10 Places Celebrating African-American Heritage in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a World Heritage City, where we recognize and celebrate the rich history and culture of our African-American community every day. Black History Month offers a special opportunity to learn more about this wealth of heritage.

There are a huge range of dedicated Black History Month events (such as Independence National Historical Park’s lecture serieson African-American stories from throughout the nation’s history). However, historic sites in Philadelphia work to educate on and highlight Black heritage all year round - so here are 10 places to learn more about and celebrate that heritage in 2019!

1. African American Museum in Philadelphia

Founded in 1976, this museum was the first institution in a major US cityfocused on African-American heritage and culture. Current exhibitions include ‘Photographic Memory: Archival Images by Maurice Sorrell’ (the first black member of the White House Photographers’ association) and ‘Audacious Freedom’, looking at the role African-Americans played in the first century of the US’ history.

2. The President’s House

On Independence Square, you can visit a structure that recreates part of the house where Presidents Washington and Adams resided.

Dedicated to nine enslaved people who lived and worked in Washington’s household – including Ona Judge, who escaped slavery and spent the rest of her life as a fugitive – this exhibit explores their legacy.

3. Underground Railroad Sites in Philadelphia

Visit Philadelphia has created a guide to Philadelphia sites and buildings that formed part of the Underground Railroad, helping African-Americans escape enslavement in the South to reach freedom in the North. One site is the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, situated on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans. Founded in 1794, the church is still home to a flourishing congregation as well as a museum and archive. Another is Belmont Mansion, once home to abolitionist Judge Richard Peters and now transformed into the Underground Railroad Museum.

4. Marian Anderson Residence Museum

Born in Philadelphia in 1897, Marian Anderson was one of the 20th century’s most talented singers. She performed across the United States and Europe in a career spanning 40 years.

Anderson broke barriers for black artists – she gave a groundbreaking free concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC that was broadcast to millions across the US. She was also the first black artist to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and was actively involved with the civil rights movement.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, and served as a goodwill ambassador for the US State Department and a delegate to the UN Human Rights Committee.

In 1924, Anderson bought a 3-story house on 762 South Martin Street, in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse district. Today, the house is run as the Marian Anderson Residence Museum, with annual exhibitions that tell Anderson’s incredible life story.

5. Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Museum of Art was the first major museum in the countryto be designed by an African-American architect – the pioneering Julian Abele, who was also the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture’s first African-American graduate.

Today, the Museum’s permanent collection is home to 500 works by 130 African-American artists.

6. Museum of the American Revolution

Opened in 2017, the Museum aims to tell the American Revolution’s story in an inclusive way, looking at the diversity of people who took part in the effort for freedom. Among the exhibits dedicated to African-Americans, visitors can see a signed copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects from 1773.

Wheatley was the first African-American female writer to have her work published in the colonies, and one of the most renowned poets of her time. 

7. National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Centerhas a variety of exhibits showing African-Americans’ contributions to the Constitution’s development and growth over the years – from records of pivotal court cases, to an original, signed copy of President Barack Obama’s 2008 ‘A More Perfect Union’ speech.

8. Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Foundation’s creator and namesake, Dr Albert Barnes, first developed an interest in African art in the 1920s, collecting pieces from the Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Liberia.

Visitors today can still see how Dr Barnes displayed these pieces alongside modernist artists of the 20th century, to demonstrate how their work had been influenced by traditional African artistic practice.

9. Penn Museum

The Penn Museum has one of the largest collections of African art and objects in the United States, from Benin bronzes to textiles and jewelry. Its dedicated Africa Galleriesare currently closed as part of the Museum’s extensive renovation program, but are due to reopen in fall 2019. In the meantime, many items from the collection can be viewed online.

10.  Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

PAFAwas not only the first art school and museum in the United States, but the first to exhibit the works of an African-American artist. Today, its collection includes pieces by such acclaimed artists as Kehinde Wiley. Wiley painted the 2018 official portrait of President Barack Obama, now on display at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. In June 2018, PAFA announced a new partnership with Joan Fontaine Press, becoming the only East Coast repository for the publisher’s prints by African-American artists.

Images of Marian Anderson and Phillis Wheatley: sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

All other images: sourced from PHL CVB.

Article written by Alice Krainock on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association