Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Kathy Peiss


This dissertation traces the contours of African American property ownership in in the city, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. How did a moment of political deterioration during the 1890s foster African-American movements for civic accountability and political mobilization in the Quaker City? This study connects material achievement and the pursuit of property ownership among African Americans to the growth of church-based, minister-led, and property-focused associations. Historians have not often considered the connection between ostensibly moral-missioned institutions, the property they and their communities owned, and later political expressions. By raising and contextualizing a heretofore unexamined set of nearly 280 mortgage, census and directory records related to one-such building and loan association, Berean Building and Loan, this study argues that black property ownership functioned as a moral and economic lever in the view of the race’s leaders. Once a significant number of these associations formed, a “determined” middle class of black Philadelphians, armed with economic and cultural success, argued for political rights and representation they had previously been denied. In 1888, faced with an inability to otherwise achieve suitable housing for its members, the black-led Berean Presbyterian Church formed a building and loan association. Matthew Anderson, the church and association’s leader, claimed that participation in the association and ownership of property boosted the civic capacity and respectability of its members. Berean Building and Loan epitomized the material and moral movement that contemporary leader Booker T. Washington hoped to see growing among the race. Washington’s “cast down your bucket” sensation of a speech in 1895 seemed to mark the way forward for African Americans in the south and nationally. The promise of individual and group transformation accompanying property and material success formed a central pillar of Washington’s ethos and his National Negro Business League. Anderson’s efforts in Philadelphia provide a unique contrast to Washington’s and point to the intellectual continuity of ideas as regards property. As Berean and similar mutual aid associations and institutions formed and flourished in Philadelphia in the early 20th century, Washington’s disavowal of politics could not hold captive the minds of blacks in the city.

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