Tag Archives: History News

Medieval Manuscript: Pore Caitif

Pore Caitif binding
16th century binding. Pore Caitiff, [14–]. (SPC) MSS LT 085. Special Collections Research Center.
The Special Collections Research Center holds a number of medieval manuscripts of various types, including financial ledgers, notated music, a Book of Hours, and philosophical texts.

One interesting volume in the collection is a manuscript of the “Pore Caitif,” a late 14th and 15th century devotional text consisting of tracts intended for home use by the laity. The compilation of this handbook for religious instruction is most frequently attributed to English reformer John Wycliffe (1330 – 1384), and it contains approximately fourteen tracts intended to teach the reader about the Ten Commandments, the Paternoster, the Creed, and other basic aspects of Christianity. The number of Pore Caitif manuscripts in existence–more than fifty–demonstrates that this text was extremely popular during this time period.

Pore Caitif first page
First page of text. Pore Caitiff, [14–]. (SPC) MSS LT 085. Special Collections Research Center.
It is unlikely that the compiler of this instructional volume was the one to assign the title “Pore Caitif,” even though that title seems to have been used as early as the 14th century. Most likely the common title was taken from the manner in which the compiler refers to himself: “pore” being an alternate spelling of “poor,” and “caitiff” or “caitif” meaning “wretched” or “despicable.”

Temple’s Pore Caitif dates from the 14th century. It has a later binding from the 16th century, made of black Moroccan leather, and contains the bookplate of Robert R. Dearden, a 20th century Philadelphia book collector. An inscription on the last pages of the manuscript indicates that Dame Margaret Hasley, a sister in the Order of Minoresses, presented this work to another sister.

Pore Caitif last page
Last page of text. Inscription in red states that Margaret Hasley presented the volume to another sister in the Order of Minoresses. Pore Caitiff, [14–]. (SPC) MSS LT 085. Special Collections Research Center.
The volume was recently digitized for the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project, funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL). The project aims to digitize and make available online medieval manuscripts from fifteen institutions in the Philadelphia area. Images and descriptive metadata will be released into the public domain and easily downloadable at high resolution via University of Pennsylvania Libraries’ OPenn manuscript portal. Temple is contributing over twenty manuscripts to the project.

–Katy Rawdon, Coordinator of Technical Services, SCRC

Animals in the Archives: American Anti-Vivisection Society

Animals table at Free Library Event
Display at “Animals in the Archives” event, October 25, 2017

Each year in October, the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) celebrates American Archives Month through dedicated programming that raises awareness about the value of archives. This year, the SCRC participated in the Archives Month Philly sponsored event, “Animals in the Archives,” at the Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Library. The event featured over a dozen Philadelphia-area institutions including the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Presbyterian Historical Society, The Stoogeum, and the William Way LGBT Community Center, each of which brought along archival material and hands-on activities, all with animal related content.

At the event, the SCRC featured publications, photographs, and printed materials from the archives of two local organizations founded in the 19th century, The Philadelphia Zoo and the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS). Throughout their existence, “America’s First Zoo” and AAVS have sought to educate the public about animals and animal welfare through organized programs. One of those programs was the Miss B’Kind Animal Protection Club, started in 1927 by AAVS Recording Secretary and Managing Director, Nina Halvey.

Miss BKind postcard and ruler
Miss BKind postcard and ruler, circa 1945

Halvey taught humane education in private and parochial schools throughout the Philadelphia region as part of the AAVS’ effort to combat the use of animals in scientific experimentation. The club also hosted meetings for children ages 8 to 16 at the AAVS headquarters every other Saturday and provided a correspondence membership for children across the U.S, Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia. Club members pledged “I will be kind to animals now and when I grow up.” Halvey promoted the club through lectures and a radio show series on WPEN called “Dogs I Know About.” In 1931, Halvey received a humanitarian prize from the Geneva International Bureau for the Protection of Animals for her humane education work related to the Miss B’Kind Club.

Would You Kill His Pet?” pamphlet, circa 1950
“Would You Kill His Pet?” pamphlet, circa 1950

To learn more about the Miss B’Kind Animal Protection Club and the historical records of the AAVS, including preserved versions of the organization’s website, contact the SCRC at scrc@temple.edu

Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

Celebrating 50 Years of the Urban Archives

The Libraries are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Urban Archives with an exhibit,  a screening, and symposium.

