Chapter 4: New Arrivals, 1930-present
Even amidst the struggles of economic hard times, and the uncertainties of war and international conflict, successive generations continued to identify with William Penn's ideal of a harmonious and well-ordered civil society. Nowhere was this more apparent than in October 1949, when tens of thousands of visitors gathered in a small town to commemorate the cooperative spirit behind the Aaronsburg Story. Referring to the rich multicultural heritage they celebrated, Aaronsburg's Mayor James Duff boasted that Pennsylvania "typifies what this nation and the world are trying to do in erasing intolerance of religion, race and color."
The Stock Market crash of October 1929 set off an economic collapse of an intensity and duration unprecedented in American history. Massive unemployment-25 percent nationwide in 1933 and as high as 37 percent in Pennsylvania-and a staggering decline in industrial output during the Great Depression persuaded many working-class Pennsylvanians to join unions . The economic challenges also forged new political alignments across the Commonwealth. Many working class, ethnic, and African-American voters bolted the Republican for the Democratic Party and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal," a move that transformed the state and the nation. Political participation followed in the wake of the Commonwealth's new social pluralism.
In the 1930s, Anne Brancato Wood became the first Italian-American woman and Crystal Bird Fauset the first African-American woman elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature. Political doors opened during the Great Depression opened wider in the decades that followed. Irish Catholics emerged as leaders of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia, under Olympic gold-medalist John Kelly, and in Pittsburgh, under David Lawrence, who in 1958 would become the first Catholic elected governor of Pennsylvania. It was Robert Lee Vann, the North Carolina-born publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier, who exhorted African Americans to "turn the picture of Lincoln to the wall," and helped lead the national movement of African-American voters to the Democratic Party.
The political revolution of the 1930s opened doors that would widen in the decades that followed. In Philadelphia, for example, Bernie Samuel would become the first Jewish mayor in 1944, Frank Rizzo the first Italian-American mayor in 1972, and W. Wilson Goode, the city's first black mayor, in 1984.
After a decade of economic crisis, World War II jump-started Pennsylvania's industrial economy. New labor demand unleashed a second great wave of southern black migration to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and milltowns in between. In Chester, 6,200 black workers labored in a segregated shipyard run by the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Among those who migrated to Philadelphia were the parents of a young John Coltrane. At Chester's Crozer Theological Seminary in the late 1940s, divinity student Martin Luther King Jr. was first introduced to the Quaker doctrine of pacifism.
In the half-century following World War II, communities across the Commonwealth had to come to grips with serious social and economic changes, including industrial decline, white flight from urban centers, and an aging population left behind in once vibrant neighborhoods. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh,Allentown, Reading, York, and smaller cities and towns across the state suffered through the loss of industries and jobs associated with "deindustrialization," and once prosperous downtown areas struggled to survive. Similarly, the movement to new suburbs like Levittown depleted municipal tax bases while reinforcing class and racial separation. Since the onset of deindustrialization in the 1970s, the Commonwealth has also experienced a steady outmigration of people from the old mill and coal towns to other states, which has left Pennsylvania's once stable immigrant neighborhoods facing an uncertain future.
Even in the face of economic decline and population stagnation, migration to Pennsylvania never ceased. After World War II, southern African Americans continued to move to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, York, and other Pennsylvania cities. Indeed, between 1940 and 1970, the state's African-American population soared from 470,000 to more than a million people. A new generation of black leaders, including Leon Sullivan , Dolores Tucker, William H. Gray, and Cecil B. Moore in Philadelphia-who were all newcomers to the state-led the modern state struggle for civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s.
After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 dismantled the rigid quota system put in place after World War I, Pennsylvania also attracted a new wave of immigrants, including Mexicans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans from Latin America; Dominicans, Haitians, and Puerto Ricans from the Caribbean; Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indians, and Indonesians from Asia; and Ethiopians, Nigerians, and Senegalese from Africa. In 1990, a quarter-million Pennsylvania residents claimed Hispanic origin and another 137,000 from parts of Asia. Thirty-six percent of this latest wave of migrants did not speak English as their first language.
From migrant workers in Adams and Potter counties to neurosurgeons and business consultants in Lancaster and Scranton, these latest newcomers have carried their cultures and identities, their habits and values with them. Old urban neighborhoods have undergone dramatic changes due to residential turnover and new cultural institutions. Today, visitors to Philadelphia's famous Italian Market are as likely to purchase produce from a Chinese or Vietnamese vendor as an Italian shopkeeper. And as in earlier generations, the new immigrants have been met with both open arms and stiff opposition.
Though no longer a major destination for foreign immigration to the United States, Pennsylvania remains a complex multicultural society. Indeed, in 2007, twelve states, led by California with more than 10 million, had more foreign-born residents. That year, Pennsylvania had just over 665,000 foreign-born residents. In 2005, 85 percent of Pennsylvania's 12.4 million inhabitants were of white European descent, roughly 10 percent were African American, 3.2 percent were Hispanic, and nearly 2 percent were Asian. Only .1 percent of Pennsylvanians identified themselves as "American Indian."
In the early twenty-first century, one of the state's oldest and most traditional immigrant groups experienced a remarkable resurgence. Even with rapidly escalating costs of farmland, and outmigration to Kentucky, Nebraska, and Indiana, Pennsylvania continues to have the nation's largest Amish population. Lancaster County still records the largest Amish population of any county in America: 29,535 out of the national total of 249,495. A formidable 85 percent of Amish youth remain within the community.
In recent decades, too, old customs and rituals have become the fodder of new heritage tourism initiatives. The old German custom reincarnated each February as Ground Hog Day draws the attention of millions of people around the world. Similarly, Amish farms with their "plain and fancy" ways are a curiosity drawing tens of thousands of tourists annually to central Pennsylvania's Garden Spot. Rusting steel plants have been converted into mixed-use shopping centers, and coal patch towns have become sites of heritage museums and historic districts.
The search for a usable and meaningful past has embraced Pennsylvania's rich social and cultural history in new and unexpected ways. Polka festivals, Mummer Parades, Puerto Rican carnivals, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, American-Indian powwows, and Molly Maguire Days are all part of the human instinct to keep heritage and culture alive in twenty-first century Pennsylvania.