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Philly War Zone: Growing Up in a Racial Battleground Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
As a young kid I remember playing at Myers Playground with many of my friends. During this time the neighborhood was just about all white. I remember hearing my parents talk about the Realtors block breaking.
From 1969-1970 the neighborhood got so bad me and my brother would have to cut thru the allys as we were being chased by groups of blacks. The breaking point was when my father and mother took us out to dinner on a Sunday and hanging out on our front steps was a group of about 10 blacks in their late teens (maybe early 20's). My father went up the steps first but the blacks wouldn't move so my father said to make room so we could all go up the steps to get to our front door. I remember one punk was the leader and he got up and told my father he had to say please or he wouldn't move. My father was a former boxer and was 40 years old at the time so he could still handle himself BUT my mother interceded and said please let us get by. That was the day my father swallowed his pride for the safety of his family.
Later that evening I remember my mother and father talking and my father saying that was it we were moving. Soon after we put our house up for sale. Eventually my father bought another house by Finnegan Playground and continued to pay the mortgage on the first house as well as the new house.
The last story I will mention is when I was 9 or 10. Our next door neighbors were black and my parents and them were great friends. Me and the one son Eddie were best of friends for the couple years we lived next door to each other. That all changed one day when me and my brother were playing at Cobbs Creek and Eddie was with a group of his friends who were all black. I remember like it was yesterday that I said hi to him and his friends told him to fight me. I'm sure it was peer pressure but he came at me and we fought. I remember the other kids pushing my brother and them calling me a hunkie. That is a day etched in my mind FOREVER.
In trying to sell our house the neighborhood was so bad my dad kept dropping the price on the house until he could no longer afford to pay 2 mortgages. It was then he sold our house for $1 just to transfer the mortgage over to the new owners name who took over the remaining mortgage. My father lost 10 years of equity on that house.
These are but a few stories of how a tight knit working class neighborhood was transformed into a Racial War Zone with whites having to band together just to go school or the corner store or to play at the playground or shop on Woodland Ave.
These are just a few of my memories that at that time shaped my life whether right, wrong or indifferent. I'm sure many of the blacks growing up looked at it in the opposite light - that's human nature.
A day doesn't go by that I don't think about both of the neighborhoods I grew up in SWP!
I went to a Philly public school until 6th grade. I was friends with several black classmates, so I didn't grow up hating anyone for the color of his or her skin. Like Mr. Purcell's parents, mine taught me there are good black and white people and bad black and white people in the world. Even after my mother pulled me out of the Philadelphia public school system the first week of 6th grade, when I was verbally abused and my hair yanked by a black boy on the bus home from school, I didn't hold hate in my heart for a whole race of people. I don't believe most of the people I grew up with hated black people. What I do believe is most lived in fear of change.
I remember in November 1985 when 400 white residents demonstrated outside the home of a black couple who'd moved onto an all-white block on South 61st St. The next night, 200 white residents did the same thing on Buist Ave. outside a house occupied by an interracial couple. Fear the neighborhood was changing, and angered by block busters (real estate agents looking to make big commissions) telling them to sell their homes before the value of their property declined, provoked these residents into preserving their neighborhood. Those people knew what had happened in Mr. Purcell's neighborhood fifteen years prior, and in various sections of the city over the years, and they didn't want a repeat.
Eventually, the demographics of my childhood neighborhood did change, but it was gradual as opposed to a rapid change like the one demonstrated in the book. It's now a predominately black neighborhood with a few white families still residing there. I happen to have firsthand knowledge of this because my two elderly parents still reside in the house I was raised in. My mother claims the street she lives on is quieter than it's ever been, but I think she tends to downplay the area's problems to keep me from worrying. However, I do know several things: My father was mugged in Finnegan's in 2000, a first for him, my old street's only murder occurred in 2008 when a young man was shot to death on the steps of his house, there have been various murders over the years in other sections of SWP, and home break-ins and drugs continue to be huge problems.
I highly recommend this book, because Kevin Purcell documented the good times he experienced and didn't resort to dwelling solely on the negative, dangerous situations he was placed in, at a young age, on a continual basis. The years of turmoil he was forced to endure in his beloved neighborhood didn't destroy him nor did he stop living his life. He just wanted to live in a peaceful community, which every child is entitled to, but when he realized it wasn't going to happen he stood his ground for as long as he had to.