A Community in Transition
This video is available for purchase as part of a Precious Places Community History Project Vol.2 compilation DVD.
In 1949, interracial cooperative living was a radical idea in Philadelphia. The Friends Housing Cooperative transformed this concept into practice. Founded by the Friends Neighborhood Guild and the American Friends Service Committee—both Quaker organizations—to provide low-income collective housing for black and white families years before the organized Civil Rights Movement came to prominence, the Friends Housing Cooperative was a community of people who lived their ideals. Families bought their apartments with "sweat equity"—labor spent renovating and maintaining the properties—and tenants shared the work communally. A Community in Transition shows residents of the Friends Housing Cooperative reflecting on their unique history. Aware that the portraits they paint of the cooperative's early years may sound "rosy," they nonetheless maintain that the multi-racial community they nurtured was a truly novel approach to race relations, albeit one not always understood by outsiders. "Everyone got along so well that some folks thought there was great trouble going on: 'these people mixing like this,'" says coop member Augustus Baxter. "They didn't realize that there were whole families, just people getting along." Things began changing in the 1970s as the original founders died or moved away, but the Friends Housing Cooperative remains an on-going experiment in cooperative living and a vital force in this North Central Philadelphia neighborhood.