“The Crusade is Now Begun In Philadelphia”: Municipal Reformers, Southern Democrats, and African American Voters

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Julie R. Davidow, University of Pennsylvania
In March 1900, Gertrude Mossell warned about the consequences of inviting Southern proponents of disfranchisement to speak in Philadelphia at a conference organized by reformers to address the “American Negro.” “These men want the 15th Amendment repealed,” proclaimed Mossell, an African American journalist and officer in the Philadelphia branch of the Afro-American Council. “They want to … rule without the disgrace of shooting the Negro.” The conference, organized by settlement house leaders and municipal reformers, was intended as a follow-up to the publication of W.E.B. DuBois’ The Philadelphia Negro in 1899. Reformers hoped the lectures would serve as “the second step in obtaining reliable data in order that any effort on behalf of this race may have intelligent direction.” But Mossell detected a more insidious result of soliciting advice from “moderate” Southerners.

As the new century dawned, municipal reformers increasingly identified Philadelphia’s growing black population as an important underpinning of the city’s Republican political machine. In this paper, I argue that Philadelphia’s urban political corruption narrative developed in dialogue with white Southerners’ campaigns to reframe Reconstruction as a perversion of democracy. Rather than simply serving the cause of solidifying Jim Crow in the South, Northern reformers and Southern Democrats borrowed from each other to shape and articulate an emerging national consensus that African Americans were unfit for full participation in the body politic. Both focused on partisan misdeeds and unqualified African American voters being used as tools of Republican Party leaders to make their case. After attending the Philadelphia conference, Mossell herself concluded, “[T]he South is a unit to disfranchise us and the crusade is now begun in Philadelphia.”

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