Over the last few days, the Philadelphia Central library has been my home. It has been a week full of reading but, in a way, more casual than not. In order to get a good understanding of the riots and grasp the immensity of the events as they unfolded, I decided to head to the newspaper archives. What I found there was both exciting and confusing. The former can be attributed to the fact that I had access to all the newspapers, along with the dates, that I needed: The Camden Courier-Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Evening Bulletin, all from 1971. The latter was due to the fact that I was very unfamiliar with the format in which they were to be accessed(microfilm) and how to work the machine that allowed me to view them. Luckily, the Central library is full of helpful people. The gentleman in charge of the archives was kind enough to walk me through all the steps that I needed to know in order to proceed.
I went about reading the newspaper as if, well, as if I was reading the newspaper. I read day by day, page by page beginning with August 20th, 1971, the day after the riots began. I could not be more happy with the amount of detailed information present in the articles pertaining to the riots. One of the articles that struck me the most was titled "Red Banners Used for Protection". In my last post, I mentioned a man who led me to Dominic Petulla. That individual also spoke briefly about his experiences regarding the riots, stating that many families had to hang red flags on their doors to protect their homes. Immediately, I was reminded of the Jewish Holiday, Passover, in which the Jewish People ate the lamb and posted its blood on their doors for protection from the angel of death. As I continued to read through these articles, the actions depicted in them became less interesting and more disturbing. It is difficult to fathom what could bring a people to burn a city to the ground but it is just as difficult to imagine what they had to experience in order to get to that point. Suddenly, I was reminded of why it is that this work is so important to me. Poverty is the plight of our generation. The first step in eliminating it is to not ignore it. Perhaps if those in charge of leading Camden in 1971 concerned themselves with the vast number of impoverished and underrepresented persons in their city, things may have been different. Today, as I walk through Camden, there is no ignoring the poor living conditions in which the majority of the city lives. Undoubtedly, the angel of death has done its work in this forgotten city.