It’s no surprise that in one of America’s most historic cities, Black history is all around. From Underground Railroad stops to assembly landmarks from the civil rights movement, Black Americans’ fight for freedom and progress is as much a part of the framework of this city as the crack in the Liberty Bell.
Philadelphia is home to the country’s first Black African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church, an intact schoolhouse used by Black students and abolitionists in the 1850s, and museums highlighting the legacy of cultural figureheads like Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson.
Entire neighborhoods, historic attractions, and cultural institutions offer the opportunity to learn about the significant contributions that Black people have made for generations. At each destination in this guide, you can recapture special moments in history, acknowledge the perseverance within the Black community, and celebrate a legacy of accomplishments that helped build not only this country, but also an entire cultural identity.
Here’s where to go to learn about and honor Black history in Philadelphia.
Opened in 1976, the African American Museum in Philadelphia shines a light on the 18th century, a time when Philadelphia was at the center of the abolitionist movement and had the country’s largest population of free Black people. A journey through its galleries also takes you further in time with fliers and images of Philadelphia’s Black Panther Party, correspondence from the civil rights movement, sports memorabilia, old family scrapbooks, and other relics celebrating the lives of foundational Black Americans, the African diaspora, and prominent Black people in Philadelphia.
📍 701 Arch St., 📞 215-574-0380, 🌐 aampmuseum.org, 📷 @aampmuseum, 🕑 Thu.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (book by the time slot), 🎧 audio guided tours, 🎟️ $14 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID)
On a good day, people walking by this West Philly home in 1966 could hear great spiritual hymns like “Ol’ Man River” and “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” being sung by one of the greatest voices in American history — Paul Robeson. The human rights activist, singer, scholar, attorney, actor, writer, and athlete lived in this Walnut Street home until his death in 1976. Often hosting fellow entertainers like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Harry Belafonte, the home is now a National Historic Landmark with tours of the permanent exhibit “Paul Robeson: Up Close and Personal.” The tour consists of personal memorabilia like paintings, photos, record albums, furniture, and publications.
Belmont Mansion was the home of Judge Richard Peters, an abolitionist and opponent of the Fugitive Slave Act. Peters used the attic of the home as a hiding place for those traveling the path of the Underground Railroad. His son, Richard Peters Jr., designed the actual railroad line that came near the house and ensured that the tracks by the house were designed in a way that would force trains to slow down. This way, stowaway enslaved people could jump from the train and meet agents with the Underground Railroad. The agents would then bring freedom seekers to safety inside Belmont Mansion. Visitors of the museum can take a self-guided tour to see relics, view narratives from formerly enslaved people, and tour the property.
📍 2000 Belmont Mansion Dr., 📞 215-878-8844, 🌐 belmontmansion.org, 🕑 Tue.-Fri. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sat.-Sun. noon-5 p.m. (by appointment), 🎟️ $7 for adults and for $5 kids (18 and under), students, and seniors age 64+
A trip to the Museum of the American Revolution — an institution centered on the fight for American independence — wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the galleries that showcase the Black experience during that time. Throughout the museum you can see accounts from Black soldiers, narratives from enslaved individuals like William Lee, and an original signed copy of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley was the first person of African descent and only the third colonial American woman to have her writing published.
📍101 S. Third St., 📞 215-253-6731, 🌐 amrevmuseum.org, 📷 @amrevmuseum, 🕑 daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 🎧 audio guided tours, 🎟️ $21 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID), 🍽 café on-site
The National Constitution Center has a wide collection of rare artifacts and documents dating back to the 18th century. The items in its collection that focus on Black history include two premium documents: a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln in the museum’s “Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality” exhibit, and an original, signed copy of Barack Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech. Obama delivered the speech in front of the National Constitution Center in 2008. “Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality” also highlights the lives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and other leaders who fought for Black people’s freedom during the abolition years.
📍525 Arch St., 📞 215-409-6700, 🌐 constitutioncenter.org, 📷 @constitutionctr, 🕑 Wed.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 🎟️ $14 for adults and discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID), 🍽 café on-site
The Independence Seaport Museum’s ongoing mission to illustrate Philadelphia’s and American’s maritime history continues with their permanent exhibition, “Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River.” The display features an original 1760s ledger for the sale of enslaved Africans in colonial Philadelphia, information about Black abolitionist and wealthy Philadelphia businessman James Forten, and diagrams of ships that Black Americans constructed at a Philadelphia segregated shipyard during World War II.