Walt Whitman Bridge construction, 1955
Walt Whitman Bridge construction, 1955. Photograph by Philip Taylor

In 1967, when Temple University’s history department decided  to collect the records of city organizations in order to document the history of Philadelphia from the Civil War to the present, and more generally represent the urban experience, the faculty may not have imagined how the archives would evolve.   They were interested in gathering raw material for their graduate students’ research use.  Since then the Urban Archives has evolved into the most extensive collection of 20th century Philadelphia history in the region, holding the archives of hundreds of city and regional organizations–from a few to thousands of boxes each.  And it’s holding are used not only by undergraduate and graduate students, but by high school students, scholars from all over the world, the media, documentary producers, and the general public.Octavia Hill Association Property Outline

The late sixties was something of a turning point in the study of history.  As Fred Miller, who served as director from 1973 to 1989, put it:  “The archives owes its existence to…the growth within the historical profession of the study of social history; the crisis of the cities, which led to the rise of a veritable urban research industry; and the growth of higher education, during which Temple became a major research university.” Fred arrived shortly after the administration of the archives was transferred to the Libraries (in 1972).  And he was succeeded by Margaret Jerrido, who was head of the archives from 1990 until her retirement in 2007.

Lion cubs
Lion cubs born at the Zoo, 1936

It’s striking how true the archives has stayed to its original purpose, described in the 1968 History Department press release announcing the archives as “creation of a new manuscript collection focusing on urban life and development and drawing on the Philadelphia metropolitan area since the Civil War. The collection will collect institutional and individual records which will illuminate ethnic and racial groups, social welfare, crime, education, religion, economic development, and political activity.”  Neighborhood association records became a strength, and in the early 1980s a major initiative to collect labor records increased those collections.  And the archives continues to grow, adding, in the past few years, the  archives of Occupy Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Weavers Way Co-op Records , and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Associations to name a few.

Many of the earliest collections gathered in between 1967 and 1969 by the history department, the first director Phillip Benjamin, and a team of graduate students  remain the most frequently used, including the first major collection:  the records of the Housing Association of the Delaware Valley.  The Urban Archives has also become know for holding the photograph and clippings library of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin–and for being the premiere location for the study of MOVE and the MOVE bombing in 1985.MOVE

Representing the hundreds of graduate students, from Temple, Penn, Yale, Duke, and across the country and the world, who have used the archives in their work, is Matthew Countryman, whose dissertation, researched at the Urban Archives among other archives in the city, became the monograph Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Matthew is Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Arts and Citizenship Program at the University of Michigan, and we are also grateful to him for his work with us on our Civil Rights in a Northern City website.Case Study of a Riot

At the symposium, we are privileged to have Herb Bass, Emeritus Professor of History, with us, who was present at the creation, to tell us more about that.  Matthew Countryman, Margaret Jerrido, Ang Reidell (Education Specialist, National Archives and Records Administration-Philadelphia); Frank Hoeber;  Joe Slobodzian, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter; and Sam Katz from  History Making Productions.  We asked the to  talk about their time with the Urban Archives and perhaps speculate where the next fifty years should take us.

–Margery N. Sly, Director, Special Collections Research Center

 

Society Hill Playhouse’s Street Theatre

“A make-shift stage, a few actors, some stories to tell, and an audience–that’s all it took to bring the excitement of the theater to the inner city.”

Street Theatre flyer, 1969
Street Theatre flyer, with performance in the background, 1969

During the summers of 1968, 1969, and 1970, the Society Hill Playhouse (SHP) took theater to the streets of Philadelphia and Camden. SHP inaugurated its Street Theatre Program for “Better Break ’68,” a program created by Philadelphia Mayor Jim Tate’s Council on Youth Opportunity. The Better Break program collaborated with businesses, organizations, and individuals across the City to offer a variety of educational, recreational, and cultural opportunities for Philadelphia’s youth and families.

SHP’s Street Theatre was among several performing arts entertainments offered as part of Better Break. It turned a flatbed truck into a stage, which traveled to neighborhoods across the City. A deliberately integrated cast performed a series of skits that addressed tenant life and the Vietnam War, among other relevant issues of the day, and offered some upbeat musical numbers as well.

Street Theatre was reportedly well received by the neighborhoods and internationally praised. The troupe gave over 60 performances in 1969 alone, with many neighborhoods requesting the return of the truck from the previous summer. Some neighborhoods even coordinated block parties and other events around the performances. Photographs of Street Theatre were included in the U.S. Information Service’s, “Theater Now,” which was exhibited in the Near East, Far East, and North Africa. It was also featured in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. Rene Bonniere of the CBC, reflected in a letter to SHP co-founder, Deen Kogan, “… after touring the greater part of the United States it was one of the most interesting experiments we found dealing not only with the theater but also with human relationships.”

Street Theatre performance, 1969
Street Theatre performance, 1969

Deen Kogan and husband, Jay – both Temple graduates – launched SHP in 1959 as Philadelphia’s “off-Broadway” theatre for contemporary American and European playwrights. Gradually, it developed a niche in populist comedies, like Nunsense, and, in cooperation with the City of Philadelphia, it presented major productions city-wide. It’s other programs included the Writers Project, beginning in 1962, which was dedicated to developing new works, and the Philadelphia Youth Theatre, 1970-1983, which drew students from public, private, and parochial schools. SHP was located in the Society Hill District, housed in the historic former David Garrick Hall. The theater closed on April 1, 2016.

Deen Kogan donated the Society Hill Playhouse Records to the Special Collections Research Center in 2016.  A finding aid is available to provide more information about ithe collection.

– Courtney Smerz, Collection Management Archivist, SCRC

What in the World is a Vertical File?

 

1971 report about the Charrette
Charrette report, 1971

Libraries and archives often maintain what they arcanely call “vertical files,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a collection of articles (as pamphlets and clippings) that is maintained (as in a library) to answer brief questions or to provide points of information not easily located.” Other definitions note that the items in the file are too minor to require individual cataloging. And “vertical” refers to the actual storage orientation of the file folders—upright, often in a filing cabinet.

These files are simultaneously rich and idiosyncratic in content. A user never knows what might turn up and learns to enjoy the serendipity of finding a rich file, while being resigned to the disappointment of a skinny one.

Franklin Theater Program., circa 1930
Franklin Theater Program., circa 1930

Temple University Libraries’ Special Collection Research Center maintains several such files. In the Philadelphia Jewish Archives, there are the Vertical Files on the Jewish Community of Greater Philadelphia which is an accumulation of items that document Jewish history in Philadelphia. The collection include photocopies of newspaper articles, pamphlets, family histories and genealogies, ephemeral items such as brochures, flyers and event programs and other miscellaneous materials relating to persons, places, organizations, and topical subjects. The files provide background information on cultural and historical events, businesses, and community members of the Jewish community in the Greater Philadelphia region and parts of southern New Jersey.

Russell and Sarah Conwell
Russell and Sarah Conwell

The inventory to the Temple University Archives Vertical File  was recently put on line. It documents Temple’s founder Russell Conwell and many aspects of the University’s history. The collection contains publications, pamphlets, flyers and event programs, newspaper clippings, and other materials gathered from university offices and various news sources relating to persons, places, organizations, and topical subjects that document Temple University.

We’re reviewing the Science Fiction Collection Vertical File and the Dance Collection Vertical Files and hope to have information available about their contents soon.

Archbishop Tutu at Temple, January 14, 1986
Archbishop Tutu at Temple, January 14, 1986

Are these vertical files going the way of the dinosaur? At the moment, they are often superior to any search engine—or at least as good as the staff who faithfully gather and file the items—and serve as a great starting point and resource for many topics. Did you want to know about the Temple-Community Charrette of 1970; the model UN Conference that began at Temple in 1946; what Desmond Tutu said to the Temple community when he received an honorary degree in 1986? Start with the vertical file!

 

–Margery Sly, Director, SCRC

Amateur Press Associations and Science Fiction Fandom

Song 'It's Eney's Fault"
“It’s Eney’s Fault.” Target: FAPA in the combozine Alexandria Trio, FAPA mailing #105, November 1963. Fantasy Amateur Press Association Publications, SCRC 256, Special Collections Research Center.

