The Corner

Wright’s Wrongs

Several readers have responded to my earlier query about the racial situation in Philadelphia in the 1940s, when Jeremiah Wright was growing up. Reader A:

I believe that economist and author (and professor and talk show host) Walter Williams has written about the segregated school he attended in Philadelphia in that era. Of course, Williams made a point about how superior that school was to modern era “integrated” schools in the same region.

Reader B:

… you ask if any readers can enlighten you about Philadelphia in the 40′s. Hey, what about Cosby?

I didn’t know that Cosby is a Philadelphian. Didn’t know anything about him, never having found him the least bit funny. Here is Reader C, who grew up in Philly in the 1970s:

I’m not sure you can say that, since there was no segregation in Philly in the 1940s that there was no overt racism that would have pained Wright.

Wright didn’t live in Philadelphia in the 70s, but he did visit. He apparently annually preaches at his father’s church in Philadelphia.

The 70s in Philadelphia was the Frank Rizzo era, and was not the most enlightened era of race relations in our city’s history. Alot of conflict dealing with newly arrived blacks from the South and the deliberate “block breaking” breaking up old Italian and Irish catholic neighborhoods. You can read about Rizzo on Wikipedia.

Reader D also recommends Waler Williams:

Walter Williams could. Now there is an interesting contrast to Rev. Wright. Walter Williams was born (1936) and raised in Phildelphia.

Reader E was born in Philadelphia in the 1980s. Here’s his long post, edited:

… While it would certainly be an exaggeration to say that Philadelphia during the 1940′s 50′s and 60′s was a “Jim Crow” city, it would be just as foolish to assume that it was some sort of libertarian colorblind paradise. As I recall, there were quite a few serious racial disturbances/riots during WWII (because of the large influx of blacks from the South to work in the factories of the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’) that required the call-up of National Guard troops. Additionally there was a long string of racial disturbances and riots during the 1960s and 1970s, and the racial divide in Philadelphia politics, up until the most recent election which is somewhat unprecedented) has remained stark.

Does this mean that all black children born in 1940′s Philadelphia ended up as fire-breathing anti-American orators like Wright? No, but I would be shocked if he was out of the mainstream because Philadelphia was a profoundly racist place during a lot of his childhood.

While Philadelphia (thank God!) was not, and never will be, Detroit, the urban equivilent of a failed state, it had and, continues to have, serious racial problems. Philadelphia, like most east coast cities, is highly segregated; there are exceedingly few mixed neighborhoods and even fewer “middle class” black ones.

Am I excusing Mr. Wright’s rhetoric? No, but I don’t think its hard to understand where he’s coming from …

Bottom line: Not much love lost between blacks and whites in the City of Brotherly Love. Bad enough to produce the race-rage of a Jeremiah Wright without an assist from lots of reading in crank ideology? Make up your own mind. (Me: No.)

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