10 Black History Sites You Don’t Want to Miss in Philadelphia
As the Black Art in America Fine Art Show in Philadelphia at the Belmont Mansion and Underground Railroad Museum approaches, those attending will certainly want to explore the host site for its historic value. While the fine art show will provide a good amount of culture, Philadelphia is a city full of black history and culture. Pennsylvania was the first free state north of the Mason Dixon line and is home to many Underground Railroad stops. In fact, every county in Pennsylvania claims to have an Underground Railroad site. In addition to these sites, the city and its surrounding areas has maintained sites of black cultural significance for generations. Not only will the Belmont Mansion and Underground Railroad Museum, satisfy intellectual cravings, stepping out into the city will round out a weekend filled with cultural significance.
Belmont Mansion and Underground Railroad Museum
This residence was home to abolitionist Judge Richard Peters who is known to have bought slaves in order to free them. As a stop on the Underground Railroad, those in residence here aided in the freedom of runaway slaves. The house itself has changed ownership over the years, but it maintains 18th and 19th century charm. It is located in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. There are docent-led or individual tours available to view artifacts and hear narratives about this historic site.
The museum collects and preserves artifacts concerning the experience and history of colored girls. It was a home and has since been transformed into a museum. Founder of The Colored Girls Museum, Vashti DuBois, along with curator Michael Clemmons and Associate Director/Performance Curator Ian Friday will be on hand at the BAIA talks to talk “Creating Sanctuary with Art as a Transformative and Healing Experience.”_Although closed for the summer, The Colored Girls Museum will reopen in September. So, be sure to check their website for current exhibitions.
The President’s House in Philadelphia
This excavated structure is the partial frame of what used to be George Washington and John Adam’s residences when they were presidents, and Philadelphia was still the capital of the United States. The house was the presidents’ residence from 1790-1800 until Washington D.C. became the capital and the White House was built. The house was gutted in 1832. What remains of the house today are some side walls and the foundation. When George Washington lived in the house, he had nine slaves on his staff, two of whom escaped. The site commemorates the lives of the nine slaves who lived there in an exhibition called “Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation.”
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Mother Bethel was founded in 1794 by a former slave after the church where he had been preaching decided to segregate blacks and whites. He received financial assistance from Dr. Benjamin Rush and George Washington to buy the land. The church was a major pillar in the community. As well as being a stop on the Underground Railroad, the congregation helped newly freed slaves migrate to Philadelphia after the Emancipation Proclamation. As a voice in the community, the congregation protested the formation of the American Colonization Society that wanted to send free blacks in the United States to Sierra Leone in 1817.
Historic Seventh Ward
The Seventh Ward Philadelphia is where a majority of African Americans lived regardless of economic status. W.E.B. DuBois lived in Philadelphia for eight months during 1896 to study the neighborhood known for taverns, brothels, loud music, and crime. DuBois served as a sort of census taker traveling around the neighborhood asking questions about education, employment, health, family life, and household arrangements. He produced The Philadelphia Negro a volume of text studying blacks in the Seventh Ward. Today, on Sixth and Smith streets is a mural of DuBois on the side of the historically African American engine fire house.
African American Museum in Philadelphia
On view at the African American Museum in September are a special exhibit “Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous, Beauty of the Past,” the permanent Civic Center Museum Collection of 400 African artifact, and the Jack T. Franklin Photography Collection. The “Cotton” exhibit is comprised of 35 large scale photographs, installations, and an altarpiece by Philadelphia-based artist John Dewell. The permanent collection includes African weapons, tools, ceremonial objects, textiles, household goods and musical instruments. The Jack T. Franklin Collection holds over 500,000 negatives and photographs of local events of social and political nature happening in Philadelphia’s African American Community.
The Johnson House: An Underground Railroad Station and House Museum
The Johnson house boasts that it is the only intact Underground Railroad stop in Philadelphia. And that it is the same in many ways as it was in 1768. The House was owned by Quaker abolitionists during the 19th century. In 1917 Germantown Woman’s Club, a group of women that influenced society in Germantown, purchased the house. In 1997, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. The site is home to the Philadelphia Juneteenth Festival.
National Marian Anderson Museum and Historical Society
American singer, Marian Anderson bought the modest house in 1924. She would entertain friends and family in her basement because black people weren’t allowed to go out socially. Marian Anderson was one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th Century. Today, the house is central to the neighborhood around the house known as The Marian Anderson Heritage Village. Marian Anderson Scholar Artist Program supports young artists between the ages of 18 and 45 who are classical opera singers, instrumentalists, visual artists and more. Marian Anderson’s residence was declared a historic landmark by the state of Pennsylvania. Group tours can be arranged.
Toward the end of his life, Paul Robeson moved to Philadelphia to live with his sister Marian Forsythe. Forsythe had made a home with her husband Dr. James Forsythe. But after the death of Robeson’s wife and Forsythe’s husband, Robeson decided to live at this home. Robeson would have other notable personalities like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Harry Belafonte visit him there. The Philadelphia Cultural Alliance acquired the house in 1994 to satisfy the city’s need for more cultural institutions in its neighborhoods. Today, Robeson’s room maintains the same furniture it did when he lived there.
Christa Clarke, Senior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas and Curator of Arts of Africa at the Newark Museum stated, “The African collection has long been central to the Foundation’s progressive educational mission.” Albert C. Barnes was one of the first Americans to take collecting African art seriously. He wanted to have the best private collection of African art in the sculpture world. Clarke also writes, “Barnes considered African art the purest form of expression of three-dimensional form and ranked it among the world’s great art traditions.” Barnes collected between 1922 and 1924 and amassed 120 works.