Hard Lessons

Student activists fought for racial equity at Philadelphia high schools in the 1960s, and beyond

A photograph from the pages of the 1967 GHS Revidere yearbook shows an integrated class at the high school. The content, however, runs contrary to the increased segregation occurring at GHS in the mid-to-late 1960s, with African American members of the student body finding themselves frequently isolated and marginalized from their white counterparts. Photos courtesy of Germantown Historical Society/Historic Germantown.

The 1960s witnessed increasing segregation in Philadelphia – and Germantown was no exception, with the Germantown High School being a microcosm of a city-wide dynamic. African American students in area high schools became increasingly isolated by discriminatory practices and, as the 1960s progressed, racial inequities continued to worsen at schools such as Germantown High.

On November 17, 1967, David P. Richardson, an African American alumnus of GHS, led a student walkout that travelled to the Philadelphia Board of Education’s headquarters just north of Logan Square. The students demanded a curriculum that included African American history taught by Black teachers, an increased Black representation on the school board, and the assignment of Black principals to majority Black schools.

This was a highly orchestrated grassroots effort, which included students from Simon Gratz, Kensington, Edison, Bartram and Bok Technical high schools (to name a few). By the time the protesters arrived in Center City, their numbers had swelled to 3,500. Frank Rizzo, then the City’s police commissioner, sent 400 officers to quell the protest. Peaceful protesters were assaulted by the police, and the news made national headlines.

Police arrest protestors. Nov. 17, 1967. Photo courtesy Bob Mooney, Phila Inquirer.

As a result of the news coverage, the protests helped expose the inequities African American students faced in the Philadelphia public school system as well as endemic police brutality in Philadelphia.

Though many of the student’s demands went unmet, and GHS continued to struggle with these issues until it closed in 2013, this protest indicated the rise of a new generation of Black political leadership in Philadelphia, and helped situate David P. Richardson as a key leader representing this area.

David P. Richardson was born in Philadelphia and quickly became a figure in local politics and civic organizations, following African American leaders in the community before him, such as Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan among others (as discussed in last month’s “Time Machine.”)

After graduating from Germantown High in 1965, Richardson was the Executive Director of the Greater Germantown Youth Corporation from 1968-1972, and became a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives a year later and remained so until his death in 1995. From 1977 until 1990, Richardson was a member of the Democratic Executive Committee’s 12th Ward, and from 1991 until his death, was a member of the Democratic Committee’s 59th Ward.

For More Info
Relevant sources of information on this and related topics are available to the public for review at the Germantown Historical Society, including:

  • Erika Kitzmiller’s 2012 dissertation The Roots of Educational Inequality: Germantown High School 1907-2011
  • Germantown High School Class Record and Revidere yearbooks from 1918-2006
  • Germantown Courier from 1937-2007
  • Germantown Crier from 1949 to the present
  • The series of oral histories, African Americans Between the World Wars and Germantown Speaks, and
  • Matthew J. Countryman’s Up South, discussing the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in Philadelphia.

For additional information on these or any resources or to learn more about the history of our area, contact Alex Bartlett (see below).

About the Time Machine
This regular series goes back in time with Tuomi Forrest, Executive Director of Historic Germantown, as he picks some of his favorite images from the Germantown Historical Society’s extensive collection. Alex Bartlett, Librarian and Archivist of the Germantown Historical Society/Historic Germantown, writes the columns, bringing photos from the distant past to life. For additional information or to learn more about the history of our area, please contact Alex at (215) 844-1683, or at library@germantownhistory.org.

 

About Alex Bartlett 10 Articles
Librarian and archivist Alex Bartlett combines his hobbies with his career. Working for the Germantown historical society, Bartlett manages the libraries’ collection and archives, while also helping to provide visitors with requested research documents. Alex is a self-described “history nerd,” with interests in archeology and old bottles and glassware. He said that growing up in Germantown is what initially stimulated his enthusiasm toward historical documents and objects, and his job manages to integrate all of his interests into one field.

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