Article

African-American Historic Sites in Philadelphia

A citywide exploration of African-American culture and history

1 of 1
Cliveden Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia
1 of 1

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 ( 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

The African American Museum in Philadelphia The African American Museum in Philadelphia
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The African American Museum in Philadelphia, founded in 1976, 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 and bold look at the stories of African-Americans and their role 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

Read More
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 M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation marks the structural fragments of the residences of Presidents Washington and Adams. This is the site where the country’s first president enslaved nine Africans, including Oney “Ona” Judge, who escaped to freedom, despite Washington’s efforts to capture her. The open-air Independence National Historical Park site, on the same block as the Liberty Bell Center, invites visitors to learn about the events that transpired through illustrated glass panels and video re-enactments, and then partake in silent reflection.

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

Read More
03

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

The oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
— Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, founded by Bishop Richard Allen in 1794, 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 is a church, museum and archive. The congregation worships weekly. The museum houses the tomb of Bishop Richard Allen and artifacts dating to the 1600s, tracing the history of the AME Church. Reservations are required for daily museum tour.

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

Read More
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

Independence Seaport Museum’s permanent exhibition, Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River uses the city’s eastern river — where the museum resides — to uncover the African experience in Philadelphia. First-person accounts and artifacts from the museum’s collection recount 300 years from enslavement, emancipation and Jim Crow through the Civil Rights movement.

Where: Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Boulevard

Read More
Advertisement
Advertisement
05

The Johnson House Historic Site

Germantown’s vital stop on the Underground Railroad

The Johnson House Historic Site in Germantown The Johnson House Historic Site in Germantown
— Photo by 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: The Johnson House Historic Site, 6306 Germantown Avenue

Read More
06

National Marian Anderson Museum

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

— Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

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: National Marian Anderson Museum, 762 Martin Street

Read More
07

Paul Robeson House and Museum

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 and Museum, 4951 Walnut Street

Read More
08

The Colored Girls Museum

Colored Girls Museum Colored Girls Museum
— Photo courtesy 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 girls and women, 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

Read More
Advertisement
Advertisement
09

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

Read More
10

National Constitution Center

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

— Photo by D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

The National Constitution Center (NCC) uses hands-on activities to illustrate the contributions of notable African-Americans; delves into pivotal Supreme Court cases, such as Dred Scott v. Sanford and Brown v. Board of Education; and explores the amendments that established rights for all. The NCC displays an extremely rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War alcove. A more modern highlight: the original, signed copy of Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech, which he delivered in 2008 at the National Constitution Center.

Where: National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street

Read More
11

Liberty Bell Center

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

— Photo by D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

The Liberty Bell Center encourages visitors to uncover the connection between the bell and African-American history. Videos and interactive displays explain how the abolitionist movement adopted the object as a symbol of freedom based on the inscribed quote from Leviticus, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Beginning in the late 1800s, the Liberty Bell traveled around the country to expositions to help heal the divisions of the Civil War. It reminded Americans of earlier days when they worked together for independence.

Where: Liberty Bell Center, 526 Market Street

Read More
12

Museum of the American Revolution

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

The Museum of the American Revolution explores the personal stories of African-Americans, including that of William Lee, the valet whom George Washington enslaved and lived alongside 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

Read More
Advertisement
Advertisement
13

Washington Square

Washington Square in Philadelphia Washington Square in Philadelphia
— Photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Washington Square, one of city planner William Penn’s five original parks, was once known as Congo Square. A wayside in the city-block park describes activities of three centuries ago, when free and enslaved Africans gathered at the then-potter’s field during holidays and fairs to celebrate traditions of their homelands.

Where: Washington Square, 214 S. 6th Street

Read More
14

Philadelphia Museum of Art and Free Library of Philadelphia — Parkway Central Library

An African-American architect designed two iconic Philadelphia buildings

— Photo by Visit Philadelphia

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 two iconic buildings — the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library of Philadelphia — Parkway Central Library — on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Where: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Free Library of Philadelphia — Parkway Central Library, 1901 Vine Street

Read More
15

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, which are on display in the African and Egyptian galleries.

