When I called Mike Rafferty to arrange a meeting to discuss a possible symposium on the demise of the local community, I had to choose a different date from the one I?wanted because Mike was busy that night. He was boxing at the Spectrum. Like Rocky Balboa, Mike Rafferty lives ten minutes from the Spectrum. Unlike Rocky, Mike Rafferty is a lightweight—and a cop. Unlike Rocky, he will never make enough money fighting to move out of the neighborhood, which may explain why he is interested in preserving it—what is left of it, at least.
Grays Ferry, a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, lies across the Schuylkill River from the University of Pennsylvania, a geographical fact that has saved it from the University’s penchant to gobble up Catholic neighborhoods where no geographical barrier intervenes, as it did to the west in St. Francis de Sales Parish. The Irish in Grays Ferry used to unload the coal barges that came down the Schuylkill from the mines in the mountains. Then they became cops and firemen and worked for the utilities and the mills until the mills all left town in search of slave labor in the southern hemisphere. But their penchant for fighting remained constant. The young men who hang out in bars in Grays Ferry are avid sports fans in general and fans of the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” in particular, probably because the team name suits their pugnacious ethnic heritage.
Johnny Lynch had the Fighting Irish Leprechaun tattooed to his forearm when I interviewed him on a barstool at 29th and Tasker, the social hub of the neighborhood. Johnny had been arraigned the day before on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, ethnic intimidation, terroristic threats, burglary, riot, and related charges in a case that came to be known as the “Annette Williams Story.”
The official version of the story, the one repeated in all the newspaper accounts, is that a mob of “20 to 50” drunken white men beat up a black woman in her nightgown after she had been awakened from a sound sleep in her home. Once the story got out in that form, it solidified like wet concrete.
“She was dozing in her bedroom about 1:30 a.m.,” wrote Michael Matza of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “when a commotion snapped her awake.” (Journalists favor the faux-novelist style when they want to create an aura of verisimilitude and sympathy. The pseudodramatic tone of the article indicates that the reader is supposed to accept her version of the event as the true one.)
“Squinting through the window of her Grays Ferry rowhouse,” Matza continues (causing the alert reader to wonder what he was doing in her bedroom at that hour of the night), “Annette Williams, a black housekeeper, saw a pile of white men atop her son, Raheem, pounding the 17-year-old in the middle of the street. She tore downstairs in her nightgown. It was cold, she was barefoot, and mayhem was erupting, she said.”
At this point, the truth of the story begins to emerge. The real focus of the incident was not Annette Williams at all but her son, who had gotten into a fight in the street outside his mother’s house. Only after Matza sets the tone in the article’s first paragraph does he return to conventional newspaper reporting and reveal that this account was based on Williams’ first sworn statement. Then Matza slips into editorial-page style by telling the reader that the melee brought “shame” to the neighborhood.
Yvonne Latty’s account in the Philadelphia Daily News takes virtually an identical approach: “Barefoot and wearing only a nightgown,” Latty begins in her best “you-are-there” manner, “Annette Williams ran into the cold February night as a mob of white men yelled racial slurs while they kicked and punched her.”
That Latty and Matza should use virtually the same opening paragraph is not surprising, since great minds always run in the same circles. In addition, both papers are owned by the same company, but there is something more at work here, namely, cultural patterns that replicate themselves without conscious orchestration that we could characterize as “conspiracy.” This is Journalism 101—a style of writing, in other words, which is supposed to grab the TV-besotted reader, even if, in the process, it introduces an intolerable amount of bias into the story. We are led to believe from both accounts that the mob of white guys formed specifically to wake Annette Williams up and beat her as she stood there on the cold sidewalk in her nightgown. At this point, we have to raise the question of motivation. Is there some reason why these white guys would want to wake Annette Williams out of a sound sleep and beat her? Did she owe these 50 white guys money or something? But that question is easily answered by appealing to the catch-all hermeneutic of American culture, the liberal version of the radix malorum, namely, racism. They beat up Annette Williams because they are white, Irish racists. End of story.
