During the first half of the 19th century the number of blacks in Philadelphia increased by over fifty percent at the same time there was a large number of Irish immigrants coming into the city. These two groups were separated by race, religion, and social background, but competed for the same jobs in the city.
On the morning of August 1st 1842 the Young Men’s Vigilant Association held a parade to commemorate the ending of slavery in the British West Indies. As the 1,000 black members of the Association neared the Mother Bethel Church on Fourth and Lombard Streets they were attacked by a mob made up of manly Irish Catholics. The mob began setting fires, attacking the fire fighters who came to put them out. They moved on to the home of Robert Purvis a leader of the black community. He was saved only through the intercession of a Catholic priest.
The riot continued for three days. The Second African American Presbyterian Church, Smith’s Hall and many homes belonging local blacks were burnt and looted. Local militia was eventually brought in to put down the riot.
If you would like to learn more check out 1842 Philadelphia Race Riot Erupts