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Philadelphia’s 5 Most Significant Protest Sites

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From Girard College to Independence Hall

All eyes are on Philadelphia this week during the Democratic National Convention and the plentiful protests that are taking place around the city this week. And fortunately, the protests have been peaceful, as the city hoped and prepared for from the beginning.

Most of the coverage have featured protests with Broad Street and City Hall being the main spectacles. But like with most big cities, multiple sites in Philadelphia have a long history of being home to significant protests, riots, and rallies.

Here are five places in Philly that have served as the backdrop to some of the most significant gatherings in the city’s history, from a Civil Rights rally with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Girard College to the one of the nation’s first LGBTQ protests in front of Independence Hall.

Columbia Avenue

In August 1964, a time of high tension between Philly’s mostly white police force and the black community, an arrest led to a rumor mill that a black pregnant woman had killed by officers. Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia erupted into a three-day riot, leaving hundreds injured and more than 200 restaurants and retail stores destroyed. The retail corridor, later renamed Cecil B. Moore Avenue after the NAACP leader who at the time cautioned for peace, would never quite recover from the riots.

Independence Hall

It makes sense that the very building where this country’s founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain would become a big backdrop to some of this city’s rallies and protests. One of the most significant, albeit small, protests that took place in front of this World Heritage site was the Annual Reminder march of July 4, 1965, one of the first LGBTQ protests in the nation’s history (four years ahead of the historic Stonewall riots). Gay rights pioneers Jack Nichols and Barbara Gittings were among the protestors.

Girard College

This North Philly college was the main site of the Civil Rights movement in Philadelphia during the 1960s. At the time, Girard College was a segregated school—protestors marched around its gates calling for desegregation. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended and spoke at a major rally held in front of the Greek Revival Founders Hall as part of his Civil Rights stop in Philadelphia.

Fairmount Park

One of the country’s largest urban parks was a major gathering place for Earth Week, held in Philadelphia in 1970. What started as a small idea whipped together by Penn students and faculty turned into the first and only Earth Week in the country, drawing thousands to the city for the seven-day environmental rally. Though the events took place all throughout Philadelphia, Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park was the major site of rallies and live performances.

Dilworth Park at City Hall

Before Dilworth Park was transformed into the beloved public plaza it is today, it was a popular site for rallies and demonstrations. Its most recent protest was the 2011 Occupy Philadelphia, when protestors turned the concrete plaza into a camp site from October through November 30. Interestingly, Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron noted that despite Dilworth Park now being a "tailor-made stage" for DNC protests, the city has not issued a permit for protests in the last 22 months due to other scheduled programming (AKA happy hours, fitness classes, movie nights, etc.)