New “Faces and Accents”: Racial Transition and Turmoil at Philadelphia’s Lighthouse Settlement, 1969–72

Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Alyssa Ribeiro, University of California, Los Angeles
The Lighthouse Settlement, located in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, was a microcosm of anxieties about changing racial demographics, societal priorities, and political divides in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Drawing upon newspapers and archival sources, this paper shows how controversies surrounding neighborhood institutions could play a central role in the formation of multiracial coalitions. For much of the twentieth century, the Lighthouse had served a predominantly white population by providing recreation programs. Beginning in the late sixties, as greater numbers of lower-income blacks and Puerto Ricans moved into the area, Lighthouse staff began providing more social services to reach those populations. This shift in emphasis met sharp disapproval from some local whites, who perceived a threat to their sports tradition. From 1969 to 1972, the Lighthouse was an institution besieged. Its staff struggled to address organized opposition from white neighbors while remaining sensitive to the needs and concerns of black and Puerto Rican residents and dealing with interventions from the United Fund and Mayor Frank Rizzo. The use of Lighthouse facilities for a Black Panthers/Young Lords breakfast program and attempts by a radical white group to stage events there further heightened tensions over the Lighthouse’s direction. In the ensuing struggles, a coalition of blacks, Puerto Ricans, and liberal whites lined up against slate of more conservative whites. At issue were the Lighthouse’s role in the community, its employment practices, and its funding. Over time, the Lighthouse adapted by pursuing both recreation and social service programs while requiring its departments and board to have proportional representation of whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans.
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