First came the broken windows, then the potshots from a BB gun. Next came the hate-filled crowds in the street chanting, "We want them out!" Huddled inside their new home, Charles Williams, 23, and Marietta Bloxom, 24, watched with growing despair as their daughter Lekeisha, 7, cowered in the middle of the living room, afraid even to peer outside. Faced with the prospect of mob violence, Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode declared a state of emergency on Nov. 22 that banned outdoor gatherings of more than four people in a 30-block area around Williams' house. But by last week the young couple had had enough.
Less than a month after they moved into their tidy brick row house in Elm-wood, a white working-class neighborhood in the southwest section of the City of Brotherly Love, Williams and Bloxom, who are black and unmarried, decided to move out. Said Bloxom: "We can't live in a neighborhood where my child is scared to come in the house." Williams, a shift supervisor at a fast-food restaurant who had bought the $21,000 home in early November from the Veterans Administration with $500 down, said he was stunned that anyone could be so vilified for the color of his skin. "In this day and age," said he, "you shouldn't have any of this." When civil rights leaders urged him not to succumb, a bitter Williams sadly exclaimed, "They don't have to live here! They're encouraging us, but they're sleeping while we're watching our backs."
A mixed-race couple, Gerald and Carol Fox, who had moved into Elmwood with their two children at about the same time as Williams and Bloxom--and endured much of the same abuse--did decide to stay. But their home is guarded by plainclothes policemen, and Carol Fox admits, "I get scared sometimes. I think about it when I go to bed at night."
A white enclave hemmed in by black neighborhoods, Elmwood has long been plagued by racial tensions. Angry whites there have accused real estate brokers of blockbusting, an old and devious practice of moving black families into a white neighborhood to frighten residents into selling at rock-bottom prices.
The city's defenders argued that the ugly attacks were isolated incidents, hardly representative of other Philadelphia communities. But Philadelphia Daily News Columnist Chuck Stone assigned at least some of the blame to city hall, which is still shaken by last May's bombing of the headquarters of the radical group Move that ultimately engulfed several city blocks in flames. Declared Stone: "When you have the city committing the most violent act you can commit, it legitimizes the violence in other people's thinking."