Black History Month in Philadelphia
Our top picks for the city-wide cultural celebration
Since Philadelphia’s earliest days, African-American culture has played an influential role in shaping the city’s personality. This February, Philadelphia celebrates that heritage and Black History Month with special events, exhibitions, film screenings and other activities
Locals and visitors can join members of the esteemed Tiberino family of artists on guided tours of The Unflinching Eye: Works of the Tiberino Family Circle at The African American Museum in Philadelphia, catch the Tony Award-winning classic Porgy and Bess at the Academy of Music or explore the path to Civil Rights at the National Constitution Center.
Discover more Black History Month highlights in Philadelphia in 2014, below:
Museums & Attractions
All month long, The African American Museum in Philadelphia in Old City buzzes with activity. Events kick off with a screening and discussion of documentary The Contradictions of Fair Hope on Saturday, February 1, a work produced by S. Epatha Merkerson (of Law & Order fame) and Rockell Metcalf, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and accompanied by a Christian McBride score. On Saturday, February 8, Zulu native Godfrey Sithole invites people to Step Into South Africa! with a program that delves into South African languages, music, religions and rites of passage. Through Saturday, February 22, guests get an intimate look at the museum’s current art exhibition, The Unflinching Eye: Works of the Tiberino Family Circle, through gallery tours led by members of the Tiberino family and a mural workshop for children.
At the Penn Museum in University City, visitors can explore the African Diaspora. The special exhibition Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster presents 33 posters, most targeting Africans and African-American civilians in times of war, and is on view through March 2. Plus, the annual Celebration of African Cultures features storytelling, family crafts and dance and music performances and workshops on Saturday, February 8. The Penn Museum’s permanent African Gallery and Ancient Egypt Galleries round out the February draws.
At the National Constitution Center, visitors can pick up a special “African-American History Month” guide outlining daily events and activities and artifacts related to African-American history or the struggles African Americans have faced to gain equality as citizens. Highlights include Decoding the Document, a workshop that examines the museum’s own rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, and the interactive Breaking Barriers show, spotlighting the lives of Thurgood Marshall, Bessie Coleman, Jackie Robinson and other barrier-breaking African-Americans.
On view now through April 21, The Barnes Foundation’s exhibition of sculptural works by British artist Yinka Shobinare summons the artist’s Nigerian heritage. Featuring life-size mannequins dressed in the fabrics and textiles associated with Africa, Yinka Shobinare MBE: Magic Ladders is a dramatic, playful and irreverent examination of identity, history and politics.
Stenton in Germantown hosts an informative look at the history, and current standing, of the School District of Philadelphia on February 15 at 1 p.m. At the discussion, learn how the School District has affected the African American community over the years.
Awbury Arboretum in Germantown presents an afternoon of lessons about the Yoruba religion on February 8 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Yoruba religion came to America via the slave trade and is thought to be as old as Christianity. The session is open to folks of all regions and is slated to teach attendees how to deal with death and communicate with ancestors. Registration is $15 per person, click here to register.
On February 20 and 27, the Cliveden hosts evening conversations centering around Black History Month. On February 20, join Rev. Dr. Mark Kelly Tyler, Pastor of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and on February 27, join Dr. George McDaniel, director of Drayton Hall in South Carolina.
Cinema, Stories & More
Among the ongoing activities this February at Independence National Historical Park: 30-minute, ranger-led programs on The Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, taking place every Saturday and Sunday in the Second Bank’s Portrait Gallery; a wreath-laying ceremony at the Liberty Bell marking National Freedom Day, when President Lincoln signed a resolution from Congress that proposed the Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery; and ongoing programming at The President’s House, the commemorative site where the first president and nine enslaved Africans lived.
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.
Throughout Black History Month at various library locations, the Free Library of Philadelphia’s calendar is packed with creative writing workshops, scavenger hunts, film matinees, storytelling, trivia games and other activities for all ages.
Dandy Wellington and His Band amp up the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s cool factor on Friday, February 7 with Mood Indigo: A Harlem Renaissance Retrospective, featuring compositions by Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and others. Part of the museum’s weekly series Art After 5, the program invites guests to take in musical and visual arts together, plus enjoy drinks, snacks and a laid-back vibe.
Winner of the 2012 Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical,” The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess comes to the Academy of Music February 18-23. The stunning production includes legendary songs Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So, plus other classic tunes.
Philadanco teams up with The Philadelphia Orchestra on Friday, February 28 to present Poulenc’s Aubade, the tale of mythological Diana’s struggles between passion and loneliness. The internationally acclaimed dance troupe brings contemporary stylings to the classical piece at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
On Friday, January 31, the dynamic Grammy Award-winning musical troupe Ladysmith Black Mambazo visits the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts for a one-night-only concert event. Known as the “kings of South African a cappella,” Ladysmith Black Mambazo draws from traditional music called isicathamiya, and combines those rhythms with dynamic modern beats and song.
In an amazing fusion of South African gospel, reggae and pop, Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir has toured around the world with its thrilling and soul stirring performance. On Sunday, February 16, see the passionate performers at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in University City.
Led by choreographer and former Fulbright Scholar Angela Watson, Healing African Dance at Bucks County’s Mercer Museum on Sunday, February 23 uncovers the role of dance in various events in African life — from births and naming ceremonies to weddings and death. The program includes a discussion, a display of instruments from the museum’s collection, video and, of course, dance demonstrations.