Three-minute history lesson: Mayor Kenney uses DNC spotlight to liken Trump & Co. to 'Know Nothings'

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney talks to delegates during the 2016 DNC at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Monday, July 25, 2016.

Mayor Kenney spent his three minutes in the national spotlight Monday sharing with the world a grim, lesser-known part of Philadelphia's history.

In 1844, immigration foes later dubbed the Know-Nothings rioted against Irish Catholic immigrants - Kenney's ancestors. Churches were burned. About 20 people died. It's history Kenney says is repeating.

"The Know-Nothings have returned, and last week, in Cleveland they vowed to take their country back this November," Kenney said Monday evening to the Democratic National Convention.

"Whether our families came to this country in 1776 or 1976 or 2016, this country belongs to all of us," he said to applause on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center.

Appearing relaxed if a little subdued (he shouted, "Yo, Pennsylvania!" to his state's delegates), Kenney touted Philadelphia's passage of a soda tax last month and the plans to use it to fund prekindergarten, community schools, and libraries.

He contrasted Democrats' immigration views with some of those aired last week at the Republican convention, saying, "I can't tell you how angry I am that . . . all our immigrant brothers and sisters had to hear the ugly things said in Cleveland."

Kenney, who often talks about his Irish Catholic roots in South Philadelphia and shrugs off questions about any ambitions for higher office, took a largely supporting role in the lead-up to the convention. He has said part of his job is to make sure protesters and police stay safe.

But as things officially kicked off Monday, Kenney was on national TV talking about a modern protest movement.

"The issue of 'black lives matter' is that they do," he said on MSNBC. "Because they haven't mattered in our country over the history of law enforcement and in the criminal courts, and in the way people have been treated from the 1600s up until now."

He also addressed Massachusetts delegates, shmoozed at a food-truck festival, spoke at an immigration forum with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and played host to visiting mayors at a happy-hour welcome party.

jterruso@phillynews.com

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso