The struggle for school desegregation in Philadelphia, 1945–1967

Anne Ellen Phillips, University of Pennsylvania


This study examines the struggle for school desegregation in Philadelphia from 1945–1967. Although the school desegregation movements in the northern cities of Chicago and New York have been researched, there has been no study of Philadelphia's movement. Standard historical methods including the researching of primary and secondary sources supplemented by interviews of such key participants as A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. were applied in gathering data. Although the author expected to find a broad-based, well-organized school desegregation movement supported by a vocal African American community, such was not the case. Working class and poor Blacks became involved in actions at local schools but not at the citywide level. Instead, the African American and white liberal middle class seemed to be the main supporters of school desegregation. Beginning in 1963 a large section of this group worked together in the Coordinating Council for School Integration. Tactically, they pursued desegregation through socially acceptable avenues of dissent. The civic leaders who supported school desegregation were somewhat peripheral to city politics. No key office holders or business leaders proclaimed strong support for school desegregation. Instead, the mayor and the city council president spoke out against busing to relieve overcrowding. Opposition to this busing arose in all of the predominantly white sections of the city. In an atmosphere electrified by racial awareness, the school district responded to a federal judge's order to draw up a desegregation plan by studying the question, taking minor desegregation steps and instituting compensatory educational programs rather than desegregating the schools. Thus, the political and racial politics in the school system, the city and the nation were decisive for school integration. Philadelphia did not stand alone in its failure to desegregate its schools. Neither New York nor Chicago desegregated their schools. It seems that only under the mandate of federal law would these northern urban school systems have been desegregated.

Subject Area

School administration|Black history|Public administration|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Phillips, Anne Ellen, "The struggle for school desegregation in Philadelphia, 1945–1967" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9965544.