Amateur Press Associations, or APAs, began in the late nineteenth century as groups of amateur printers. The first APA was the National Amateur Press Association (NAPA), founded in 1876. The associations function by distributing “mailings” containing materials created by its members, copied (if necessary), and compiled by a central person. The   compiled submissions were mailed back out as a packet to members, along with the association’s official organ or “memberzine,” which generally lists the titles and author/editors of pages of the publications included in the mailing, a membership roster of active members, and updates and reports from the APA editor.

Science fiction APAs began in the 1937 with the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), established by Donald A. Wollheim and John B. Michel, and quickly became integral to science fiction and comic book fandom.  Comic book fandom, especially in the 1960s and 1970s,  was largely defined by fanzines and APAs. APAs continue to thrive in the digital age, sending out their members’ creations, which include newsletters, zines, drawings, and other formats. While many APAs continue in physical form, some are now published as “e-zines” online.

Cover of Crypt of Cthulhu
Cover of Crypt of Cthulhu, EOD mailing #36, November 1981. Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association Publications, SCRC 257, Special Collections Research Center.
Feline Mewsings cover
Cover of Feline Mewsings #30, FAPA mailing #281, November 2007. Fantasy Amateur Press Association Publications, SCRC 256, Special Collections Research Center.

Temple University Library’s Special Collections Research Center’s Fantasy Amateur Press Association Publications collection contains issues of the association’s mailings from 1963 through 2009, including its memberzine, The Fantasy Amateur.It is the longest- running APA. The Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association (not to be confused with the occult group Esoteric Order of Dagon or the Australian zine of the same name), was established in 1973 by Roger Bryant, and is dedicated to scholarship and writing related to the author H. P. Lovecraft. The SCRC’s collection of Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association Publications contains an almost complete run of issues of the association’s mailings from 1979 through 2009, including the APA’s memberzine, titled at various times The Cry of the Cricket and Nuclear Chaos.

Cover of The Cry of the Cricket
Cover of The Cry of the Cricket memberzine, EOD mailing #29, February 1980. Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association Publications, SCRC 257, Special Collections Research Center.
Terrors Cover
Cover of The Cry of the Cricket memberzine, EOD mailing #36, November 1981. Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association Publications, SCRC 257, Special Collections Research Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These collections of APAs complement SCRC’s other collections related to the history of science fiction fandom. In addition to files of ephemera from science fiction conventions and three fanzine collections (the Science Fiction Fanzine Collection, Sue Frank Collection of Klingon and Star Trek Fanzines, and the Women Writers Fan Fiction Collection), SCRC also holds the papers of Carlos Roy Lavender, aerospace engineer, science fiction fan, frequent convention attendee and organizer, author, founder of Midwestcon, and member of First Fandom. SCRC also hold a large number of books by and about H. P. Lovecraft, as well as the Arthur Langley Searles Collection of H. P. Lovecraft Research Files.

–Katy Rawdon, Coordinator of Technical Services, SCRC. With thanks to Michael Rawdon, brother and former APA contributor.

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Police Squad Thwarts Tolerance Raiders

Bureau of Police complaint report excerpt, March 16, 1939
Bureau of Police complaint report excerpt, March 16, 1939

On March 14, 1939, Detective Sergeant Jacob H. Gomborow assigned six detectives from the Philadelphia Bureau of Police’s radical squad to attend a meeting organized by the Committee for Racial and Religious Tolerance held at the West Philadelphia branch of the YMCA at 52nd and Sansom Streets. The committee was an interfaith group sponsored by well-known clergy and politicians including Daniel A. Poling, Rufus M. Jones, C. Davis Matt, and Francis J. Myers. Prior to the meeting, Gomborow had received information that a group of Nazis were planning to infiltrate the tolerance gathering and instructed detectives to sit in the audience to monitor the meeting for any disturbances. The detectives witnessed a number of persons heckling the speakers, making slanderous remarks against Jews, and nailing anti-Semitic literature and posters to the walls. One of those men, William J. Rigney, stood up repeatedly during the meeting, interrupting the speaker, proclaiming that “Hitler is right in what he is doing to the Jews” and “it is the Jews own fault.” The meeting was abruptly adjourned as a result of the disorder caused by these men. As they left, the detectives observed these same men distributing leaflets promoting racial and religious hatred and pasting anti-Jewish stickers on cars and store windows in the surrounding neighborhood.

