17. Bedford Street Mission
If we could go back in time to the middle of the 1800s you would now be standing in the middle of what was the poorest neighborhood in the city. It was sometimes called “Philadelphia’s Five Points” in reference to the infamous neighborhood of Five Points in New York City. Over one hundred taverns dotted the neighborhood in just a few blocks radius from the Mission. In 1852 alone over eight hundred people in Philadelphia died of smallpox or scarlet fever and over a thousand of tuberculosis. Malaria and cholera were also common. Many of the victims of these diseases were concentrated in this particularly densely populated neighborhood. Many of the residents of this neighborhood were African Americans who, in the middle of the 1800s, also suffered through five major race riots. (You may have walked by one historical marker next to Mother Bethel AME that recounted one of these riots in the 1840s.)
The Bedford Street Mission (as the street was then called) was here to minister to the poor of this neighborhood. Organized in 1853, the Bedford Street Mission served the poor here until the 1930s. Meals, clothing, healthcare, and even showers were provided for area residents along with the Mission’s evangelistic outreach. One missionary who worked at Bedford Street Mission was Rev. John Dixon Long who, together with his wife and family, served in this neighborhood from 1866 to 1882. In 1858 Rev. Long had become famous – and despised by some – for exposing the fact that some preachers in the Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church were holding slaves. A strong opponent of slavery, Long’s work in this neighborhood was a continued expression of his passion for justice.