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Pennridge grad lived through a 1963 civil rights nightmare


Black History Month is intended as a time “to make all Americans aware of [the] struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” But today, few people may know about the experiences of a Pennridge High School graduate in one of the ugliest incidents in our regional history.

On Aug. 30, 1963, Pennridge graduate Sara Ann Baker and her husband Horace bought a row home in Folcroft, Delaware County. Their purchase led to the Folcroft riots of 1963 which, along with the 1957 Levittown riots, were milestone events in the battle over housing integration in suburban Philadelphia.

In late August 1963 rumors started that a Black family bought a row home in Delmar Village, one of Folcroft’s working-class all-white neighborhoods. Eventually, about 1,500 people showed up in Delmar Village to force the Bakers out of their house. They were met by state police, local clergy, and NAACP representatives. The riots ended after two days, but Sara and Horace Baker were harassed on a regular basis until they moved to West Mount Airy in 1966.

Sara Ann Webb grew up in West Rockhill. Her father, Edward Webb, owned a refuse and hauling business. Sara joined the 4-H club in Tylersport and took part in the American Legion’s annual patriotic poster contest. She also was a member of the Pennridge girls baseball team. Her 1955 senior yearbook photo noted that “Webbie” was quiet, a good student, and a talented artist.

Four years later, Sara had graduated from Gwynedd Mercy’s nursing program, and completed her studies at Temple University. Webb married Horace Baker, a medical lab technician who had moved from Florida to Philadelphia, and Sara Baker was working as a nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

By 1963, the Bakers and their young daughter Terri were looking to move out of Philadelphia. A Quaker agency, Suburban Fair Housing Inc., had bought the Folcroft row home after a VA loan default, and it was willing to sell the property to the Bakers. By their own account, the Bakers were unaware of the reception waiting for them.

On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at a large civil rights rally in Washington, where he gave his landmark “I Have A Dream” speech. The next day, the Bakers were greeted by 250 Delmar Village residents, who blocked the Bakers from their dream home. The crowd threw rocks at the house, breaking its windows. Many of the rock throwers were children.

The riot started on Aug. 30 and local newspaper, television and radio reporters were at the scene. The Delaware County Times said many of the rioters were teenagers. The state sent 80 troopers to the location to control the crowd. The mob threw objects at the Bakers, police and the clergy. On Aug. 31, the state troopers pushed the crowd away from the house. At 4 p.m. the Bakers walked into their new home. That night, the final confrontation between the mob and the state police started when the crowd threw fireworks at the officers, who moved into the mob using riot sticks. The mob also pelted local clergy members with eggs and threatened news photographers.

The Perkasie News-Herald interviewed Edward Webb just after the Bakers had gained control of their house in Folcroft. Webb said he drove to Folcroft to help his daughter, but state police troopers asked him to stay away from the riot scene.

“You can’t believe something like that can happen in America,” Webb told the News-Herald. “Folks up here (the Pennridge area) would never treat people like that.” He also credited the Pennridge school system for his daughter’s academic success.

The news documentary “Confronted” produced in December 1963 by National Educational Television (the predecessor to PBS) interviewed Sara Baker and also her Folcroft neighbors.

“It seemed like a nightmare,” Baker told journalist George Page. “We were only trying to move into a home we purchased.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed the Bakers in 1973 after they left Folcroft in 1966. The Bakers explained they took a loss on their rowhome. The Inquirer also interviewed Folcroft residents, who were convinced the NAACP had selected the family as “block busters,” who would lower housing prices in Delmar Village.

Sara Baker denied those allegations in 1963 and again in 1973. “We were just an average couple looking for decent housing.”

In 1979, Sara spoke with the Wilmington Morning News about her time in Folcroft. By then, Horace and Sara had been divorced for five years.

“That was a very frightening experience for a newlywed in my first home,” Baker told the newspaper. “I am still bearing the scars of that situation. You just don’t erase that.”

An Inquirer story in 2013 looked back at the Folcroft riots after their 50th anniversary. The newspaper reported that relatives said Sara rarely talked about her time in Folcroft. Her son found out about the incident when he came across a box of newspaper clippings in the family’s West Mount Airy attic.

The Inquirer noted that Sara had passed away in 2000. Horace Baker died in 2021. While the Bakers may be gone, their experience is a reminder of a disturbing period in our time that should be remembered and studied.

Scott Bomboy is an elected official in Perkasie Borough and has frequently written about historical and constitutional topics in local and national publications.

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