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History of the Commission

Established in 1951 under the City’s Home Rule Charter, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is the local agency that enforces the civil rights laws and deals with matters of intergroup conflict within the City of Philadelphia.

PCHR's 60 Year History

1950s

1951
Philadelphia becomes the first city in the United States to include a provision for a human relations agency in its Home Rule Charter. That year, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations was born and assumed the powers and duties of the former, more limited Fair Employment Practices Commission. The FEPC, formed in 1948, combated prejudice and discrimination in employment based upon race, color, religion or national origin.

1952
The PCHR’s founding commissioners are Robert J. Callaghan, Esq., chairperson; Sadie T. M. Alexander, Esq.; Francis J. Coyle; Nathan L. Edelstein, Esq.; Elizabeth H. Fetter; James H. Jones; Albert J. Nesbitt; Lawrence M. C. Smith; and Leon C. Sunstein, Sr. George Schermer shortly thereafter became the executive director.
 
1952
The Commission quickly begins its assault on discrimination by issuing a publication, Philadelphia Negro Population Facts on Housing and working with the Philadelphia Housing Authority to integrate public housing by admitting African-Americans to exclusively White housing projects.
 
1954
In response to violent incidents against Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood, the Commission issues a report, Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia, to highlight the challenges faced by the Spanish-speaking community.

1960s

1960
The PCHR continues its efforts to reduced restrictive housing practices by issuing What to Do: A Program for Leaders in Changing Neighborhoods: A Guide for Community Leaders in Racially Changing Neighborhoods.

1960
The PCHR develops a comprehensive training program for the Philadelphia Police Department.

1962
Sadie T.M. Alexander becomes the chairperson of the Commission. Her tenure continued until 1968.
 
1963
PCHR holds public hearings and investigates labor unions for excluding African-American workers. The Commission found widespread membership discrimination and negotiated settlements.
 
1963
City Council passes the Fair Practices Ordinance, replacing the more restrictive Fair Employment Practices Ordinance.
 
1964
Civil disturbances erupt in North Philadelphia. The PCHR calls together community leaders in an emergency meeting at Emmanuel Baptist Church. They march to end the rioting. The efforts of the PCHR shorten the disturbance and quicken the pace of reconciliation. The PCHR North Philadelphia Field Office is established.
 
1965-1968
Young African-Americans, led by Cecil B. Moore leader of the local branch of the NAACP and Georgie Woods of radio station WDAS picket Girard College (a boarding school for White fatherless boys). Mayor Tate asks PCHR Chair Sadie Alexander to intervene between the picketers and the school’s trustees. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Girard College must admit African-American boys.
 
1967
Clarence Farmer becomes the executive director of the PCHR.
 
1968
The PCHR launches a Helpmobile, a City Hall on Wheels. The Helpmobile made tours during the summer months of inner city neighborhoods and distributed information on the services of the PCHR.
 
1967-1968
Protests by African-Americans, seeking greater input in their schools, were met by police force in November 1967. Clarence Farmer stepped in to negotiate with both sides to end the violence.
 
1968
On the day following the assassination of Martin Luther King, April 6, 1968, Clarence Farmer organizes a memorial march and rally at Independence Mall.
 
1968
Farmer brings African-American radicals to the table with liberal moderates like Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., William Coleman, Esq., and Robert N.C. Nix, Jr., and White civic leaders like Philadelphia Savings Fund Society’s R. Stewart Rauch, Jr. and Wannamaker’s Richard C. Bond. The effort led to the creation of the Black Coalition.

1970s

1970
The PCHR addresses the problem of blockbusting, the practice by which real estate agents and speculators induce panic selling by White homeowners fearful that an influx of minority purchasers will decrease property values.

1970
PCHR strengthened its service to the City’s Spanish-speaking neighborhoods by providing interpretation services and preparing Spanish-language literature for residents and media.
 
1972
Prohibitions on discrimination based on sex are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance.
 
1972
Housing and public accommodation provisions and provisions that protect the rights of disabled persons are added to an expanded Fair Practices Ordinance.
 
1975
PCHR creates a Dispute Resolution Program to help neighbors resolve disputes.
 
1979
Violence in Kensington erupts between Whites and Latinos and in Southwest Philadelphia between Whites and African-Americans. Commission staff worked with neighborhood church groups, public agencies and community organizations to calm tensions.

1980s

1980
Marital status, source of income, age, and the presence of children are added to the housing provisions of the Fair Practices Ordinance.
 
1982
Sexual orientation, disability, and discrimination in employment based on age over 40 are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance.
 
1977-1983
Clarence Farmer negotiates, at various times, between the police and MOVE members.
 
