were 500 Italians in Philadelphia, in 1910 there were 45,000, and in 1920 there were 65,000. Many found low wage jobs in railroads, mills, and the city’s street cleaning operations. Cardinal Dennis Dougherty created 15 Italian parishes in the late 1920s and placed Irish priests in each in order to “Americanize” the Italians. Many Italians resented this.

Early Jewish immigrants were from Germany and to a lesser degree from Eastern Europe. In 1882, there was an influx of Eastern European Jews. Philadelphia had 93,000 foreign born Jews plus 100,000 city born Jews in 1920. Many Jews became garment workers and peddlers. Militant garment workers unions formed alliances with Jewish, Italians, and African American female employees.

A coalition between Blacks and Jewish leaders supported the NAACP. The author notes there were Blacks who complained about not being hired by some Jewish merchants. There were also tensions between some Jewish landlords who bought properties in Black neighborhoods and their African American tenants. The Black oriented newspaper Philadelphia Tribune labeled Jews as “dollar crazy who were always prepared to invade Black communities.”

In 1918, Blacks moved into homes bordering small Black residential areas. This led to rioting and an attempted lynching. The Klan became more active in Philadelphia. The Klan’s anti-Catholic beliefs caused it to be ignored by mostly Catholic Irish and Italian Americans in Philadelphia.

Unemployment among Blacks was 24% in 1927 and 61% after the Depression hit. An organization dedicated to finding employment for Blacks, the Armstrong Association, could only find jobs for 3.9% of those who applied.

The percent of Philadelphia’s workforce who were in unions never exceeded 10% during the 1930s. Employers actively sought to fight unionization through court actions to using state police and their own private police.

Free market Republicans formed a political faction led by Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association leaders Joseph Grundy and G. Mason Owlett as well as Sun Oil Company’s Joseph Pew. The Republican Party machine operations were led by William Vare. The machine registered fake voters, paid voters at the polls to vote Republican, and beat up and imprisoned Democratic election day workers.

Pennsylvania was a historic Republican state. From 1893 to 1931, Republicans won 95 of 96 statewide elections.

The Philadelphia Republican Party cemented support with business interests. The business leaders let the Vares run city government in return for the nominating pro-business, pro-high tariff candidates.

Philadelphia remained Republican, during the 1932 national landslide victory of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt for President, by giving Republican Herbert Hoover a 70,000 vote edge among Philadelphia voters. This was a fraction of the normal Republican margin in the city. Roosevelt carried Pittsburgh as well as many other urban areas. Roosevelt carried Philadelphia in his 1936 landslide by 210,000 votes.
The Central Labor Union of the AFL fought home foreclosures and utility shutoffs. Businesses sought help from Republican Judges to lock out union workers, halt their organizing, and to ignore when violence was used against union members. In 1930, when three strikers were shot, riots resulted. Sit down strikes in 1937 were more successful in gaining union demands.

Blacks were under 1% of union membership from 1900 to 1935.

The New Deal jobs programs employed 30% of South Philadelphia Italian heads of households. 10% of Philadelphia Works Program Administration (WPA) jobs went to Blacks, who then were 7.6% of the city population.

Philadelphia Democrats realized they needed the votes of Blacks to win city elections. Blacks demanded fair treatment from Democratic leaders. Blacks were named to Delegate positions.

Philadelphia Republican leaders resisted Roosevelt’s jobs programs. Mayor J. Hampton Moore turned down building a city airport and putting in sewer lines that would have used WPA jobs.

Philadelphia Republicans turned to racist campaigning. They distributed literature to white voters warning of rising Black power that had a photograph of Black Democratic State Rep. Marshall Shepard. The brochure asked “should you white people have Black representation? Register and vote Republican and do away with these things.”

A collapse of tenement housing in 1936 killed six and hospitalized 20 more. This led to Blacks demanding more action on better housing. Budget restraints had reduced the city to seven housing inspectors despite state law providing for 24 inspectors. Democratic leaders called for more slum clearance and more public housing. Labor leaders saw a housing program as creating more jobs.