Blissard flier
“Attention, American Gentiles!” flier issued by Thomas Blissard Sr., March 1939

Detectives arrested eleven of the “Nazi strong armers” who were subsequently charged with inciting a riot. In the early morning hours of March 15, three others were arrested at City Hall, including Thomas A. Blisard, Jr. and Joseph A. Gallagher, while they were attempting to secure the release of those arrested outside the tolerance meeting. Joseph A. Gallagher, chairman of the Anti-Communist Society of Philadelphia, a group founded by the West Philadelphia High School teacher and Nazi sympathizer Bessie “Two Gun” Burchett, protested the arrests, claiming they were a “frame-up.” Gallagher also denied the literature found in his car, which included copies of the Father Charles E. Coughlin publication Social Justice, was anti-Semitic propaganda. Thomas A. Blisard, Jr. (aka Blissard or Blizzard) and his family were well known in the community and to police as rabid anti-Communists and self-described Coughlinites. At the time, Blisard was chairman of the Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Constitutional Rights, a group originally formed to protest against the radio station WDAS. The station had dropped Father Coughlin’s broadcasts when he refused to provide advance scripts of his addresses. Blisard’s father made use of tolerance meeting arrests to further their cause, printing and circulating fliers publicizing the “persecution of gentiles” suffered at the hands of an “organized gang of Jews.”

Recently prepared for research use, the Jacob H. Gomborow Papers, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, document Gomborow’s activities as an officer and detective in Philadelphia’s Bureau of Police, responsible for leading the bureau’s radical squad in their investigations of anti-Semitic, subversive, and radical groups in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. View the online finding aid or catalog record to learn more about the Jacob H. Gomborow Papers or to request access to the collection in the SCRC reading room on the ground floor of Paley Library.

Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

“We Ought to Have Our Fences Up”: Nativism and Xenophobia in the Progressive Era

An immigrant couple and their children., circa 1910
An immigrant couple and their children., circa 1910. Philadelphia Jewish Archives photograph collection

As early as the 1890s, immigration bills with provisions for literacy tests were introduced in Congress as legislative measures to control the influx of immigrants into America. On several occasions these proposed literacy tests were passed by both houses of Congress, only to be vetoed later by the President.  In 1897, for example, Grover Cleveland rejected a proposed literacy law on the basis it was “unnecessarily harsh and oppressive.”

Beginning in 1907, the United States Immigration Commission, under the leadership of Vermont Senator William Paul Dillingham began its work to address the growing nationalist concerns over the ever increasing numbers of immigrants (over 1 million annually between 1905 and 1907) arriving each year. The Dillingham Commission completed its work in 1911 and concluded that immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and culture and should therefore be greatly reduced. It further called for regulation of the “kind” or “type” of immigrants admitted to the U.S.

Dillingham bill
Dillingham Bill (S. 3175), March 1, 1912, Louis Edward Levy Family Papers

The Dillingham Commission’s work was part and parcel of a wave of xenophobic and nativist sentiment in the early twentieth century, which saw numerous immigration restriction bills introduced to Congress with measures that included not only literacy tests, but also head taxes and specification of “barred” or “undesirable” immigrants by geographic and ethnic origin, physical and mental health status, and socioeconomic means. As the twentieth century unfolded, this nativist sentiment drove a progression of severely restrictive immigration legislation.

William Howard Taft vetoed a 1913 bill including a literacy test, as did Woodrow Wilson in 1915, asserting that “it excludes those to whom opportunities of elementary education have been denied without regard to their character, their purposes, or their natural capacity.” Wilson vetoed a restrictive immigration bill containing a literacy test provision for the second time in 1916; however Congress was successful in overriding that veto.   On August 17, 1916, in support of the bill, Republican Senator William E. Borah of Idaho stated “we ought to have our fences up and be thoroughly prepared to protect those in this country who will be brought into competition with the hordes of people who will come here.”

