How Black Philadelphians lived MLK’s fight for ‘open housing’

Walter Palmer was living in a small two-story house in a section of West Philadelphia known as the Black Bottom in the late 1960s when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously uncovered blatant housing discrimination in Chicago.

As King led marches through that city in protest of what he called the “de-facto segregation of the North,” Palmer played percussion in a jazz club down the block from his house and watched as the civil rights movement took hold in his neighborhood, an African American community that had thrived there since the 1800s despite the racism that coursed through the city, enforcing segregation and limiting mobility.

In the 1960s, changes to the Federal Housing Act allowed urban renewal money to finance commercial and institutional projects. Both the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University went forward with subsidized redevelopment around their campuses that entailed the clearance of “blighted” residential neighborhoods nearby. Palmer’s Black Bottom transformed. Today, many people refer to the area as University City.