Barbara Muhammad

Many Chester residents recall the city’s dire situation in the 1980s and 1990s. Employment opportunities dried up as major industries closed, the drug economy and street crime took hold, and a cash-strapped city government failed to provide basic services. For public housing residents, conditions were especially grim, as the local housing authority withheld routine upkeep and repairs, to the point where increasing numbers of homes were uninhabitable. A group of Chester women took action, mounting a landmark federal lawsuit in 1990 that led to dramatic, far-reaching improvements in the quality of life for all residents. Key among those women was the notable Chester community activist, Barbara Muhammad.

In her story recorded by her grandson, Aqueel, Barbara shares her recollections as a housing activist, as well as her other achievements. Her many accomplishments include her work with the Chester Diversity Apprenticeship program and the Chester Community Coalition, and as founding member of The United Muslim Coalition Against Violence and Crime,

Barbara Muhammad tells the story of her role as a Chester change maker, as interviewed by her grandson, Aqueel Austen, 2019

The right to safe and decent housing for everyone — and especially those economically marginalized — is a lifelong passion and pursuit for Barbara. During our 2022 Celebration of Women Change Makers, Barbara spoke to the fundamental importance of secure shelter to the quality of life.

Barbara Muhammad, Celebration of Women Change Makers, March 23, 2022

The importance of the activism of Barbara and her fellow organizers in taking on the local housing authority in the late 1980s should not be underestimated. Thankfully, today’s Chester Housing Authority has acknowledged their efforts and taken steps to document this important story of women’s activism in Chester’s history. We include here two informative videos featuring Barbara:

Watch Barbara Muhammad Fights for CHA Residents, produced by Chester Housing Authority, 2021
Chester Housing Authority presents Our Black History Lives with a short feature on legendary housing advocate Barbara Muhammad, 2021.
In 2018, the Chester Housing Authority unveiled a plaque to honor Barbara Muhammad, Ernestine Tilghman, Ella Thompson, and Yvonne Carrington for their activism on behalf of public housing residents.