The Immigration Act of 1917 enacted the literacy test as law and expanded the list of “undesirables” barred from entering the country including all persons originating from a geographic area termed the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” a region that included much of East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Letter to Congressman Moore
Letter to Congressman J. Hampton Moore, February 28, 1912, Louis Edward Levy Family Papers

Many individuals and organizations engaged in debates on immigration as this legislation was introduced, including Louis Edward Levy, a prominent figure of Philadelphia’s Jewish community. Levy spoke out against the literacy test as a prerequisite to entry into the United States. He did so both as a private individual and as President of the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants, in published writing and in speeches and testimony. Recently prepared for research use, the Maxwell Whiteman Collection of Louis Edward Levy Family Papers, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, includes some of these writings, extensive correspondence, and accounts of speeches that Levy gave on the subject.

The Levy Family Papers document the activities of Louis Edward Levy, the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants, and other local and national immigrant aid societies and their efforts to mobilize and coordinate collective action against immigration restriction in favor of more liberal immigration policies. To use the Levy Family Papers, request materials from the finding aid  for use in the SCRC Reading Room in Paley Library, or view a digitized selection of files from the papers.

Anastasia Chiu, Resident Librarian
Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: “The Levittown Problem”

On August 13, 1957, William and Daisy Myers and their three children, an African American family, moved into the all-white community of Levittown, Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter found themselves confronted by angry residents displeased with their arrival. Large crowds gathered during the day and hurled insults towards the home, while at night, cars drove by flashing their lights and honking their horns. The situation escalated over the course of eight days, with rocks being thrown through the windows of the Myers’ home and another stone knocking a local police officer unconscious. In response, the Pennsylvania State Police were sent to Levittown to restore order, where they would remain for nearly two months before a semblance of calm returned.

Crowd protests, August 1957
Crowd protests first black family moving into Levittown, August 17, 1957, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection

 

The events in Levittown attracted the attention of the national press and a wide range of civic and religious organizations that shared a common mission to combat prejudice and discrimination. One of these organizations was Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which frequently worked to promote fairness and equal opportunity in housing for African Americans throughout Philadelphia. The JCRC would not take a direct role in events taking place in Levittown, but correspondence between JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, and several other regional Jewish organizations, demonstrates the level of interest they shared. On October 18, Stephen Remsen, the director of the Philadelphia based Jewish Labor Committee, wrote to Fagan saying, “The pressures of time and the fact that my Levittown file is at home preparing itself for some more speeches to everybody and his brother make it difficult for me to do justice to your request.”

The apparent request was for an account of the role of Levittown’s Jews in response to the unrest. The letter praises the activities of the local Jewish Community Council, which worked in cooperation with Protestant and Quaker groups to actively support the rights of the Myers.  Remsen notes that there were some “individual” Jews who were either neutral or opposed to the racial integration of their community, yet also stresses that he could find no evidence that any Jew took part in any of the protests or acts of mob violence. Perhaps the most interesting comments in the letter come when Remsen expresses concern to Fagan about the way Jews are sometimes perceived and how this could influence events in Levittown.

Remsen writes: “If there was any problem, it was the identification of the Myers move-in as a Negro-Jewish-Quaker movement and cause. While the Rabbi and all the others of Jewish faith who were in this fight tried to remain in the background, it was impossible to do this. I am convinced that the enemy – smelling one Jew in the community – would have played the anti-Semitic game even if that one Jew did nothing but study the Torah.”

Letter to Fagan, 1957
Letter to JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, October 18, 1957

Fred Grossman, director of the regional Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, also wrote to Fagan on October 18 about his assessment of events in Levittown. Grossman describes some of the harassment endured by the Myers family and their supporters over the previous weeks and similarly lauds the work of Jewish groups, despite, “reports of anti-Semitic comments and instances of hostility from non-Jewish neighbors previously friendly or at least indifferent.”   Grossman also makes it clear that Jewish support for racial integration was not universal, and, in terms that are a bit more stark than Remsen’s, says that, “Although there are many Jews who are strongly opposed to integration and who resent the Myers, few if any of these agree with the violence or the attrition techniques aimed at driving the Myers out.”

