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African-American Historic Sites in Philadelphia

A citywide exploration of African-American culture and history

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Cliveden Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia
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Just as U.S. history is African-American history, Philadelphia history is African-American history.

The nation’s birthplace and first World Heritage City is home to the founding church of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination (201-year-old Mother Bethel A.M.E.), the country’s first major museum devoted to black American history (African American Museum in Philadelphia) and the oldest daily newspaper serving the African-American community (The Philadelphia Tribune).

Landmarks from Philadelphia’s Historic District to Historic Germantown tell of the successes, struggles and contributions of African-Americans through the centuries. In September 2017, Philadelphia City Hall welcomed the city’s first statue representing an African-American on public property: The Octavius V. Catto Memorial depicts the bravery of a staunch 19th-century civil rights advocate.

This list features museums, landmarks, churches and other sites that present a rich history through a host of public programs, special exhibitions and educational opportunities for visitors of all ages.

01

The African American Museum in Philadelphia

Celebrating and interpreting African-American history and culture

— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Founded in 1976, the African American Museum in Philadelphia is the first institution built by a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African-Americans. The museum takes a fresh, bold look at the roles of African-Americans in the founding of the nation through the core exhibit Audacious Freedom. Other exhibitions and programs reveal the history, stories and cultures of those of African descent throughout the African diaspora.

Where: The African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street

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02

The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation

Commemorating the lives of nine enslaved Africans at the nation’s first executive mansion

The President's House The President's House
— Photo by G. Widman for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®

At this open-air site, visitors view structural fragments of the home where Presidents Washington and Adams lived during their terms — and where the first president confined nine enslaved Africans. The Independence National Historical Park site, just steps from the Liberty Bell Center, invites people to learn about the events that transpired through illustrated glass panels and video re-enactments, and then partake in silent reflection.

Where: President's House, 524-530 Market Street

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03

Mother Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and Richard Allen Museum

The oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans

Inside the Mother Bethel Church Inside the Mother Bethel Church
— Photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Founded in 1787 by Bishop Richard Allen (with the first church building dedicated in 1794), this church sits on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans and is the “Mother” church of the nation’s first black denomination. Today, Mother Bethel comprises three institutions under one roof: church, museum and archive. The congregation worships weekly. The museum houses the tomb of Bishop Richard Allen and artifacts dating back to the 1600s. Reservations are encouraged for the museum tour.

Where: Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 419 S. 6th Street

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04

Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River at the Independence Seaport Museum

Compelling exhibition at the Independence Seaport Museum

— Photo Courtesy of Independence Seaport Museum

Guest curated by the University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, the exhibit Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River at the Independence Seaport Museum uses the city’s eastern river to uncover the African experience in Philadelphia. The 300-year story tells of Middle Passage, enslavement, emancipation, Jim Crow and Civil Rights through artifacts from the museum’s collection and compelling first-person accounts.

Where: Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Boulevard

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05

The Johnson House Historic Site

Germantown’s vital stop on the Underground Railroad

The Johnson House The Johnson House
Constructed in 1768, the Johnson House in Germantown was owned by four generations of the abolitionist Johnson family. — R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

A crucial part of the Colonial Germantown Historic District, this site attained National Historic Landmark designation for its role in the Underground Railroad. Tours offer visitors an opportunity to learn about the injustices of slavery and the 19th-century resident Johnson family, who participated in the Underground Railroad and risked their lives offering refuge to freedom seekers. Among the freedom fighters who stayed here: William Still and, according to family lore, Harriet Tubman.

Where: Johnson House Historic Site, 6306 Germantown Avenue

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06

Belmont Mansion

Beautiful mansion museum dedicated to the history of the Underground Railroad

— J. SMITH FOR VISIT PHILADELPHIA

The home of the abolitionist Judge Richard Peters, opponent to the Fugitive Slave Act and precedent-setting judicial decision-maker who enabled 134 enslaved Africans to become free, has been preserved and transformed into the Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion. Visitors can take a self-guided or docent-led tour to view historical artifacts and hear narratives about the site’s history, including that of Cornelia Wells, a free African-American woman who lived there.

