Philly Celebrates Black History

Excavation of the slave quarters at the President's House in Philadelphia. AP Photo.

In Philadelphia, visitors and residents can see first-hand the slave quarters that were attached to George Washington’s presidential home along Market Street.

It’s a dark part of our past, an artifact of history that provides for somber reflection for passers-by and tourists alike.

But Philadelphia is also where Barack Obama made his momentous speech on race during his historic run to become America’s first black president.

From the Underground Railroad and race riots to Philadelphia soul and Joe Frazier’s gym, Philly is a city rich in African-American history.

And, with February marking Black History Month, the city is offering dozens of ways to experience that history and gain a better appreciation of Philadelphia’s role in black history.

In fact, there are so many events and exhibitions that it might seem overwhelming. Luckily, the Great Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corp. has assembled an impressive list of local black history events.

Take a look and see what Philly has to offer this February:

Exhibitions & Collections

African-American Experience
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.

The Brandywine Workshop: A Unique Vision
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. Titled The Brandywine Workshop: A Unique Vision, the 40-piece exhibition celebrates the workshop’s 40th anniversary. Through February 23.

Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow
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 13th.

Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection
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 descent in Philadelphia.

American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
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 24.

Revolutionary Modé: Exploration of Black History
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

Museum Without Walls
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 to download an app or audio version of Fuller’s narration.

Events at the Free Library of Philadelphia
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.

Music of the Underground Railroad
Independence National Historical Park boasts several Black History Month events at the Independence Visitor Center, including 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.

Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
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 23.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation celebrates the month with vocalist Philip Hamilton delivering a soul-stirring a capella performance February 22.

Stenton House
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.

Church of the Holy Trinity
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.

Mercer Museum
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.

Once Upon A Nation
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.

Performing Arts

“The Mountaintop”
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.

“My Brother Marvin”
“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.

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