Philadelphia Race Riot of 1964

Philadelphia has worked hard to eliminate friction between Negroes and police.

It is one of the few cities with a civilian review board to handle complaints of police brutality. It assigns officers who patrol Negro areas to work in teams, with one white and one Negro cop in each red squad car. Yet when one such team answered a nighttime complaint that a car was blocking an intersection in a neighborhood near Temple University in North Philadelphia, where some 400,000 of the city's 600,000 Negroes live, the trouble began.

The riot started on Friday night at 9:35 P.M., August 28, 1964, when a woman named Odessa Bradford, a 39-year old waitress (or 34-years old, depending on which source one consults), driving a vehicle on Columbia Avenue with her husband, Rush, got into an argument with two police officers, one black, Robert Wells, and the other white, John Hoff, after their car stalled at 23rd Street and Columbia Avenue (or 22nd Street and Columbia, once again depending on the source). When Mrs. Bradford refused to move the car, the police officer tried to remove her bodily from it. Mrs. Bradford resisted mightily. At this point, a crowd gathered, shouting, “You wouldn’t manhandle a white woman like you did this lady.” A melee ensued in which two police officers were injured and the Bradfords were arrested.

Allegations of police brutality spark Columbia Avenue race riots in a predominantly African American neighborhood in North Philadelphia: 341 injured, 774 arrested, 225 stores damaged or destroyed.

On the evening of August 28, 1964, Odessa Bradford's car stalled at Twenty-Third Street and Cecil B. Moore, formerly Columbia Avenue. Two police officers urged her to move the vehicle out of the way of traffic: however, unable to comply because her car was disabled, an argument began between Bradford and police officers, one white and one black. The officers tried to remove her from the vehicle as a crowd gathered. One man, whose identity is unknown, attempted to help Bradford, but was also arrested with her. Rumors that Bradford and her would-be protector had been killed proliferated throughout the surrounding neighborhood and a riot ensued.