Where: Belmont Mansion, 2000 Belmont Mansion Drive

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07

Marian Anderson Residence Museum

Preserving the legacy of one of the world’s greatest contraltos

An antique, understated façade fronts the three-story home of opera singer, humanitarian and civil rights icon Marian Anderson. The museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reveals the life and work of the contralto, the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Anderson is most remembered for her 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial, but she honed her talents before the parishioners of Union Baptist Church, just across the street.

Where: Marian Anderson Historical Society & Museum, 762 Martin Street

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08

Paul Robeson House

Historic home of local Civil Rights leader

West Philadelphia’s Paul Robeson House served as the residence for the esteemed human rights activist, scholar, attorney, actor, athlete and singer during the last decade of his life. Tours give visitors a chance to hear songs he recorded, learn about Robeson’s politics and discover his life of accomplishments — including his family’s 18th-century roots in Philadelphia.

Where: Paul Robeson House, 4951 Walnut Street

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09

Colored Girls Museum

— Photo courtesy The Colored Girls Museum

Historic, residential Germantown is home to the comfortable dwelling of Vashti DuBois, who built her lived-in “memoir museum” to be “equal parts research facility, exhibition space, gathering place and think tank.” Inspired by and dedicated to black females, the space’s displays don’t always contain historic artifacts — but they always are true to history. Visits are by-reservation.

Where: The Colored Girls Museum, 4613 Newhall Street

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10

Octavius V. Catto Memorial

In a city of more than 1,500 public statues, this monument to a 19th-century civil rights crusader is Center City’s first statue of a specific African-American. Catto, South Carolinian by birth and Philadelphian by choice, led efforts to desegregate the city’s streetcars, fought for equal voting rights, worked as an intellectual and teacher, and was also a star baseball player. On October 10, 1872, the first Election Day after the 15th Amendment guaranteed African-Americans the right to vote in Pennsylvania, he was shot and killed on South Street. Sculptor Branly Cadet created the 12-foot-tall bronze memorial, which features Catto in a powerful stance, walking toward a granite representation of a mid-19th-century ballot box.

Where: Octavius V. Catto Memorial, 2 E. Penn Square

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11

African American Iconic Images Collection Trolley Tour

Mural Arts Philadelphia has this tour in its repertoire, available for private bookings. During the two-hour experience, visitors discover the African-American Philadelphians and their stories depicted on the larger-than-life artworks that adorn the city’s buildings and walls.

Where: Mural Arts Philadelphia, 1727-29 Mt. Vernon Street

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12

National Constitution Center

A hands-on look at Constitutional amendments and their significance to African-American freedom

— D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

The only museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution uses self-guided tours and interactive programs to illustrate the contributions of African-Americans, delves into pivotal Supreme Court cases such as Dred Scott v. Sandford and Brown v. Board of Education and explores the amendments that established rights for all citizens. The Center’s Civil War alcove displays an extremely rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln. Another historic gem: the signed final draft of Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech, delivered onsite during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Where: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street

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13

The Liberty Bell Center

An exploration of the bell's influence in making freedom ring for African-Americans

The Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia The Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia
— Photo by D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

Inside the expansive, light-filled center, visitors learn about the connection between the Liberty Bell and African-American history. Videos and interactive displays explain how the abolitionist movement, inspired by the bell’s inscribed quote from Leviticus — “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” — adopted the bell as an icon of freedom. In the late 1800s, the bell traveled around the country to expositions to help heal the divisions of the Civil War, reminding Americans of earlier days when they worked together for independence.