1984
The PCHR holds four public hearings concerning the problems of Asian immigrants in Philadelphia. Following the hearings, the PCHR issued a report, Asians and their Neighbors, and a subsequent report, Race Relations in Philadelphia.

1985
PCHR begins accepting complaints of discrimination in the delivery of City services.

1986
The City Solicitor defines AIDS as a disability under the Fair Practices Ordinance and Mayor’s Executive Order 4-86 is issued prohibiting discrimination based on AIDS in the delivery of City services.
 
1989
The Commission issues a report, The State of Intergroup Harmony Race Relations in Philadelphia: A 1989 Perspective-A 1990 Opportunity.

1990s

1991
After mounting tension and concerns in the Latino community, the PCHR holds public hearings and issues a report to the Mayor titled Report on Public Hearings Regarding Concerns of the Philadelphia Latino Community and a report The State of Intergroup Harmony.

1991
Philadelphia and the Commission hosts the 43rd Annual Conference of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA).
 
1991-1992
The PCHR organized conferences on fair lending laws in collaboration with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The conferences began a continuing dialogue between community groups and lenders about mortgage and community development issues.
 
1993
PCHR issues studies on mortgage lending patterns and practices in Philadelphia and low-income community credit needs.
 
1993
The PCHR began providing staff for the City’s Fair Housing Commission (FHC), which deals with complaints of landlords engaging in unfair rental practices.
 
1994
The PCHR joins with the Women’s Law Project to end the exclusion of pregnant women from drug treatment programs.
 
1994
The PCHR blocks the Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam from holding a males-only rally at the Civic Center. The meeting proceeds, open to all.
 
1994
PCHR initiates the Interagency Civil Rights Task Force made up of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
 
1995
In collaboration with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies and the Fielding Institute of California, the PCHR institutes a neighborhood-based project called Focus Philadelphia, using video technology to create a better understanding of diverse communities.
 
1996-1998
Acts of ethnic intimidation directed at African-American renters in White neighborhoods in Bridesburg and Grays Ferry generate calls for peace and efforts by the PCHR to support the victims.
 
1996
The statute of limitations under the Fair Practices Ordinance is increased from 90 days to 300 days.
 
1998
Historic Life Partnership provisions are added to the Fair Practices Ordinance for registration of same-sex domestic partners and eligibility for benefits for Life Partners of City employees.
 
1998
The PCHR convenes a public investigatory hearing and issued a report on Race and the Criminal Justice System.

2000s

2001
In the aftermath of the tragic attack on September 11, the PCHR moves forward to establish a dialogue with law enforcement, criminal justice and social services agencies to promote understanding of the culture, customs and concerns of the Arab/Sikh/Muslim community.

2002
Gender identity is added to Fair Practices Ordinance as a protected class.

2003
PCHR and the Center City Proprietors Association present Forging Alliances, an initiative that encouraged dialogue among the City’s small/minority businesses and associations.

2006
The PCHR holds a public investigatory hearing for providers of services to immigrants and refugees.

2006-2007
The PCHR raises awareness of the linguistic burdens of immigrants in its claim against cheesesteak impresario, Joey Vento, whose establishment bore a “SPEAK ENGLISH” sign. A split panel of the PCHR concluded that this sign did not convey the message that service would be denied to non-English speakers.

2007
A Prayer Vigil for a Restored Civility is held following the fatal shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Charles “Chuck” Cassidy.

2008
City Council passed Entitlement to Leave Due to Domestic or Sexual Violence, an amendment to the Fair Practices Ordinance that requires employers to provide unpaid leave to victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, or the family or household member of a victim.

2009
Following the attack on 26 Asian immigrant students at South Philadelphia High School, PCHR arranges face-to-face meetings between the students and the administration of the School District of Philadelphia as part of an effort to end the boycott and resolve the students’ grievances.

2010s

2010
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) honors the PCHR as a Champion of Equal Opportunity.

2010
PCHR conducts a yearlong series of eleven public hearings to hear from the community on issues relating to intergroup tension and violence in the City’s public schools.

2011
Based on the testimony of 130 witnesses and 40 written submissions received during its public hearings in 2010, the PCHR issues Widening the Circle of Our Concern: Public Perceptions of the School District of Philadelphia’s Response to Intergroup Conflicts, a report from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

2011
The Fair Practices Ordinance is overhauled with landmark legislation intended to increase remedies and penalties, to streamline procedures, and to add genetic information, domestic or sexual violence victim status, or familial status as protected categories.

2011
The PCHR is named the enforcing authority for the City’s new Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards, commonly referred to as “Ban the Box.”