Julie Davidow

  • Fellowship year:2012-2013
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Citizens in the Making: Black Philadelphians the Republican Party and Urban Reform, 1885-1913
  •  My dissertation explores the way in which black men and women navigated and impacted the shifting terrain of municipal politics in Philadelphia between 1881 and 1913 amid a mounting antipathy to African American political participation nationwide.  Examining black politics in a Northern city reveals new dimensions of the Republican Party's trajectory away from the party of emancipation and racial equality during the post-Civil War era.  In a city where Republicans dominated electoral politics between 1877 and 1933, black and white business and political leaders, ward bosses and municipal reformers struggled to define the direction and meaning of Republican rule.  This dissertation uses a broad variety of published and unpublished sources, including U.S. Census records, mainstream and African American newspapers, manuscript collection, court and legislative records to reveal how debates over the boundaries of black citizenship shaped Philadelphia's political battles in ways that ultimately informed the contours of the national Republican Party.

     I argue that black political activism in Philadelphia kept the local, state and to some extent the national Republican Party tethered to African American constituencies long after Reconstruction officially ended in 1877.  Rather than capitulation to an all-powerful political machine, black men and women's partisan activities were one avenue through which they attempted to claim power and influence as citizens.  Political and social reformers, although ostensibly fighting the people's battle for representative government, inadvertently strengthened the Republican political machine's hold on electoral politics in Philadelphia by making room for party leaders to jettison the politics of racial equality.  The reform movement also unintentionally contributed to a new direction for African American politics in Philadelphia, pushing black men and women to seek alternative, often more radical avenues to political power outside the Republican Party.