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Seventh Ward’s Physical and Social Structure

The early twentieth-century Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward demonstrated distinct physical and social structures. As most United States cities, Philadelphia manifested many social issues which uniquely affected black people. Being Philadelphia’s site of the oldest black community, Seventh Ward contained a sizeable number of African Americans. Du Bois, a black scholar and historian, described the social and physical structures which the city depicted and the color prejudice which led blacks to endure hardships in this ghetto (Logan & Bellman, 2016). Likewise, Mitchell Duneier, a Jewish sociologist, examined the role of space restrictions in creating and maintaining the black downtowns.

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Philadelphia’s famous Seventh Ward stretched west-east from Schuylkill River to Seventh Street while Spruce and South Street bordered it to the north and south, respectively. Seventh Ward’s northern end, Spruce, housed the city’s business and residences section. According to Du Bois, the working men’s residences and the middle class were in its southern end. Seventh Ward’s heart contained Philadelphia’s worst slums, characterized by mostly brick or wood houses in abandoned states (Logan & Bellman, 2016). The adjacent Ratcliffe street, Brown’s court, and Barclay street alleys harbored criminals, prostitutes, and gamblers. Beyond Eighth, the blocks had fewer passages with larger residences. These well-built homes’ occupants were the few wealthy Negro families who had moved from the old slum area in earlier migrations.

The creation and sustenance of the black ghetto are attributable to discriminatory space restriction practices. According to Duneier (2016), residential space limitations based on income, wealth, and race prevent disenfranchised African Americans from moving into suburbs. During the expansion of the suburban homes in the 1940s, African Americans were barred from purchasing housing in those areas (Duneier, 2016). Therefore, they lacked an equal opportunity to generate wealth, which now enables whites to move into affluent neighborhoods. Even in the absence of discriminatory tendencies, employed middle-class blacks cannot afford to buy houses in posh areas. On the contrary, comparable whites who profited from the postwar housing market environment can easily afford to upgrade their neighborhoods. Therefore, segregation has contributed to maintaining black ghettos by creating a perpetual loop that confines black people into those downtowns.

Space barriers produce a wave of vicious cycles which create and maintain black ghettos. Blacks remain confined into these city sections because they lack the means to purchase better housing. Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward depicts African Americans’ pitiable plight who struggle to survive in a racially discriminating environment. Furthermore, Seventh Ward reveals distinct social and physical structures with different population categories residing in them.


Duneier, M. (2016). Ghetto: The invention of a place, the history of an idea. Macmillan.

Logan, J. R., & Bellman, B. (2016). Before The Philadelphia Negro: Residential segregation in a nineteenth-century Northern city. Social Science History, 40(4), 683–706. Web.

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