I Won’t Pay Taxes for Whites-Only Schools, Says Robert Purvis

On , Robert Purvis wrote to the tax collector in Philadelphia to explain why he would not be paying his taxes to fund a school system that was for white children only:

You called yesterday for the tax upon my property in this Township, which I shall pay, excepting the “School Tax.” I object to the payment of this tax, on the ground that my rights as a citizen, and my feelings as a man and a parent have been grossly outraged in depriving me, in violation of law and justice, of the benefits of the school system which this tax was designed to sustain.

I am perfectly aware that all that makes up the character and worth of the citizens of this township look upon the proscription and expulsion of my children from the Public School as illegal, and an unjustifiable usurpation of my right. I have borne this outrage ever since the innovation upon the usual practice of admitting all the children of the Township into the Public Schools, and at considerable expense, have been obliged to obtain the services of private teachers to instruct my children, while my school tax is greater, with a single exception, than that of any other citizen of the township.

It is true (and the outrage is made but the more glaring and insulting) I was informed by a pious Quaker director, with a sanctifying grace, imparting, doubtless, an unctuous glow to his saintly prejudices, that a school in the village of Mechanicsville was appropriated for “thine.” The miserable shanty, with all its appurtenances, on the very line of the township, to which this benighted follower of George Fox alluded, is, as you know, the most flimsy and ridiculous sham which any tool of a skin-hating aristocracy could have resorted to, to cover or protect his servility.

To submit by voluntary payment of the demand is too great an outrage upon nature, and, with a spirit, thank God, unshackled by this, or any other wanton and cowardly act, I shall resist this tax, which, before the unjust exclusion, had always afforded me the highest gratification in paying. With no other than the best feeling towards yourself, I am forced to this unpleasant position, in vindication of my rights and personal dignity against an encroachment upon them as contemptibly mean as it is infamously despotic.

Purvis’s protest was apparently effective, as the school board rescinded its racial exclusion policy.

This was not the first time Purvis had contemplated tax resistance. In an letter to the editor to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, he wrote:

How infamously tyrannical to extort payment for that which we are not allowed to possess! Can we feel any interest in the honor of a state which has disgracefully and unjustly dishonored us? Would not resistance by us to this unjust tax, based upon and demanded from the patriotism of the people, be in obedience to the principles of justice and right? Let the depredatory arm of the Commonwealth, through its officers, seize our goods or even our persons — the sacrifice will be made upon the altar of humanity. Let that suffice.

According to Margaret Hope Bacon’s But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis: “The antiblack elements in the Philadelphia public reacted swiftly to his letter; the night of its publication his house was surrounded by an angry mob. Robert Purvis was afraid for the safety of his family. Fortunately for the Purvis household, but unfortunately for others, the rumor was spread that there were a large number of armed and dangerous men in the Purvis house, and the mob turned aside, and vented its anger by burning a black church in the vicinity.”