Events and People

The Calm after the Storm


Philadelphia’s first public recreation facility, Starr Garden, was built at the corner of 7th and Lombard Streets in 1908. Seeing the location in this 1907 photograph and the many people there enjoying free time outdoors, it is hard to imagine that this same location laid along a path of violence and destruction in the fall of 1842. Marked today by one of the many familiar blue and yellow markers of the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission at 6th and Lombard Streets, the area between 5th and 8th Streets on Lombard was the location of a major race riot that occurred August 1-2, 1842, when local African Americans marched to celebrate the end of slavery in the British Empire.

In the decades preceding the riots on Lombard Street, many freed and fugitive slaves, as well as other immigrants, moved into the city. Understandably, such a large increase in population (in the period from 1810 to 1830, the African American population increased by 48 percent) caused tension among the residents (DuBois 26). When African Americans marched that day in support of the temperance movement and in celebration of abolition, the anger of neighboring whites grew. The mob of angry whites that subsequently formed assaulted African Americans, looting and burning their homes and public buildings along the way. Among the buildings torched were Smith’s Hall, a meeting place for abolitionists, and the Second African American Presbyterian Church. The mob continued to grow throughout the night and into the next morning when it was stopped by the militia.

The Lombard Street Riot of 1842 was the last–at least momentarily–in a series of race-related riots that had begun thirteen years earlier (DuBois 27-30). The increase in the number of African Americans in the city brought about fear in white inhabitants, who perceived the newcomers as a threat. This was especially the case when the African American community expanded in both wealth and population. Unfortunately, whites’ coped with their racial fears through violence.