by Richard and Phyllis Taylor
We were so excited as we planned to go to the March on Washington, a continuation of the dream we both had of a society where people are seen as equals.
We met doing civil rights work, Dick as the director of the Fair Housing Council of Delaware Valley and Phyllis as a senior student at Beaver College, doing her field placement in the areas of housing and job discrimination.
We were married in March 1963 and saw working nonviolently for racial equality as an essential part of our lives.
Dick had experienced the ugly reality of discrimination in his work with the American Friends Service Committee, first driving through the South with an integrated group and then working with AFSC in the field of housing discrimination. After receiving nonviolence training, Phyllis went south as a Freedom Rider, balancing college with work for social justice.
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.
Dick’s ancestors had worked in the abolitionist movement. Phyllis’ grandparents had fled anti-Semitism in eastern Europe. She grew up in an area of New York with signs saying “no dogs and Jews allowed.” She always wondered where the “good” people were while Hitler was coming into power.
Because of this common background, both of us felt called to go to the March on Washington. Just before we left, we were in touch with Sarah and Horace Baker, an African-American family scheduled to move into the town of Folcroft in Delaware County at the end of August. (Folcroft, at the time, was an all-white community.)
We knew the Bakers through the Fair Housing Council of Delaware Valley and Margaret Collins, the real estate agent for Friends Suburban Housing, who had found them their dream house.
Little did we know as we headed to Washington, how much the march and the move would impact our lives.
The March on Washington was a glorious day. Hundreds of thousands of people nonviolently marching for justice. Stirring speeches from many leaders in the civil rights movement and, of course, the “I Have a Dream” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There was a sea of faces, young and old, black, white and brown. Here were the “good” people, not being silent while the injustice of racism played itself out throughout the country, overtly in some parts of our land and covertly in other parts.
As we returned to Philadelphia, feeling privileged to be part of such a March, we could not have known that the “Dream” would be tested in our own area so quickly. A few days after returning home, the Baker’s moving van tried to deliver their possessions to Folcroft. It was met with a riot. The Bakers were turned back as well.
The local police let the rioters continue their destruction of the house. It took many committed and courageous people to counter what was happening and to get the police to act. A late night trip to the Governor’s Mansion finally resulted in the moving van getting into the street and the Baker’s to move in.
We ended up moving in with them, along with representatives of the NAACP and CORE. Outraged white neighbors broke windows. Every cabinet in the kitchen was damaged. The Bakers’ dream literally had been shattered. When Phyllis was cut by broken glass, the crowd outside cheered.
Were there “good” people in Folcroft? Of course there were, but they were too frightened to bring food to welcome this young family or to help with the cleanup. Ultimately, the racism and continued harassment wore the family out. Sugar poured into the gas tank ruined their car. Having their small children called names was just too much.
After trying to live peacefully in the community for more than a year, they gave up. They moved in with us temporarily until they found a house in West Mt. Airy and tried to move on with their lives.
As we reflect back on the messages coming out of the March on Washington and the hope we had that day, the contrast to the riot in Folcroft was stark. It was common in those days for people above the Mason-Dixon line to refer to “the problem of racism in the South.” “No, it’s here in the North as well,” we would counter, telling the Folcroft story. We know that, today, the work to fulfill the “Dream” is far from over. Mass incarceration, immigration, the crisis in the schools, the lack of affordable housing and jobs, and many other societal problems challenge us to continue to work for justice nonviolently, to never be silent in the face of evil acts.
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.”
Richard and Phyllis Taylor, formerly of Mt. Airy, live in Germantown.