Black Historical and Cultural Sites to Visit in Philadelphia

It’s no secret that Philadelphia is a city steeped in history, from the Liberty Bell and the region’s Revolutionary War beginnings to its role as home to the first zoo, hospital and fire company. country volunteers, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Philadelphia is also a rich epicenter of black history in the United States, and there is so much for residents and tourists to learn. Some may already know that Philadelphia was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, but our city was also the site of the first national black church in the United Stateshas a reputation for being an early refuge for African American entrepreneursand supported decades of exceptional music by black musicians – all inspiring legacies outside the realm of slavery, which Morgan Lloyd, gallery guide at Philadelphia African American Museumsays it’s important to explore during Black History Month and beyond.

“You will find that there are people who existed within and beyond that word slavery,” Lloyd says. “Beyond that, there were black business owners and businesses all over the city and many black political figures that are often overlooked – and that’s not even including all of the intersections that existed here.”

Using his experience touring and overseeing volunteer programs at AAMP and his own multi-generational ties to Philadelphia, Lloyd shared some of the most relevant places around Philly to visit to learn about “past history.” , Present and Future of Black People” in our city.

"Harriet Tubman - Journey to Freedom" by Wesley Woford
“Harriet Tubman – Journey to Freedom” by Wesley Wofford | creative philadelphia

Octavius ​​V. Catto Memorial and Harriet Tubman – The Journey to Freedom Statue at City Hall

Two public art dedications to influential black figures are located at City Hall. the Memorial Octave V. Catto is a permanent statue at the southwest corner of City Hall commemorating the scholar, abolitionist, civil and voting rights activist and athlete. “He existed in this beautiful Antebellum timeline and advocated for the right to vote for free African Americans,” Lloyd said. “In some ways he’s a bit like Martin Luther King’s predecessor in that he led a boycott of streetcars. He also created one of the first integrated sports leagues and had an integrated league in the city of Philadelphia.

Also located at City Hall and visible until March 31, the Harriet Tubman – The Journey to Freedom The statue is a nine-foot representation of the iconic Underground Railroad icon, located on the north apron. “It’s great to see this fantastic abolitionist showcasing her efforts in the space where a lot of people have gone for freedom,” Lloyd says.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art

One of the architects of the city’s most recognizable buildings was Julien Abelea native of Philadelphia, the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture program, and “the most formally educated architect in all of America.”

“A lot of people don’t realize this institution was designed by an African-American man,” Lloyd says. “So it’s black history every time you look at the site that defines Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia wall arts
Philadelphia wall arts

A brand new mural in Brewerytown pays homage to the 1960s Philadelphia civil rights group and their leader, Cecil B. Moore, who successfully desegregated Girard College in 1965. The work, by artists Felix St Fort and Gabe Tiberino, combined portraits and graphic elements, like the Adinkra symbols, originating in West Africa. “Walking past it every day, because I live nearby, blows me away all the time,” says Lloyd.

Prioritizing people over collections, the Colored Girls Museum honors the stories, experiences and histories of everyday black and brown girls. “They do a really good job of capturing the story of young girls of color and letting them tell their own stories,” Lloyd says.

Every room in this 135-year-old Germantown home tells the story of black women and girls through their own unique works of art and artifacts. The museum will reopen in March with the “One Room Schoolhouse” exhibition, inspired by the impact of the pandemic on schooling. Admission to the museum must be made in advance for a unique salon-style visit.

Harriett Bookstore
Harriett Bookstore

Named after Harriet Tubman, this Fishtown bookstore opened shortly before the pandemic and has become a staple not only for its stock of women authors, artists and activists, but also for its community events and its activism.

“They fight for community space, great conversation, and they’re also a great resource for education,” Lloyd says. On Saturdays in February, Harriett’s organizes a trolley tourtaking passengers to four businesses owned by local black women.

Franny Lou's Porch
Franny Lou’s Porch

This Kensington cafe and community space is also named after famous historical figures: civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and abolitionist and writer Frances EW Harper. In addition to comforting coffees and teas, Franny Lou’s also hosts community events. “It’s a great cafe and another space that fosters community while drawing inspiration from those great ancestors,” says Lloyd.

Founded in 1976 with a mission to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African Americans, the African American Museum of Philadelphia hosts exhibits around three themes: the African diaspora, the history of Philadelphia and the contemporary story. Their permanent exhibit tells the stories of prominent figures of African descent in Philadelphia during the country’s early years, and throughout the year the museum hosts artists, musicians, and activists for community events.

The African American Museum of Philadelphia hosts black history month programming all month.

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Allie Volpe is a Philadelphia-based writer. She hasn’t slept for days. Follow her on Twitter: @allieevolpe.

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