W.E.B. Du Bois’ ‘The Philadelphia Negro’ offers lasting lessons on gentrification in Philly’s Black neighborhoods


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By Beth Daley, The Conversation

The Philadelphia Negro
The Philadelphia Negro

Society Hill, where Sixers star Joel Embiid recently put his penthouse condo on the market for US$5.5 million, has long been one of Philadelphia’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

It’s a distant cry from what the neighborhood looked like 125 years ago when sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois published “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study.”

The book examines in meticulous detail the social conditions of thousands of Black Philadelphians living in what was then called the Seventh Ward, a neighborhood that overlaps present-day Society Hill.


On its 125th anniversary, “The Philadelphia Negro” offers valuable lessons about why many historically Black Philadelphia neighborhoods look the way they do today – and where they might be headed.


Philadelphia of the late 1800s was a manufacturing juggernaut and the second largest city in the U.S.. Yet, as Du Bois detailed in his study, Black Philadelphians were concentrated in “certain slum districts,” areas with “poor homes and worse police protection.” They were shut out from well-paying jobs and faced higher rates of incarceration and lower rates of pardons for crimes than white Philadelphians. These challenges, Du Bois explained, were rooted in systemic racism with historical ties to slavery.

“Such discrimination,” Du Bois stated plainly, “is morally wrong, politically dangerous, industrially wasteful, and socially silly.”

Keep reading about Du Bois’ book.

Du Bois’ work influenced the Civil Rights Movement.

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