I grew up in an almost-Irish neighborhood on the other side of town, a section I would in no way characterize as tough, but I do remember lots of fighting as a young man—mostly Irish Catholics fighting other Irish Catholics because they happened to hang out on different street corners. For a cultural referent, I can recommend Pat Buchanan’s autobiography, Right From the Beginning, which describes how growing up Irish in Washington, D.C., involved frequent fisticuffs. Or, perhaps, the first Rocky movie, which depicts Kensington, still another tough section of Philadelphia. Or the story of Jerry Judge, who was the toughest kid in Northeast Philadelphia in the mid-60’s. Judge eventually became a professional boxer and had his jaw broken by Jerry Quarry, who lasted a few rounds with Muhammed Ali before one more great white hope ended up with his back on the canvas.
Not too long ago, I listened to Midge Decter, wife of Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, describe growing up in St. Paul, where her Jewish friends were beaten up by Irish Catholics. At the time, I thought about empathizing publicly before the New York neocon audience by telling Midge that I could feel her pain. Don’t take it personally, Midge, I felt like saying. I, too, used to get beat up by Irish Catholics, and I’m Irish Catholic myself.
So fighting and being Irish are sort of related, and before the sexual revolution of the 60’s took over the culture and assigned a whole new set of meanings to cultural icons, there was nothing particularly sinister about an Irishman getting into a fistfight. In fact, it was part of this culture’s ethnic iconography. Think, for a moment, of Pat O’Brien portraying Fighting Father Duffy or Angels With Dirty Faces or just about any other Pat O’Brien movie, and it becomes obvious that we are talking about a bygone age. Or recall John Wayne in The Quiet Man, which is a whole movie about Ireland and fistfights. Wayne and Victor McLaughlin pummeled each other from Derry to Cork, and no one called the police or declared them terrorists.
But that, as they say, was then, and this is now, and suddenly the culture does not think that Johnny Lynch is so harmless anymore. If Johnny Lynch decides to get in a fistfight with another Irishman, he can still be written off as a cultural icon, like the Notre Dame logo tattooed on his left forearm. If he gets into a fistfight with any of Grays Ferry’s blacks, however, the situation changes dramatically. Now, he is accused of being a terrorist and portrayed as such in the press. If you wonder at the dramatic nature of the change from then to now, rent Patriot Games, a movie about sinister Irish guys who do not use contraceptives, and, as a result, are capable of anything, including shooting up your yuppie-doctor-wife’s Porsche. Suddenly, it is no longer cute to be Irish, as it was in Hollywood during the 40’s and 50’s. This type of guy, Patriot Games fairly screams at us, is America’s worst nightmare. We are talking about something serious here: aggressively Irish ethnic white guys who do not use contraceptives. We have to bring the full might of the CIA to bear against them to make the world safe for yuppie doctors and their sports cars.
Johnny Lynch was not at the organizational meeting for the symposium, but Dan Lynch, the head of the Grays Ferry community organization, was, and the story he told about what had been happening in the neighborhood since the trials surrounding the Annette Williams Story was not encouraging. Grays Ferry is one of the last ethnic neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Its white residents continue to be demonized by the press, and yet, in a disconcerting way, they react by emulating all the icons that the dominant culture tells them to emulate. For the most part, that means emulating professional sports figures, and so I saw lots of young white guys wearing gold chains around their necks and baggy basketball uniforms. They listen to the music that goes with the clothes, and they engage in the behavior that goes with the clothes and music. As a result, many of the white girls end up sleeping with the black gang members who constitute the government’s occupation force in a large, citywide ethnic-cleansing operation. The Irish ethnics do not make their own music, they do not dance their own dances, and they get accused and convicted of crimes that are ignored when the area’s black residents commit them. The Irish Catholics of Grays Ferry are confronted with the most basic rule of cultural life: Either you occupy the culture or the culture occupies you, and, for the most part, they do not know that they are accomplices in their own cultural subjugation. When I attended Grays Ferry Appreciation Day in the neighborhood a few years back, the schoolyard where it was held was adorned with two Irish flags and one American flag. From this perspective, they were twice as Irish as they were American, but when they began blasting the Rolling Stones over the p.a. system, they revealed, once again, their inability to occupy their own cultural space.