Following these letters, Fagan submitted a report on October 23, 1957, to the JCRC board of directors that outlined what he saw as four key reasons why Jews had a stake in Levittown: “(1) the family which sold the home [to Myers] is Jewish; (2) the friendly family next door is Jewish; (3) organized Jewish groups and synagogues were called upon to make a public stand; and (4) Levitt of Levittown is Jewish.”

Levittown Problem report, 195
“The Levittown Problem and the Jewish Community” report, October 23, 1957

A local group, the Levittown Citizens Committee, took the lead in organizing support for the Myers and appealing for peace in their community. Comprised of Levittown residents, as well as local rabbis, Protestant ministers, and members of the Society of Friends, the group lent direct support to the embattled Myers and campaigned against the racism on their streets. Before it was over, the Myers and their friends would endure numerous forms of intimidation, including the burning of several crosses and the painting of “KKK” on the home of Myers’ Jewish neighbor. For several weeks, a vacant house situated next to the Myers’ home was occupied by members of the Levittown Betterment Committee–a hastily organized group that wanted to preserve Levittown’s whiteness. This vacant house was used as a rallying point for the demonstrators, which featured a Confederate flag flying above and the loud broadcast of songs, such as “Old Man River” and “Dixie.”

Eventually, William and Daisy Myers appealed to the Pennsylvania State Attorney General and charges were filed against members of the Levittown Betterment Committee, followed by a court ordered injunction issued on October 23, 1957–the same day as Fagan’s report. Records show that the JCRC was ready to lend aid if called upon, but no such request came from Levittown’s Jewish community, which had no formal relationship with their organization. The JCRC’s board of directors issued formal resolutions of commendation to both the Levittown Citizens Committee and the Levittown Jewish Community Council on December 20, 1957. Their commendation to the Levittown Jewish Community Council read, in part:

“The Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council notes with pride and gratification the courage, dignity and integrity with which the Jewish Community of Levittown, in the main under the leadership of the Levittown Jewish Community Council, expressed its regard for human dignity and democracy when the Myers family was threatened by mob harassment and violence.”

Letter to Levittown community, 1957
Letter to Levittown Jewish Community Council, December 20, 195

The events that took place in Levittown, Pennsylvania, are a small chapter in the larger story of American’s struggle over civil rights, but in many ways it represents themes that would reverberate in numerous communities across the country. While not all Jews took up the fight against segregation, in many cases American Jews could be found either on the front lines or working to support the efforts of those who were.

Additional photographs of crowds protesting the Meyers’ family move to Levittown, PA, can be found in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin photograph collection.

To learn more about the Levittown communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, see Suzanne Lashner Dadyanim’s essay on The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia’s website.

–Kenneth Cleary, Project Archivist, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Collection, SCRC

This is the first post of an occasional series highlighting the work of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The records of the JCRC, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, are currently being processed and will be available for research in early 2018.

Instruction Sessions

Students in SCRC reading roomAs another semester begins at Temple University, we’d like to remind you about the range of instruction services provided by Temple’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) and introduce a new tool for requesting a class instruction session with us.

A primary mission of the SCRC is to provide or support instruction for students at Temple University and other area institutions. We are always delighted to expose students to the rare books, archives, manuscripts, photographs, film and digital media that make up our holdings. In the past year the SCRC hosted 66 instruction sessions in a range of disciplines, including History, English, Geography and Urban Studies, Art, Architecture, Intellectual Heritage, Social Work, Education, Film and Media Arts, Journalism, and Criminal Justice.Students and rare books

SCRC staff offer instruction in a variety of formats, including research orientations and specialized sessions that incorporate course- or assignment-based resources and activities. These sessions are geared toward engaging with primary source materials and teaching students primary source and archival literacy, as well as enhancing research, critical thinking, and writing skills. Over the course of the semester, students often make return visits to the reading room to conduct their own research and put into practice what they learned during their instruction session.

Students and zinesIf you’re a Temple Faculty member, or an instructor from any institution from middle school to college, and you are interested in arranging an instruction session at the SCRC please use our new Instruction Session/Visit Request Form. We’ll work with you to tailor the session to your course’s subject matter and learning objectives. You can direct any questions regarding class visits to Josué Hurtado, Coordinator of Public Services & Outreach, or to SCRC@temple.edu.

We hope to see you in the reading room.