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Building the Beloved Community - Philadelphia’s Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930–1970

Building the Beloved Community

Philadelphia’s Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930–1970

By Stanley Keith Arnold
Hardcover : 9781628460025, 176 pages, 8 b&w photographs, May 2014

How a northern city with de facto segregation overcame prejudice and became a beacon for the rest of America


Inspired by Quakerism, Progressivism, the Social Gospel movement, and the theories of scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Charles S. Johnson, Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict, a determined group of Philadelphia activists sought to transform race relations. This book concentrates on these organizations: Fellowship House, the Philadelphia Housing Association, and the Fellowship Commission. While they initially focused on community-level relations, these activists became increasingly involved in building coalitions for the passage of civil rights legislation on the local, state, and national level. This historical account examines their efforts in three distinct, yet closely related areas, education, housing, and labor.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this movement was its utilization of education as a weapon in the struggle against racism. Martin Luther King credited Fellowship House with introducing him to the passive resistance principle of satygraha through a Sunday afternoon forum. Philadelphia's activists influenced the southern civil rights movement through ideas and tactics. Borrowing from Philadelphia, similar organizations would rise in cities from Kansas City to Knoxville. Their impact would have long lasting implications; the methods they pioneered would help shape contemporary multicultural education programs.

Building the Beloved Community places this innovative northern civil rights struggle into a broader historical context. Through interviews, photographs, and rarely utilized primary sources, the author critically evaluates the contributions and shortcomings of this innovative approach to race relations.


"Building the Beloved Community is an engaging study of race relations in a major northern city. It contributes to our understanding of the long struggle for equal treatment and rights in Philadelphia and should be of interest to historians and students of urban America in the twentieth century."

- Jonathan Foster, Journal of African American History

"Building the Beloved Community opens a needed window on the many courageous white and black Philadelphians who, rather than narrowly defending the interests of their own racial group, or resigning themselves to racial conflict, envisioned and worked toward a future of harmony across racial lines. They strove to build ties of brotherhood (and sisterhood) despite often intransigent opposition; they strove to build their vision of the "beloved community.""

- Brian Alnutt, Northampton Community College, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, Volume 87, Number 2, Spring 2020

"A thoughtful study of race, urbanity, and a certain vision of an American modernity that centers harmonious interracial relations, even while struggling to see past institutional, structural, and historical barriers that inhibited a full articulation of this aspirational ethos. It cogently chronicles massive white resistance to school desegregation, the Catholic Church's patent indifference or even hostility to civil rights work, and ongoing black suspicions of alliances with whites of any class background. The book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the tumultuous evolution of civil rights activism in the City of Brotherly Love."

- Claude Clegg, Indiana University

"Stanley Arnold's compelling book pulls us back in time to the origins and across time to the growth of interracialism, which became the seed for modern multiculturalism. He does so by locating the idea in experiences in building interracial organizations and relationships in Philadelphia. The genius of Arnold's work is his recognition that experiments in interracialism demanded relationships more than rhetoric and policy more than protest. As Arnold tells it so well, in pushing for education, jobs, and fair housing, interracial activists changed not only civil rights law and practice but also, and perhaps more so, expanded people's imagination to include the possibility of a dynamic, democratic society built on diversity. Arnold also reminds us that northern communities were just as much the soul of civil rights as southern ones. In doing so, he enlarges the compass of what civil rights meant, and means, and he shows how discovering the civil rights narrative in its various and particular places makes it truly a people's history. Building the Beloved Community gives us all that and more and repays reading many times over."

- Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's University