The decades falling between World War I and World War II are a significant moment of demographic change in the United States. According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, between 1916 and 1930 nearly 1.5 million African-Americans migrated from their Southern homes for northern and mid-western cities. Philadelphia, already home to a prominent black population that roughly mirrored the nation’s percentage of minority residents, was one of many northern locales that saw an influx of African-American residents, looking for work and a place to live.
On the 3700 block of Melon St, there are signs of significant demographic change by 1930. Rosalie Sparks, a single mother from Georgia, has moved into the home with her teenage daughter Freeda, and they housed a lodger Joseph Price, originally of Virginia. It is at this point that the impact of the second wave of the “Great Migration” on Mantua comes further into view, when thousands of African-American families opted to relocate from the Upper and Deep South, either for employment opportunities in Northeastern or Midwestern cities, or simply a desire to flee the hardship and vitriol they had experienced amidst Jim Crow violence (It’s also worth noting that these northern locales were no less rife with racial tension or obstacles to a quality standard of living. For further reading on the North’s complicated racial dynamics throughout the twentieth century Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, Thomas J. Sugrue’s Sweet Land of Liberty, and Matthew Countryman’s Up South are all recommended). In addition to Ms. Sparks and her housemates, four other black families originally from Southern states then resided on the 3700 block of Melon St, alongside Irish families such as the Downey’s at 3715 Melon, and the Spielberg’s, a Jewish family who remained at 3701 Melon.
By 1940, the block is solidly African-American. Marvin Sandle and his wife Angelion live at 3711 Melon, his occupation listed simply as “Helper” at a “Fertilizer Plant.” Their neighbors all hail from the Carolinas, Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia, continuing the third, and largest wave of migration from the Upper South, one only further driven by the US’s eventual involvement in World War II and the opening of opportunities for black laborers, skilled and unskilled alike. What emerged as a suburban enclave on the footprint of Judge Richard Peters 1809 land settlement eventually gave way to a residential rowhome neighborhood of Irish immigrants and their first-generation American children, Russian Jews from Eastern Europe, and finally, a young black neighborhood seeking opportunity in a city that prided itself on its “Brotherly Love.”
Next we share the story of Leona and Roger Richardson, who resided at 3711 Melon St for almost the entire second half of the twentieth century.