Where: Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

Read More
16

Barnes Foundation

An extensive collection of art, including compelling African masks

The Barnes Foundation The Barnes Foundation
— Photo by 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

Read More
17

Once Upon A Nation Storytelling Benches

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

— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

Once Upon A Nation’s Storytelling Benches at 13 locations around Philadelphia’s Historic District offer people of all ages a free perch and a professionally told story. Engaging storytellers regale their audiences with tales of the well-known and not-so-well-known people who shaped America’s history. Among the real-life characters are Ona Judge, an enslaved woman who escaped from George Washington’s Philadelphia home to find freedom in New Hampshire; iconic reformer, author, statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass; James Forten, who heard the Declaration of Independence read aloud for the first time when he was nine and went on to become a leader in his African-American community; and Caroline LeCount, who, nearly 100 years before Rosa Parks, successfully won the right for all people to ride in Philadelphia’s street cars. Benches are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Maps of the bench locations are available at the Independence Visitor Center.

Where: Various locations including Independence Square, 172 S. 5th Street, Philadelphia

Read More
18

National Liberty Museum

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

Kids at a National Liberty Museum exhibit Kids at a National Liberty Museum exhibit
— Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The National Liberty 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 well-known figures such as Nelson Mandela and everyday heroes such as 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.

Where: National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut Street

Read More
19

Christ Church

Where colonial America made its break with the Church of England

— Photo by 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

Read More
20

Arch Street Friends Meeting House

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

Arch Street Friends Meeting House Arch Street Friends Meeting House
— 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: Arch Street Friends Meeting House, 320 Arch Street

Read More
21

St. George's United Methodist Church

One of the first local churches to welcome Black worshipers

A post shared by George Ellick (@gfury) on

St. George’s United Methodist Church welcomed Black worshipers and licensed Richard Allen and Absalom Jones as its first African-American Methodist lay preachers before other local African-American churches formed. In 1787, a dispute over segregated seating policies led to a walkout and the creation of African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and Mother Bethel AME Church. St. George’s now works on amends for previous racial injustices. Portraits, items of worship, manuscripts and other artifacts are on display in the original building.

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

Read More
22

Cliveden

Learn about life and hardships on a Northern plantation

— Photo by 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

Read More
23

Stenton

Once a 500-acre plantation housing heroic slaves

Stenton Mansion Stenton Mansion
— Photo courtesy of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at 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

Read More
24

The Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground of Germantown

A post shared by César Ballester (@entrefuegos) on

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

Where: The Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground of Germantown, 6309 Germantown Avenue

Read More
25

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

Read More
26

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

Read More
27

The Clef Club

Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts
— Photo courtesy Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts

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

Read More
28

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.

Read More
29

Belmont Mansion

Closed for renovations in spring 2018

— 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

Read More
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
National Marian Anderson Museum
Paul Robeson House and Museum
The Colored Girls Museum
Octavius V. Catto Memorial
National Constitution Center
Liberty Bell Center
Museum of the American Revolution
Washington Square
Philadelphia Museum of Art and Free Library of Philadelphia — Parkway Central Library
Penn Museum
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
The Concord School House and Upper Burying Ground of Germantown
Valley Forge National Historical Park
New Freedom Theatre
The Clef Club
Black History in Philly? We Got You.
Belmont Mansion
Hotel Deal

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package

Book the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package for stays through September 3, 2018 and get FREE hotel parking as well as free tickets to the Museum of the American Revolution, free tickets for a ride on the Ferris wheel and roller skating at Blue Cross RiverRink Summerfest, a $25 CHeU Noodle restaurants gift card, free mini-golf and a carousel ride at Franklin Square, free passes to ride the PHLASH Downtown Loop and a $10 Lyft credit.

Book Now

Up Next

Article

A Guide to the Underground Railroad in...

Explore historic sites that served as a refuge for African-Americans on a quest for freedom

View More

Stay in Touch

We apologize, something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Share
Tweet
[disabled]
[disabled]
[disabled]
[disabled]
[disabled]
[disabled]
[disabled]
[disabled]