Folcroft, PA, a Philadelphia suburb, has long been a point of racial tension, especially for residents in the next town over, my hometown, Darby Township. Memories of Ku Klux Klan activity from the past and questionable incidents involving profiling and predominantly Black stops in speed traps have long been whispered between Black folk in the area.
However, in 1963, racial volatility in Folcroft was the focus of the international community. Days after the March on Washington that summer, Horace and Sarah Baker, young, Black parents of one with one on the way, tried to move from Philadelphia into their first home in Folcroft’s Delmar Village area. As the couple’s moving van arrived, a mob of thousands erupted in outrage, shouting statements such as “We don’t want them,” and concerns about their property devaluing. Rioters broke all of the windows out of the house as well as smashing all of the cabinets.
Local activists, Richard “Dick” Taylor and wife, Phyllis, were married the same year as the March on Washington, which they attended. They were integral in the support effort for the Baker family. The couple met through the Civil Rights Movement. Mr. Taylor served as director of the Fair Housing Council of Delaware Valley and previously worked with the American Friends Service Committee, in the South, fighting housing discrimination. Mrs. Taylor was a senior at Beaver College, doing field work in the areas of job and housing discrimination. She also went south as a trained Freedom Rider, railing with other youngsters against Jim Crow.
As written in their joint recanting of their account of the incident for the Chestnut Hill Local, “For both of us, our faiths taught why these commitments were so important. Dick, a Quaker (who now combines Quakerism with Catholicism) and Phyllis who is Jewish (who now combines Judaism with Quakerism) both felt called to the prophetic tradition.” In the
movement, folks like the Taylors were known as “White allies,” according to Mrs. Taylor. Furthermore, Mr. Taylor’s ancestors travailed as abolitionists and Mrs. Taylor (whose grandparents were escapees of the atrocious Holocaust) remembers younger days, growing up in New York with “No dogs or Jews allowed” signs hanging from establishments. “There were White folks there, then and now, who are concerned about combating racism. We’ve got to help each other,” said Mrs. Taylor.
Through his work at the Fair Housing Council, the Taylors met the Bakers after Margaret Collins, a real estate agent for Friends’ Suburban Housing, found the Bakers the home that they’d been looking for. Since both Mrs. Taylor and Sarah Baker were pregnant at the time, Mrs. Taylor remembered sharing maternity clothes with Mrs. Baker.
Mrs. Taylor said that the Bakers were far from making a Rosa Parks-like statement by turning down housing in predominately Black next-town-over, Darby Township in favor of Folcroft. “They did not do it for political reasons. They did it because the quality of the house was better,” she explained. “It’s really a politically-oriented person that is geared for that. They were simply a young couple with one child who wanted a good, quality house. They were not pioneers at all. They were just plain people; a lovely family who wanted a good house.”
However, that fateful August day, Mrs. Taylor remembered, “The moving van couldn’t get through. They couldn’t get through.” She recalled “all the glass and all the destruction” after what she labeled as “methodical destruction” by the townspeople and the police who just watched it happen, claiming not to get involved for fear of potentially injuring pregnant women. Mrs. Taylor sees that rationale as a “contrast” to the following year’s demonstrations in Chester, PA, against de facto segregation in schools (which drew the likes of Malcolm X and Dick Gregory to the city to support) where police beat women, some of whom were pregnant.
She recalled the chaotic scene and rowdy crowd. “I remember I cut myself on glass. The people cheered. It was bizarre.”
Mr. Taylor, seeing no help from local authorities, instantly drove to the Pennsylvania Governor’s Mansion, a move that resulted in state forces being summoned in to quell the rioters. Support also came from the NAACP and the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE), as well as clergymen, who pledged to form a human barrier, donning their collars and pastoral garb between the rioters and the house.
The Bakers lived there shortly, and the opposition never slacked. Their neighbors even went so far as to pour sugar in Horace Baker’s gas tank, sabotaging his vehicle. Mrs. Taylor reflected on the “sad irony” of Sarah Baker, who was a nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital, but was rebuffed so by people that she may well have delivered. The couple eventually gave in and moved in with the Taylors in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy section, where they eventually found a home and moved on with their lives.
It was disheartening for the Taylors, who had just participated in the historic event on the Washington Mall days before, “Here, we left Washington and all the excitement of ‘the Dream’ to come back to basically see the ‘Dream’ shattered,” Mrs. Taylor reflected, thinking back on seeing dynamic figures like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin at the March. She’d been on the Freedom Rides, but hadn’t seen anything quite like the scene in Folcroft. “This had a different feel to it. It was really pretty ugly.”
She always regretted that the “good people” in Folcroft, remained silent and out of focus. “It was really quite terrible. I’m sure there were good people in Folcroft, but I think the good people were afraid,” she said. “One of the things I’m mainly aware of [is] that when good people are quiet, terrible things can happen,” she stated, comparing such a situation lead to Hitler’s oppression of her people.
Today, the Taylors live in Germantown in Philadelphia. Mrs. Taylor now ministers as a chaplain in the Philadelphia Prison System. She sermonized, “We all have to be vigilant and we (as a community) have to all know not to be afraid and speak out whenever we see wrong.”
The couple closed their piece in the Chestnut Hill Local with this reflection: “When we look at news clips of the March and listen to the stirring words of the speeches, we are reminded of the words from the Talmud: ‘Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obliged to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it.’”