Lombard Street Riots Site
southeast corner of 6th & Lombard Sts.
This marker commemorates the 1842 eruption of the mounting tension between 19th-century South Philadelphia's two largest minority groups: African Americans and Irish immigrants. On August 1, 1842, more than 1,000 blacks took part in a temperance parade to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. They were attacked on Fourth Street by an Irish mob that beat many of the marchers and looted black homes in the area. The marchers retaliated in self-defense, further enraging the Irish mob. The rioting continued for three days.
African Americans and Irish immigrants lived in the same general vicinity and directly competed for the same unskilled jobs and housing. The Irish and free blacks clung to bottom rung of the economic ladder, and frequently clashed in their efforts to climb up. Both felt that their hard won, if meager, social and economic gains were constantly threatened and that their basic rights being eroded. The Irish were challenged by the Nativists' religious and racial bigotry that influenced everything from politics to the temperance movement. Free blacks were never truly safe because of fugitive slave laws, and in 1838 Pennsylvania stripped free blacks of their right to vote. The strength and vitality of Philadelphia's fast-growing free-black community generated fear, frustration and eventually violence on the part of the Irish immigrants.
During the riots of 1842, the mob burned down the Second African Presbyterian Church and Smith's Hall on Lombard Street, which had been the site of abolition lectures since abolitionist hub Pennsylvania Hall was destroyed in the riots of 1838. The Irish rioters headed west toward the home of prominent and outspoken African American leader Robert Purvis at 9th and Lombard. Purvis sat on the steps of his home armed and ready. Ultimately, his home was spared from the inferno by the intervention of a Catholic priest. Purvis eventually relocated permanently to his rural Bucks County home, but the neighborhood that would become Society Hill continued to grow and change, remaining an incubator for the American urban experience well into the 21st century.