The Riot Continues: Targeting African-Americans on Titan and Stillman Streets

1522 S. Stillman Street. Home of Mrs. Eleanor Grant in 1918. (Google Streetview)
1522 S. Stillman Street. Home of Mrs. Eleanor Grant in 1918. (Google Streetview)

“The fighting spread yesterday,” reported the Inquirer, to include a giant swath of South Philadelphia: Twentieth to Thirtieth streets, Lombard to Dickinson. Pawnbrokers were forbidden to sell “weapons of any kind until further notice” and saloons were ordered closed. Streets were roped off and police stationed at corners, allowing access to residents only.

Still, on Monday July 30, 1918, the violence grew more intense. “With the coming of night the rioting continued unabated, while the police made feeble and frantic efforts to scatter the throngs which gathered in the streets armed with every sort of weapon. Some even carried hatchets but the most frequently used instrument was a blackjack. Hundreds carried bricks with jagged edges.”

Frustrated, Mayor Thomas Smith “confessed that he did not know how order was going to be restored.”

“One of the most serious acts of the infuriated white mob took place at the home of Henry Huff at 2743 Titan Street” (near 28th and Wharton) the man accused of killing police officer Thomas McVey. While Huff sat in a cell in Moyamensing Prison, about fifty men, “many of them neighbors and friends of the dead bluecoat,” reported the Inquirer, “marched into Titan Street, armed with clubs, knives, bricks and revolvers.”

“With wild cries they descended upon the Huff home. The door had been locked and the windows barred. Inside were two women and three children, said to be the children of Huff. … They smashed the [door] panels with axes, tore open the windows and climbed in, one after the other. … Meanwhile the women and children inside the house at fled through the rear gate to the home of neighbors. Once inside, the vengeance seeking crowd started to wreck the place. A piano was shoved through the windows and hurled by willing hands into the centre of the street. Beds followed from the upper floors; chairs were tossed through windows, carrying away sash and glass. Everything removable in the house was sent flying into the street where it was made into a huge pile. Matches were applied to oil soaked mattresses and in an instant the furniture was in flames. Inside the house other members of the raiding party had started a fire.”

When there was nothing left to destroy at the Huff residence, the mob turned to other houses occupied by African-American families. “Mobs of white men” rampaged, wrecking interiors house after house. Police showed up, according to new reports. “only after the damage had been done.”

“Hundreds of colored residents are leaving the danger zone for places of safety,” police told reporters. “Several men were found fleeing clad in women’s garments.”

Four blocks to the southeast of the attack on the Huff home, someone thought a shot might have been fired from a window of 1522 South Stillman Street, the two-story home of Eleanor Grant, an African American woman. “Within a few minutes a struggling, fighting throng had forced its way into the Grant home and swept everything before it.”

2th Street - South of Dickinson Street. National Alloy Company, May 10, 1916. (
25th Street – South of Dickinson Street. National Alloy Company, May 10, 1916. (

“The crowd became a mob of five hundred within a short time.” A dozen policemen “were powerless before the swaying mass of bodies locked in deadly struggle. Every window in the house at 1522 Stillman street was broken. The furniture was cast into the street and broken with axes. From the Grant home the crowd entered houses of five other colored residents, repeating their actions. The street was soon filled with broken furniture and glassware. Half an hour later a mounted squad of twelve policemen arrived and, by sending their horses directly into the crowd managed to break it up.”

Soon after, William Duberry, 33, an African-American resident who lived nearby at 1511 South Stillman Street, returned home. “A crowd of white men who still lingered in defiance of the police” spotted Duberry, chased him through his house, then through the alley behind Stillman Street and across a nearby lot to Dickinson Street. With the mob “at his heels…Duberry ran into the office of the National Alloy Company and sought refuge behind the desk of the president of the company, Henry P. Miller. The crowd demanded admittance, and as Mr. Miller went to the door it gave way before the pushing of the crowd. Duberry managed to evade capture…by scaling the fence.”

But by the time police arrived, the mob had caught and was “pummeling” the now unconscious Duberry. “With their revolvers the policeman held the crowd at bay while they put Duberry into an automobile and took him to St. Agnes hospital” where he was admitted with internal injuries and a fractured skull.

[Source: “Race Riots Grow In Fury As Police Fail To Curb Mobs,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 30, 1918.]

More posts on the South Philadelphia Riot of 1918 herehere and here