📍211 S. Columbus Blvd., 📞 215-413-8655, 🌐 phillyseaport.org, 📷 @phillyseaport, 🕑 Daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 🎧 audio guided tours, 🎟️ $18 for discounts for seniors age 65+, military, kids, and students (with ID)
Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church was the location of the first independent Black denomination in the United States and was built on the oldest Black-owned parcel of land in the country. It is the founding church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was founded by Bishop Richard Allen. Within the historic church, there’s a museum that contains original church pews, a crypt with tombs for Allen and his wife, old ballot boxes, and collectibles that date back to the 1600s. The church also continued to play (and continues to play) a pivotal part in the Black community even after Allen’s death, hosting figures like abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Frederick Douglass. The museum and church are currently closed to in-person visits, but both are holding livestreamed events.
To explore institutions of Black freedom, head to Historic Germantown. Here you’ll find the Johnson House Historic Site, Lest We Forget Slavery Museum, and the Concord School House. Desks used by Black students and abolitionists in the 1850s are on display at Concord, and visitors of the Johnson House get the chance to walk through the 19th-century Underground Railroad stop while learning the story of the freedom seekers who passed through. At the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum, there are remnants of enslavement like shackles, branding irons, ship manifests, and slave auction signs. The museum also has artifacts from the Jim Crow and segregation era, including photography and figurines.
Bucks County is home to many abolitionist sites and Underground Railroad spots. It was also a popular destination for Black Southerners during the Great Migration. The area will soon open the permanent location of the African American Museum of Bucks County, which strives to share the stories and history of African American people throughout the area. Boone Farm, where the museum will open its doors by the end of 2022, was one of the local farms where Black families could work during the Great Migration. With an ability to make a wage, many Black families settled in the Bristol area and began to spread out into Bucks County. For now, the museum is fund-raising for renovations and hosting a pop-up exhibit throughout the region. The pop-up explores African American history in Pennsylvania dating back to the 1600s. Specifically, it details Underground Railroad locations in Bucks County, showcases African artifacts, and highlights the role of Bucks County A.M.E. churches during abolition.
The African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey documents the Black experience through rotating and permanent exhibitions made up of more than 12,000 items. The permanent collection includes decades-old family portraits of Black people in Atlantic City, paintings, ceramics, and an exhibition on the harmful stereotypes seen in pop-culture memorabilia. The museum also has collectibles from a prosperous time for Black people in Atlantic City — the 1930s to 1940s — like a neon Club Harlem door sign.
In the summer of 1852, Harriet Tubman came to Cape May to fund-raise for an Underground Railroad mission. Now, centuries later, Tubman’s time in New Jersey is immortalized at the Harriet Tubman Museum of New Jersey. Filled with information on Tubman’s Underground Railroad mission in Cape May, along with exhibits on the Cape May abolitionist movement, the items in the collection honor Black history in the seaside town.
📍 632 Lafayette St., Cape May N.J., 🌐 harriettubmanmuseum.org, 📷 @harriettubmanmuseum, 🕑 Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sun. 2 p.m.-3 p.m. (book by the time slot), 🎟️ $10 for adults and $5 for kids (10 and under)
Founded by Vashti DuBois, The Colored Girls Museum is a collective of art, books, jewelry, sounds, and other objects that encapsulate the everyday experiences of Black and brown girls. Following the tradition within the Black community to use a home space as one for organizing, the museum is equal parts research facility, gallery space, community area, meditation center, and workshop. Located in a three-story, 130-year-old Victorian house in Germantown, the museum is dedicated to honoring the ordinary and extraordinary lives of women of color through art and preservation of relics.
Purchased in 1924, this was the home of the first Black singer to perform at the White House and also the first Black person to sing with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Marian Anderson called this residence her home until 1943. The museum preserves her legacy through artifacts, photography, and more. It’s also the hub for the Marian Anderson Scholar Artist Program which develops and sponsors artists, classical and opera singers, and musicians. The artists, ranging in age from 18 to 45, perform seasonally at events that the society sponsors yearly. They also perform around the world.
📍762 Martin St., 📞 215-779-4219, 🌐 marianandersonhistoricalsociety.weebly.com, 📷 @marianandersonhistoricalsociety, 🕑 Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (virtual tours); living history tours are by phone reservation only, 🎟️ $10 for adults and discounts for groups