Lombard Street Riots

Lombard Street Riot depiction

Lombard Street Riot depiction

A parade began marching on the morning of August 1, 1842 to celebrate Jamaican Emancipation Day, the abolition of slavery in the West Indies, on its eighth anniversary. The parade consisted of an estimated 1,000 African Americans who were peacefully marching and carrying banners about freedom on Lombard Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not everyone was so thrilled about the events, especially the Irish immigrants living in Philadelphia.

Both African Americans and Irish immigrants had been migrating across the United States in the early 19th century; African Americans because of their freedom and Irish immigrants because of their religious indifferences. The tension between the two groups was based on a competition for work, housing, and social and economic status. These were two groups at the bottom of the hierarchy and because the Irish refused to work with African Americans, both had difficulty finding work.

Lombard Street Riot sign in Philadelphia

Lombard Street Riot sign in Philadelphia

A mob of Irish immigrants were waiting at Fourth Street and once the parade reached them, the Irish began beating the marchers and looting homes of African Americans. The marchers began fighting back in self-defense and the three day Lombard Street riots began. In the days following August 1, the Irish burned down the Second African Presbyterian Church and Smith’s Hall, which was where abolitionist lectures were given. The mob also looted and burned several African American homes on their move west through the city, where they also attacked fire fighters combating the fires the mob started and police who were trying to quell the rioters. The mob moving west through the city was to attack Robert Purvis, an African American leader who was a prominent figure in the community. Purvis waited on the steps of his home with a gun but it was the intervention of a Catholic priest that saved Purvis from the mob.

The mob was finally stopped after three days of looting and rioting by the local militia. In 2005, a high school class petitioned the city to commemorate the events of the riots in a plaque. There are now more than 2,500 historical markers in Philadelphia recognizing race riots, but the day before Thanksgiving in 2005 the first one was installed at Sixth and Lombard Streets for the Lombard Street Riots.

Charlotte