In my years of research on Bethel Burying Ground, in addition to the dead, I have studied the people and the neighborhoods surrounding the small, but busy cemetery. I have also studied the Black cultural rituals of the era connected to Methodist funerals and have always come away with a nagging question about the safety of the funeral processions. Here you have a large group of Black men and women mourners walking through the violently dangerous streets of Anglo-Irish neighborhoods following the funeral bier all the way to Queen Street with the funeral march passing saloons on every corner and the clubhouses of the racist volunteer firemen klans. Yet there ae no newspaper accounts of any confrontations.
However, there is one piece of interesting reporting by William Carl Bolivar, a well-respected African-American historian, and journalist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, he wrote in his column “Pencil Pusher Points” on December 21, 1912, the following:
“Doctor” J.J. G. Bias was a dispenser of homemade medicines, a cupper and bleeder, and did a thriving business on the east side of Sixth below Lombard streets. He united to that, pulpit skills in the A.M.E. Connection. “Dr.” Bias was public spirited and led in all the early fights against the slave inequity.In fact, he led a large force, known as “Bias’ mob,” against the attacks of the thugs and pro-slavery firemen nearly seventy-years ago. Philadelphia has always breathed in an atmosphere where all sorts of men with peculiarities were a part and had an influence, as a role for much good, even if the processes were unconventional.
Could there have been a Black defense organization who, as one of their duties, protected funeral processions? In following posts, I will explore in more details the life and career of Dr. Bias and his wife, Eliza Ann Bias, a courageous suffragette and civil rights organizer.