Walter D. Palmer collection of materials on the Black Bottom Project and other displaced Philadelphia communities
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center [Contact Us]3401 Market Street, Suite 210, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Black Bottom Project worked to document the history of the Black Bottom neighborhood of Philadelphia, with particular emphasis on the displacement of thousands of community residents following redevelopment plans endorsed by the City of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania. The catalyst for the project was the University of Pennsylvania undergraduate course "Neighborhood Displacement and Community Power," (Urban Studies 448) taught by Walter D. Palmer (born 1934) and the research conducted by its students over many semesters from 1995 to 2010. Over time the project expanded to look at other Philadelphia neighborhoods that experienced similar community displacement and gentrification.
In the mid-twentieth century, the Black Bottom neighborhood of West Philadelphia comprised an area that was bounded by 40th Street to the west and 32nd Street to the East, with a northern boundary of Lancaster Avenue and a southern limit of University Avenue. The Black Bottom neighborhood, and much of West Philadelphia, grew to become a predominately Black community following the First World War and subsequent waves of migration from the American south. However, beginning in 1948, the University of Pennsylvania began planning a major campus expansion that would coincide with urban renewal efforts promoted by the city government. By 1968 most of the neighborhood had been cleared through eminent domain and turned over to the University City Science Center, an institution made up of The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, Presbyterian Hospital, and Temple University.
Walter D. Palmer is a Philadelphia medical professional, educator, lawyer, community organizer, and civil rights activist. He is a lecturer in the Masters of Social Work program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice, where he has taught since 1990. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Cardio-Pulmonary Care and is a fellow in the Philadelphia College of Physicians. He also has an associate's degree from Temple University, a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Cheyney State University and a Juris Doctor degree from Howard University.
Palmer was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Walter Palmer and Hannah Byrd. The second of eight children, Walter D. Palmer and his family moved to 3645 Market Street in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1941. Palmer moved out of the neighborhood around 1952, but maintained close ties to his family and community. By the 1960s, Palmer became actively involved with efforts to protect the Black Bottom from the University of Pennsylvania's plans for expansion. In 1995, he began teaching the University of Pennsylvania course Urban Studies 448 "Neighborhood Displacement and Community Power," from which the Black Bottom Project would develop.
A website for the project first appeared in 2000 on the GeoCities hosting platform, which is now defunct. By 2004 the site had transitioned to "blackbottom.org" and around 2010 it was moved to WordPress, with the address of "theblackbottom.wordpress.com," where it remains today. While still online, as of February 2023, many of the links on the site are broken and some original content may have been lost, making the materials contained in this collection the most complete record of the original site.
A statement published in 2009 reads, "Based in Philadelphia, Blackbottom is a collaborative project which documents the struggle and displacement of communities by institutions and development, honors the memory of those who worked to stop gentrification and raises awareness of community empowerment methods for counteracting eminent domain and urban renewal issues."
The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, https://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/essays/west-philadelphia-essay. Accessed 2023 March 17.
Blackbottom, https://theblackbottom.wordpress.com. Accessed 2023 March 17.
The W.D. Palmer Foundation, https://thewdpalmerfoundation.org. Accessed 2023 March 17.
Penn School of Social Policy and Practice, https://www.sp2.upenn.edu/person/walter-palmer. Accessed 2023 March 17.
This collection contains course materials, correspondence, academic and newspaper articles, ephemera, public records and reports, interviews, photographs and audiovisual material, and original student research, including course papers. Also included are digital files and paper printouts from the creation of a website. In many cases the documents are not originals, but are either photocopies or print-outs.
Also included are materials from the Black Bottom Project website, such as paper printouts of web pages.
The collection also includes 20 optical disks that contain files from the web site, student papers, research, and course materials.
This collection is arranged into five series.
I. Research materials
This series contains material that broadly documents the Black Bottom neighborhood and community, including newspaper articles, reports, public records, poetry and essays, compilations of information, obituaries, and ephemera. In many cases, the documents are photocopies or print-outs and does not include originals. Arranged alphabetically.
The majority of this correspondence is email that has been printed out on paper, but some traditional letters, memoranda, and other writings are also included. Topics include course development, the Black Bottom Project and related history, contributions to the Black Bottom website, collaborative conversations with other scholars interested in gentrification and neighborhood displacement, biographical information for the Penn Gazette, the Walter Palmer Foundation, and the City Planning Commission for Philadelphia. Arranged alphabetically.
III. Black Bottom Website
This series contains print-outs of web pages that document various development stages of the Black Bottom Project website, as well as the original born digital files for the site. Arranged chronologically.
IV. Student papers and course materials
This series contains student papers and research on the Black Bottom neighborhood, as well as syllabi and other course materials. Some of these student papers include transcripts of interviews with former Black Bottom residents. Classes represented are Urban Studies 448 and 370, and Social Work 746. Also included are original born digital files for some of the materials. Arranged chronologically.
V. Community Displacement in other Neighborhoods
Student papers and research that look beyond Black Bottom to other communitites effected by displacement and gentrification. These neighborhoods include: Chinatown, Fairmont, Mantua, North Philadelphia, Northern Liberties, Queen Village, Schuylkill Yards, South Street, West Philadelphia, and Wynnefield. Also included are original born digital files for some of the materials. Arranged alphabetically.
The collection is arranged into five series.
I. Research materials, 1875-2016
II. Correspondence, 1993-2017
III. Black Bottom Website, 1995-2013
IV. Student papers and course materials, 1967-2010
V. Community Displacement in other Neighborhoods, 2000-2017
The Walter D. Palmer collection of materials on the Black Bottom Project and other displaced Philadelphia communities was donated by Walter D. Palmer in 2019 (Accession 2019-063).
Gift of William Palmer, 2019.
- Community and college
- Urban renewal
- Eminent domain
- African American neighborhoods
- Web sites
- University of Pennsylvania: University Archives and Records Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Kenneth Cleary
- Finding Aid Date
- March 10, 2023
- Access Restrictions
Access to collections is granted in accordance with the Protocols for the University Archives and Records Centers.
Use of the physical optical disks in Box , Folders 15-16 is restricted. The computer files originally stored on the optical disks have been processed and are available for research use (see items described as "Digital Content (Reading Room Access Only)" along the right-hand side in the Collection Inventory). These computer files are reading-room access only on a dedicated computer.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the The University Archives and Records Center.