In 1965, the management of the Dewey’s at 219 S 17th Street near Rittenhouse Square (now Little Pete’s) made it clear that they would refuse service “to a large number of homosexuals and persons wearing non-conformist clothing.” Modeled on the current African-American civil rights protests, on Sunday, April 25th, more than 150 protestors, black, white, trans, lesbian and gay staged a sit-in, an amazing thing to do in Philadelphia in 1965, four years before the Stonewall riots. Police arrived and three of the protestors who refused to leave were arrested. They were young; two males and a female.
Journalist and activist Clark Polak and the Janus Society, a local gay rights group, were notified. Over the next week, in support of the protestors, they distributed some 1,500 leaflets outside the restaurant [photo, above].On Sunday, May 2, they staged a second sit-in. This time, when the police were called, they spoke with the protestors and simply left, declining to take any action at all, [see photo, bottom, of the police at Dewey’s in 1965]. The management agreed to end the discrimination and the protestors left, having staged the first successful gay rights sit-in in the country. This marked an important step in the struggle for LGBT people to lay claim to the right to public space in 1960s Philadelphia.