Confronting Race

In spite of its antislavery reputation, Philadelphia was an inhospitable place for African Americans.

They were denied the right to vote in 1838, excluded from many professions and trades, prevented from riding the streetcars, and forced to attend underfunded and segregated public schools. This large and vigorous African American community had long campaigned against slavery and racial injustice and was newly energized by helping the Union cause achieve victory. Locally they launched a "freedom ride" campaign against exclusion from the streetcars, risking violence and arrest in the process. They joined with African American leaders nationally to organize the Equal Rights League to agitate for passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments that guaranteed citizenship, due process, equal protection, and the franchise. African Americans were being transformed from a disliked minority into a constituency important to the Republican Party. 

Click on images for a larger view.

Great Central Sanitary Fair, John Moran, albumen print photograph, (Philadelphia, 1864).

Emancipated Slaves. Brought from Louisiana by Col. Geo. H. Banks. M. H. Kimball, albumen print photograph (New York, 1863).

Abraham Lincoln, A Proclamation. Manuscript, 1862.

Rebecca Huger, Charles Taylor, Rosina Downs. J. E. McClees, albumen print carte-de-visite (Philadelphia, 1863).


This group of freed slaves, ranging in color from black to white, travelled through the North to raise funds for schools in Louisiana. In Philadelphia, three of the whitest children were turned away from the St. Lawrence Hotel “on account of their color.”


Our Daily Fair. (Philadelphia, 1864).

Fanny Kemble. Albumen print carte-de-visite, from an engraving (Philadelphia, n.d.).

Sanitary Fair Guide (Philadelphia, 1864).

Pierce Butler. Albumen print carte-de-visite (Philadelphia, n.d.).

Horticultural Department, A. Watson, albumen print photograph (Philadelphia, 1864).

From the Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation by Mrs. Frances Anne Kemble, (Late Butler) (Philadelphia, 1863).


This Republican campaign pamphlet condemning the proslavery views of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate features selections from Kemble’s larger book published in New York and London in 1863. The London edition of her account of life on her husband’s Georgia plantation helped check the recognition of the Confederacy by the British. Kemble’s former husband, prominent Philadelphian Pierce Butler, was imprisoned for championing Southern views in 1861. The cover illustration shows a slave named Gordon, taken from Harper’s Weekly for July 4, 1863.

Fine Arts Gallery, A. Watson, albumen print photograph, (Philadelphia, 1864).

To Our White Brethren (Philadelphia, 1862).


This appeal urging voters to support Republicans is a Democratic fraud, published to incite racial animosity. The give-away here is the reference to Republicans as “our amalgamation brethren.” “Amalgamation” was the term for interracial association, with strong sexual implications, sure to excite white anger.

Relics and Curiosities, A. Watson, albumen print photograph, (Philadelphia, 1864).

Social, Civil and Statistical Association, Frederick Douglass, Will deliver the Third Lecture of the Course . . . Subject, “Equality Before the Law” (Philadelphia, 1865).


William Still was the African American leader of the local Underground Railroad during the 1850s, an early voice calling for allowing blacks to ride the streetcars, and here campaigning for the adoption of the 14th Amendment. In 1874 he would break with the Republican establishment over their refusal to appoint African American police officers.

These three of many notices on women’s’ committees for the Great Central Fair demonstrate their energy and activism in making the Fair a success.


These three of many notices on women’s’ committees for the Great Central Fair demonstrate their energy and activism in making the Fair a success.

William Still, from his book The Underground Railroad (Philadelphia, 1872).


Negroes to Ride in City Railway Passenger Cars! (Philadelphia, 1867).


Democrat Daniel M. Fox, responding to the black campaign to ride the streetcars, made it a central issue in his mayoral bid. At the time, a poll of white streetcar riders supported the continued exclusion of blacks. Philadelphians had nothing to do with the eventual desegregation of the streetcars, mandated by the State Legislature later in 1867.

These three of many notices on women’s’ committees for the Great Central Fair demonstrate their energy and activism in making the Fair a success.

Octavius V. Catto, from Harper’s Weekly, October 28, 1871.


The educator, civil rights activist, and champion baseball player elevated Still’s early formal protests over the streetcar issue to a direct-action campaign, launching the first Freedom Rides here in Philadelphia as blacks boarded the cars and were quickly ejected. Acting in concert with African Americans throughout the North through the National Equal Rights League, Catto agitated extensively for the 14th and 15th Amendments. Pennsylvania Blacks’ voting rights were restored after passage of the 15th amendment in 1870. Catto was assassinated on election day,  October 10, 1871, while mobilizing blacks to exercise their newly-won right to vote.

Henry Howard Furness, March 1st, 1864. In this printed letter soliciting members to the planning committees for the Great Central Fair Furness urges support from the men by noting the activities of women. “It may well be to state that the Ladies have entered into the project with great ardor and enthusiasm.”

The Voice of the Clergy (Philadelphia, 1864).


Pennsylvania Democrats republished Episcopal Bishop John Henry Hopkins’s proslavery work The Bible View of Slavery as a campaign document, triggering this denunciation by the Episcopal clergy of Pennsylvania. The reprint of Hopkins’s work set off the last great pamphlet war in the age of American slavery. The Library Company holds fifteen pamphlets published in response to Hopkins and the Democrats.

Buildings of the Great Central Fair. Chromolithograph, James Fuller Queen (Philadelphia, 1864).

Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments, Emancipation in Maryland (Philadelphia, 1864).


This dramatic painted transparency celebrating Maryland’s abolition of slavery was displayed at the Supervisory Committee headquarters. Notice the cheering crowd of whites admiring this scene of armed black soldiers attacking whites. It was a new day. In a previous generation such a public display of black militancy would (and did!) spark riots.

Committee for a Day’s Labor (Philadelphia, 1864).


The Past and the Future. Chromolithograph after Thomas Nast (Philadelphia, 1864).

City Treasurer! (Philadelphia, 1863).


In this dramatic broadside the Republicans (the National Union Party) revert to their free labor and free soil roots of the 1850s in a stunning attack on Democrat John Brodhead as a lover of slavery who holds white labor in contempt. This broadside is printed on two joined sheets. McAllister collected the top sheet; we purchased the bottom at auction in 2006. In the photograph you can see this and other broadsides in action posted on a wall at the Union League headquarters at 1118 Chestnut St.