The media campaign against the neighborhood’s residents is, in many ways, the least of their worries. Much more destructive is the political manipulation of housing, which has been the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of social engineering in America. Dan Lynch tells the story of how Section 8 housing works to break up the neighborhood. A landlord from Bryn Mawr buys a house in Grays Ferry and puts the worst family he can find in it, for which he receives $800 per month from the government in Section 8 rental money. Since he receives the same amount of money no matter how much he pays for the house, the landlord has a vested interest in driving the price of housing down, something he accomplishes by bringing in the most antisocial tenants he can find. Since the neighborhood’s decent residents cannot stand the crime, they move out en masse, causing housing prices to fall.
In the summer of 1966, Martin Mullen, a state senator from Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Southwest Philadelphia and head of the Senate Budget Committee, held up the entire state budget over contraception, which was the cutting edge of social engineering in Pennsylvania at the time. Eventually, Mullen prevailed and the state did not get into the contraception business—not then, at least. But something else began to happen over the summer of 1966: Whites began their ten-year-long exodus out of MBS Parish in earnest. By 1976, the once-Irish neighborhood was almost completely black; the whites had been driven out by increasing racial violence. One of the significant consequences of that migration was that Martin Mullen lost his job as state senator, as his constituency, once concentrated in a densely populated Irish Catholic area, eight blocks by eight blocks, was dispersed into the surrounding suburbs and lost its political power.
The racial situation in Philadelphia was never the same as the situation in the South. To claim it was bespoke ulterior political motives. Philadelphia was a composite of ethnic neighborhoods and ethnic parishes and churches. When Muhammad Kenyatta, a local shake-down artist who came to be known as a civil-rights activist, walked into St. Anthony’s Parish in Chester and announced that there were no black people in the church, he was right. There were no Irish, Germans, Poles, or Hmong, either. St. Anthony’s was an Italian parish, built by Italians for Italians. To claim that this was similar to the school segregation practiced in the South (or the neighborhood segregation of upper-middle-class Northern suburbs) is an intentional misreading of the situation. Racial “integration” in Philadelphia is just another way of breaking up Catholic neighborhoods. The same people who promoted the sexual revolution promoted civil-rights activists such as Kenyatta in their efforts to break up Catholic ethnic neighborhoods. Racial politics was a front for sexual revolution, which was, in turn, a front for political control, and Martin Mullen could no longer oppose government funding of contraception when his political constituency in Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Southwest Philadelphia was dispersed throughout the suburbs.
The sexual revolution and white migration from the cities did not just happen. Both were parts of the liberal project to remake America in the years following World War II. The first label that applied to this campaign of social engineering was “urban renewal”; later, it became the “civil-rights movement”; now, it is known as “Section 8.” Behind all of the change in nomenclature, the intention remains constant: Americans are to be denied the right to associate with people like themselves. They are to be denied control over the local community in favor of political control from above. They are allowed to own property, even their own homes, only under certain conditions, all of which are established by the people who control the culture.
People such as Mike Rafferty and Dan Lynch are the exception to the rule, which, in this case, seems to be demoralization. When Dan Lynch ran for state representative for the neighborhood’s district, he would have been elected had the neighborhood’s 1,900 registered voters gone to the polls, but only 500 people showed up that day. The rest seem content to sit on their bar stools and watch the city’s professional sports teams, the modern-day version of bread and circuses.
The last time I was in Grays Ferry, I met with a different group of people. When I said that I wanted to come back after I had finished my book on the destruction of ethnic neighborhoods, The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002), one of the people attending said, “Hurry up. We may not be here much longer.” That man did not attend the second meeting. In spite of assuring me over the phone that he would be there, he was tending bar a block away.
At the end of the meeting, we decided to go ahead with the conference in the fall. Why is such a meeting important? First of all, Grays Ferry may not be especially acute when it comes to fighting the culture wars, but it is a real community, a group of people of common belief who live in one place and know one another. Groups like this are rare now, because the government has destroyed most of them through social engineering. The fact that they are not adept in fighting the culture wars gives some indication that they might profit from people who are, just as the latter, now scattered across the country, might profit from the experiences of an actual community fighting for survival. When each of those culture warriors is part of a community and each local community has some of Grays Ferry’s savvy, then we will make some progress away from the current parlous state of affairs, where isolation is the only thing Americans have in common.