Civil Rights in Philadelphia

 

The 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

Terminal A-East
Ticketed passengers

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964, was historical legislation that outlawed major forms of discrimination. The Act strengthened voting rights, it prohibited discrimination and segregation in public places, prohibited segregation in public schools, and prohibited discrimination in the work place. Its purpose was to improve the quality of life for all Americans. It is described as an Act that “did not resolve all problems of discrimination but it opened the door to further progress.”

However, it was hundreds of years before 1964 when Philadelphia began to play an integral role in establishing America’s earliest civil liberties.  In 1681, William Penn was said to govern Pennsylvania with equality and tolerance. In 1701, Penn wrote The Charter of Privileges, signed in Philadelphia, that granted certain rights to the citizens of Pennsylvania and included the freedom of religion.

The two most timeless charters of freedom – The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – were both written in Philadelphia. Freedom, however, was still a matter of debate in the nation as the moral issue of slavery deeply divided the country and women were not permitted to vote. Nevertheless, many civil-minded Philadelphians were abolitionists and suffragettes and, as Europeans immigrated to Philadelphia and strived to establish their various cultural and religious rights, there were Philadelphians who supported the use of various languages and helped citizens maintain their religious heritage.

In 1912, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded – the national organization was formed just 3 years earlier. Numerous Philadelphians were heralded for their work with the NAACP and their courageous efforts to end racial segregation and discrimination.

In 1951, Philadelphia became the first city in the United States to establish a Commission on Human Relations – an agency that enforces the city’s laws prohibiting discrimination and promotes equal rights and opportunities for all Philadelphians.

In the 1960s, the protests at Girard College made national news as the school only admitted white male orphans.  That same decade, Philadelphia experienced its first gay sit-in followed by annual gay rights pickets at Independence Hall.

Civil rights activism continued to be a part of the City’s quest to ensure equality for all - from the founding of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW); Project HOME that aids the homeless; to organizations and individuals dedicated to improving the lives of Latinos, and advocacy groups that promote mutual respect and understanding between religions.

Philadelphia is proud of its past contributions to advance equality and embraces its multi-ethnic and multi-spiritual citizenry. The City has continued to be a leader in supporting the civil rights of women and the LGBT community. And as the birthplace of America, Philadelphia will continue its legacy to protect the freedoms and rights of all Philadelphians.

 
  William Penn, Library of Congress
 
 Clarence Farmer, Commission on Human Relations, Philadelphia
 
March on Washington, John J. Wilcox Jr. Archives at William Way LGBT Community Center
 
Sister Scullion and Joan McConnon, Project  HOME 
   Sister Scullion and Joan McConnon, Project  HOME