Walter Thomas of the City Planning Commission urged Philadelphia create areas for Blacks that would preserve “the wholesome effect” on white property values. Blacks were kept out of housing projects meant for wite residents, such as Tasker Homes.
The segregation of housing resulte din keeping Blacks distances from where most jobs and good schools were.

Republican Mayor Robert Lamberto stopped requesting Federal housing in 1940. This was a blend of fiscal conservatism and racism. Housing advocates argued only 3,000 units had been built when 50,000 were needed.

Race relations between Italian Americans and Blacks became further strained in 1935 when Italy invaded Ethopia. Blacks viewed this as a symbol of intolerance. In 1939, Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. James Davis spoke at a Bund German Day meeting, which had pro-Hitler sentiment. This further divided racial politics in Philadelphia.

Bernard Samuel was a Republican who was elected Philadelphia Mayor in 1941 by fighting against more public housing for Blacks and for being against a Fair Employment Practices Committee.

Racial tension flared in 1942. Blacks felt Major Samuel and Republican leaders had acted slowly in preventing rioting against Blacks.

A 1941 to 1943 study found about 75% of white housing and 46% of Black housing met minimum housing standards of indoor plumbing and no major structural disrepairs.
In 1943, Shipyard Homes were build for Navy yard employees near Irish American and Italian American neighborhoods. A few Black were allowed into cheaper units. White groups protested allowing Blacks into these units. This actually led to more Black being placed into Shipyard Homes.

The 1940s saw increased employment, but Blacks lagged behind in employment gains. 30% of employable Black males in Philadelphia could not find jobs in the late 1940s. Half of those on relief then were Blacks, who composed 13% of the city population.

Blacks sought desegregated and better jobs with the Philadelphia Transportation Company in 1943. The NAACP, under the leadership of Carolyn Davenport Moore, became involved in filing grievances and holding marches.

The Transportation Workers Union, whose membership was white, fought against CIO unionizing attempts. They distributed leaflets that stated to “protect your loved ones. Get rid of the Negro by joining the white cause.”

Union interests fighting each other on racial lines demonstrated how Republican and corporate leaders divided what otherwise could have been a significant liberal coalition, according to the author. Mayor Samuel declined to attempt to defuse labor fights as Republicans realized the racial conflicts were hurting Democrats. President Roosevelt sent 5,000 soldiers in 1944 to end a strike that was hurting war production. Blacks were then allowed to be hired as transit drivers.
80% of racial violence happened in predominately Black neighborhoods in North Philadelphia. Damages to stores typically spared businesses that Blacks felt treated them well. Damage was more prevalent against businesses Black felt had treated them poorly, many of which were owned by people of Irish or Italian descent.
Private builders built only 164 homes in Philadelphia in 1944. Tens of thousands were seeking homes that were not built. The Black population was 250,000 in 1940 and 375,000 in 1050. Many new Blacks could only find inferior housing. 35% of Blacks and 8% of whites lived in dilapidated or bathless housing. 11% of Philadelphia housing was eligible for redevelopment, which was where 75% of Blacks lived.

William Levitt constructed 145,000 homes in suburbs outside Philadelphia for purchase by white middle class people from 1945 to 1955. Levittown, as it became, refused to allow Blacks to buy homes.

Whites were 99.7% of the population in the Fishtown and lower Kensington section of Philadelphia. Residents were known for preventing Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, and Portuguese from moving into the neighborhood. A Black family faced a week of rioting and thrown objects in 1966 and harassment continued until the family left after six months.

Republicans worked to prevent passage of any fair employment practices legislation. Democrats such as Richardson Dilworth supported such legislation. Dilworth was elected Mayor in 1951. Frank Rizzo in the 1960s and later Mayor in the 1970s would resume using racial statements and policies.


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