Question of the Week
Who did Martin Luther King Jr. visit with during a 1957 trip to Philadelphia?
Answer: Morris Milgram
Morris Milgram, a social activist and civil rights trailblazer, was born and raised in New York City, but he made his way to the Philadelphia area later in life when he took a job at a local construction company that was run by a family member. He combined his knowledge of construction and interests in civil right into a lifelong crusade for integrated housing.
Milgram believed in a simple ideal: if people could live together peacefully in integrated neighborhoods, racial tensions across the nation would dissipate. His first successful development was that of Concord Park, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. This integrated community was a success, and it led Milgram to build a second interracial development, Greenbelt Knoll, in northeast Philadelphia. It was equally prosperous. He later attempted to create a new interracial housing development in Deerfield, Illinois. The project was accepted at first but then came under fire when residents learned that the community would include black families. Milgram fought for the development in court, and turned to allies such as Eleanor Roosevelt, a high-profile advocate for housing integration, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the hopes that their support would help rescue the construction project. Ultimately, Milgram lost his battle, and the Deerfield housing development was never completed.
In all, Milgram provided integrated housing to more than 20,000 people in Philadelphia, California, Boston, New York, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Cambridge, Chicago, and Washington. In 1968 he became the first recipient of the National Human Rights Award issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Morris Milgram papers (#2176) at HSP document Milgram's career as a developer of open housing, as well as a his personal life. Among the records in the collection are letters related to his business and political and social activities, papers pertaining to several different housing projects, and items from friends and relatives.
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.