Thursday, February 2, 2012

Philly War Zone

Philly War Zone - Growing Up in a Racial Battleground  by Kevin Purcell,  Xlibris Corp, January 2012

...this narrative conveys the emotions and fears of the young who experienced this situation

Kevin Purcell has recounted his years as a young boy growing up in a racially changing neighborhood in southwest Philadelphia, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The author is the second of five boys living in a row house on a small street in the city. From the time he was very young, play in the neighborhood centered on sports at the local playground (Myers) where the community gathered to watch sports. Pickup games included local high school and college kids, black and white known city-wide for their skill. As the neighborhood changes from white families to large numbers of black families tensions skyrocket. Fighting among young boys and teens from both races becomes commonplace. For the author 10 to 13 years old at the time, fear becomes a daily emotion. Over a fairly short period of time – 2-4 years – events in the neighborhood accelerate from fighting to murder. Both a black teen and a white teen are killed. The author actually traveled with the white boy on the night he was killed.

The author does an excellent job relating these events. His narrative conveys the emotions and fears of the young who experienced this situation. I am sure his story will be well received by folks who grew up in that time in that area. He briefly tries to explain why this situation became so explosive.

This neighborhood changed from white to black in an incredibly short time. Driven by realtors who frightened anxious white home owners about diminishing property values many blocks in this area saw every house change hands in 2-3 years. Add to the mix large numbers of adolescent and teenage boys white and black vying for use of a limited number of city play spaces. Finally think about the lack of community leaders who might have stepped in to help diffuse tensions. Chief among them in my opinion was the Catholic Church. Most of the largely Irish Catholic families in this neighborhood attended Most Blessed Sacrament (MBS) School. The church held huge influence within this community but with few exceptions provided no leadership or guidance during this crisis. In fact the church wasn’t good about teaching Catholics how to get along with anybody not just non-Catholics (publics!) but even other Catholics – they had separate parishes for Polish, Italian and Lithuanian Catholics.

I enjoyed this book particularly all of the descriptions of the neighborhood. I also grew up four blocks from where the author lived, but we moved from this neighborhood in 1965, a few years before these events. What a heartbreak the author has described here, especially if we can’t take some life lessons from the experience.

I read a copy of this book that I bought


Zibilee said...

While I find the issues that this book presents interesting, I am not exactly sure if this one is for me. It sounds very well organized and emotional, but the inclusion of sports really deters me from reading this one. I fear I would get bored, though I know that the subject is not really what the book is about. This was a very thoughtful and detailed review, and I appreciated it!

Kathy said...

Heather, that's the right choice. This story is for those who lived thru it or knew folks who did! Again thanks for reading and commenting!