Where: Liberty Bell Center, 526 Market Street

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14

Museum of the American Revolution

An expansive collection of art and artifacts from the nation’s Revolutionary Period

Museum of the American Revolution exterior Museum of the American Revolution exterior
— Photo by J. Fusco for the Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution explores the personal stories of African-Americans, including that of William Lee, the enslaved valet who lived alongside George Washington throughout the war. The museum lets visitors climb aboard a privateer ship like the one on which James Forten, a 14-year-old free African American, volunteered and view a signed 1773 volume of Poems on Various Subjects by Phillis Wheatley, America’s first published black female poet. In addition, the Museum offers historical tableaux that reimagine historical moments — such as a 1781 conversation between enslaved Virginians and a black Loyalist soldier — that were never captured with an artist’s brush.

Where: Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. 3rd Street

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15

Philadelphia Museum of Art and Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Branch

An African-American architect designed two iconic Philadelphia buildings

Exterior of Philadelphia Museum of Art Exterior of Philadelphia Museum of Art
— Photo courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Julian Abele, the first African-American architect to design a major museum in the United States and first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture laid plans for these two iconic buildings on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Where: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

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16

Penn Museum

Transforming understanding of the human experience

Penn Museum Penn Museum
— Photo courtesy Penn Museum

The Penn Museum boasts an extensive collection of African art and artifacts such as masks, sculptures, instruments, famed Benin bronzes, embroidered garments and jewelry. Visitors can also marvel at a wide range of other materials from the continent, including a 3,200-year-old sphinx (!), which are on permanent display in the African and Egyptian galleries.

Where: Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

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17

The Barnes Foundation

An extensive collection of art, including compelling African masks

— R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Dr. Albert Barnes’ interest in African art dates back to the early 1920s when he acquired traditional masks and sculptures from multiple regions of Africa. Visitors can see these works, which he described as “the purest expression of the three-dimensional form,” and more at the Barnes Foundation, home to a remarkable collection of paintings from the masters of Impressionist art.

Where: Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

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18

Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches

Free, spirited storytelling, including of tale of a miraculous slavery escape

Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches
Each bench features a free, five-minute tale and secret story told by a uniformed, professional storyteller. — G. Widman for Historic Philadelphia

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, people of all ages can perch on free Once Upon A Nation’s Storytelling Benches at 13 locations around Philadelphia’s Historic District. Professional storytellers regale their audiences with tales of the well-known and not-so-well-known people who shaped America’s history, including a tale of a miraculous escape from slavery. Maps of the bench locations are available at the Independence Visitor Center.

Where: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street

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19

National Liberty Museum

Featuring the stories of such African-Americans as Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson

National Liberty Museum National Liberty Museum
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

This Historic District museum presents the enduring story of liberty, both in history and today. The Heroes From Around the World gallery spotlights notable people from all walks of life and time periods who protected and advanced freedom — including Nelson Mandela and Gail Gibson, a New Orleans nurse whose bravery helped save lives during Hurricane Katrina. The Live Like A Hero gallery showcases teachers, students, police officers, firefighters and other ordinary citizens who use their voices and talents to advocate for positive change, and includes a special section featuring students’ reactions to the film Selma.

Where: National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut Street

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20

Christ Church

Where Colonial America made its break with the Church of England

Christ Church Christ Church
— M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

This vaunted, circa 1695 house of worship — Franklin, Washington and Ross were congregants — ordained Absalom Jones as the country’s first African-American Episcopalian priest, baptized 25 percent of the free and enslaved African-Americans in Philadelphia over a 20-year period and helped establish a school to educate slaves. Tours of the National Park Service-affiliated church, a National Historic Landmark, occur throughout the day.

Where: Christ Church, 20 N. American Street

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21

Arch Street Friends Meeting House

A place of worship with a rich, anti-slavery foundation

— Photo by J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia

In 1779, the Quakers who worshiped at the Arch Street Friends’ Meeting House voted to expel any member who refused to free his slaves. Although still an active place of worship, the meeting house is open for tours.

