Black History Month in Philadelphia
Look back on the past and celebrate the present
Philadelphia recognizes its distinct African-American history, tradition and culture during the annual Black History Month celebration.
Highlights include culturally significant exhibitions such as Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection at The African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Theater Company’s performance of The Mountaintop, inspired by the last night of Martin Luther King’s life, and African-American art tours led by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.
Discover more Black History Month highlights in Philadelphia in 2013, below:
Exhibitions & Collections
The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent celebrates 330 years of Philadelphia’s history with the ongoing African-American Experience in Philadelphia exhibition featuring Joe Frazier’s Everlast boxing gloves from a 1960 championship fight, vintage Philadelphia neighborhood photos and more.
On display at the Snyderman-Works Gallery: a selection of prints from the Brandywine Workshop curated by gallery owner Rick Snyderman in coordination with Allan Edmunds, director and founder of The Brandywine Workshop. Entitled The Brandywine Workshop: A Unique Vision, the 40-piece exhibition celebrates the workshop’s 40th anniversary. Through February 23.
The little-known story of Jewish academics who came to America in the 1930s and found work at historically black colleges and universities is the focus of Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow, on view at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Through June 2. In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum will show Beyond Color: The Films of Joel Katz. February 6 and 13.
On display at The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection features more than 30 gowns worn by The Supremes and explores Mary Wilson’s journey to self-actualization. Through June 2. In addition to Come See About Me, AAMP presents Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776-1876, an ongoing display that recounts the stories of and contributions made by people of African decent in Philadelphia.
Visitors to the National Constitution Center participate in a variety of events in honor of Black History Month. During daily interactive programs, guests learn about renowned African-American leaders and the history of the Emancipation Proclamation. The center’s feature exhibition American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition illuminates the role that African-Americans played in shaping the culture of the 1920s and the impact of the era on race relations. Through April 28. Admission is free on Sunday, February 3 and 24.
The African American Art Collection Tour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art explores works such as the oldest wedding portraits of an African-American couple in an American museum and the first painting by an African-American artist purchased by an American museum. February 8.
On view at the Vivant Art Collection, Revolutionary Modè: Exploration of Black History, Culture and Fashion during the Avant Garde Period encourages the exploration of black history, culture, politics and fashion through the work of local artists. February 21-28.
Movies, Stories, Talks & Tours
The Association for Public Art invites history buffs to listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller and others tell the story behind All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors. Visitors can go to museumwithoutwallsaudio.org to download an app or audio version of Fuller’s narration.
The Free Library of Philadelphia’s events calendar is packed with programming for all ages during February. Topics include the Harlem Renaissance, the birth and evolution of jazz music and the important contributions that African-American soldiers, scientists and entrepreneurs have made to the U.S.
Independence National Historical Park boasts several Black History Month events at the Independence Visitor Center, including Music of the Underground Railroad, a family-friendly presentation and performance that explain the history of the music those on the quest for freedom enjoyed. February 2. Also on the schedule: The Chew Family Papers and the Roots of the Underground Railroad, an interactive discussion about the beginnings of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia. February 16.
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection spotlights 50 murals honoring many themes and significant people in Philadelphia’s African-American history—W.E.B. DuBois, Patti LaBelle, Malcolm X and many others. Art lovers and history buffs can download a free self-guided audio tour, narrated by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots, or hop on a guided trolley tour. February 2 or 23.
The Barnes Foundation celebrates the month with musical performances and a special screening of Wereth Eleven, which tells the story of 11 African-American soldiers who were brutally murdered by the Nazis in a senseless war crime that was never prosecuted. February 3. Also on tap: Trumpeter Bruce Frazier and Grace Notes interpret spirituals and works by 20th-century greats Duke Ellington and Stevie Wonder (February 8) and vocalist Philip Hamilton delivers a soul-stirring acapella performance (February 22).
Christopher Densmore, curator and director of Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College, discusses anti-slavery testimony and its influence on the larger society, at Stenton, one of Philadelphia’s best-preserved historic houses, built and owned by James Logan, secretary to Pennsylvania founder William Penn. Tours of the house follow the talk. RSVP required for this free program. February 9.
During Black History Month, the Church of the Holy Trinity hosts Astral Artists, Sonia Sanchez, Philadelphia’s first poet laureate, and special musical guests for a celebration of music and poetry that features new works by acclaimed African-American composers. Astral-commissioned world premieres by Evelyn Simpson-Curenton, David Sanford and Alvin Singleton are each inspired by the spiritual and illuminated with poetry read by Sanchez. February 16.
The stories of Octavius Catto, Oscar Charleston, Cum Posey, Gus Greenlee, Eddie Bolden and others who contributed to Pennsylvania’s rich black baseball history come to life during The Souls of Black Baseball: Barnstorming the Keystone State presentation by Robert Allen at the Mercer Museum. February 17.
Presidential and black history come to life through lively tales told for free at the Once Upon a Nation storytelling bench located in the Historic Philadelphia Center. Participants also receive 50% off a viewing of Liberty 360, a 3-D theater show that delves into symbols of freedom. February 17-18.
At the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, the Philadelphia Theatre Company presents The Mountaintop, a gripping reimagining of the night before the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through February 17.
The Merriam Theater welcomes the longest consecutively running jazz festival in the world, The Monterey Jazz Festival, to its stage for a 55th-anniversary celebration. Performances include a mixture of old and new, vocal and instrumental, bee bop, fusion, free and soul jazz. February 2.
My Brother Marvin, a stage play about the life of musical great Marvin Gaye, comes to The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Based on the first-hand accounts of Marvin’s sister Zeola Gaye, the show reveals singer’s internal battles, fears and family secrets. February 19-24.