Where: Historic Arch Street Meeting House, 320 Arch Street

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22

St. George's United Methodist Church

One of the first local churches to welcome black worshipers

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Before the establishment of local African-American churches, this church welcomed black worshipers and licensed Richard Allen and Absalom Jones as the first African-American Methodist lay preachers. During a dispute over segregated seating, Allen and Jones led a walkout — and went on to create African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and Mother Bethel A.M.E. (see above). St. George’s continues to work on amends for previous racial injustices.

Where: Historic St George's United Methodist Church, 235 N. 4th Street

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23

Cliveden

Learn about life and hardships on a Northern plantation

— R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

At Cliveden, tours and artifacts uncover details about life on Northern plantations, efforts to escape enslavement and the legal maneuverings of one of the North’s largest slave owners to run a plantation in abolitionist Philadelphia.

Where: Cliveden, 6401 Germantown Avenue

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24

Stenton

Once a 500-acre plantation housing heroic slaves

Stenton Stenton
Stenton was one of the grandest houses of its time. — Courtesy of Stenton

Tour the Georgian estate of James Logan, secretary to Pennsylvania founder William Penn and mentor to Benjamin Franklin and John Bartram. Situated on three acres of the original 500-acre plantation which once housed slaves (including housekeeper Dinah, who reportedly saved the mansion from being burned during the Revolutionary War), Stenton’s large rooms, exquisite woodwork and preserved details make this estate a must-see.

Where: Stenton, 4601 N. 18th Street

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25

Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground

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When visitors schedule an appointment for a tour of the Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground, they can sit in the original desks used by African-American students and abolitionists in the 1850s.

Where: Concord School House, 6309 Germantown Avenue

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26

Valley Forge National Historical Park

Telling a host of stories, from the Continental Army to the Underground Railroad

— M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Valley Forge National Historical Park tells the story of Washington’s Continental Army, which included many African-American soldiers. The park is also included in the Quest for Freedom self-guided African-American heritage driving tour that winds past cemeteries, Quaker meeting houses and Underground Railroad sites.

Where: Valley Forge National Historical Park, 1400 N. Outer Line Drive

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27

New Freedom Theatre

As one of the nation’s most honored black professional theater companies, this theater has staged productions from such celebrated African-American playwrights as James Baldwin, Ossie Davis, Charles Fuller, Ntozake Shange, August Wilson and LeRoi Jones. Its alumni include Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men.

Where: New Freedom Theatre, 1346 N. Broad Street

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28

The Clef Club

— Photo courtesy Clef Club

Formed in 1966 through the efforts of Philadelphia’s African-American musicians’ union, Union Local No. 274 of the American Federation of Musicians, the Clef counted among its members John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie and played a significant role in the advancement of jazz in Philadelphia and the world. In 1978, it expanded its mission to include jazz performance, instruction and preservation, becoming the nation’s first facility constructed specifically as a jazz institution. Today, the Clef hosts concerts in the 240-seat performance space.

Where: The Clef Club, 738 S. Broad Street

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29

Black History in Philly? We Got You.

Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter of Grammy-winning hip-hop band The Roots hosts “We Got You: Philly by Tarik,” our new travel series. In this episode, Tarik and lifestyle editor Cory Townes check out the iconic Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia’s Historic District and visit a stop on the Underground Railroad in Germantown.

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The African American Museum in Philadelphia
The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation
Mother Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and Richard Allen Museum
Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River at the Independence Seaport Museum
The Johnson House Historic Site
Belmont Mansion
Marian Anderson Residence Museum
Paul Robeson House
Colored Girls Museum
Octavius V. Catto Memorial
African American Iconic Images Collection Trolley Tour
National Constitution Center
The Liberty Bell Center
Museum of the American Revolution
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Branch
Penn Museum
The Barnes Foundation
Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches
National Liberty Museum
Christ Church
Arch Street Friends Meeting House
St. George's United Methodist Church
Cliveden
Stenton
Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground
Valley Forge National Historical Park
New Freedom Theatre
The Clef Club
Black History in Philly? We Got You.
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