Celebrate Philadelphia’s Black History

January 31, 2023

As one of the nation’s oldest and most culturally diverse cities, Philadelphia presents several ways to celebrate and learn more about Black history and heritage.

Here’s a list of some of the murals, monuments and historic sites you can visit, as well as Black-owned businesses and restaurants in neighborhoods throughout the city you can support to celebrate Black history in Philadelphia all year long.

Historical sites and monuments

A statue of Octavius V. Catto with his hands outstretched stands tall outside of City Hall.

A statue memorializing Octavius V. Catto. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

On City Hall’s southern terrace, a bronze statue memorializes Octavius V. Catto – a teacher, athlete, and one of Philadelphia’s most influential African American leaders during the 19th century. In 1871, while on his way to vote – a right Catto fought to secure for African Americans in Philadelphia – he was assassinated.

A mural honoring Catto can be found along the 1400 block of Catharine Street, not far from where he lived and where his life was taken.

A brick wall in front of a brick building, a statue is in the middle. across the front reads Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

Elsewhere, on Independence Mall just outside the Liberty Bell Center, the President’s House historic site – once home to Presidents George Washington and John Adams – tells the story of slavery and freedom in the early days of America.

A few blocks further south along 6th Street, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church is home to the oldest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the United States and rests on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African Americans in the nation.

A blue historical marker sign reading The Johnson house is shown outside of the house.

Johnson House Historic Site. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

In Germantown, the Johnson House was once home to a family of Quaker abolitionists and served as a vital part of the Underground Railroad.

Along South Street, the old Engine Company No. 11 building next to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens was the former home of Philadelphia’s first and only all-Black fire house, known for its first-class service to all communities, regardless of race.

Black history in Philadelphia’s museums

Man poses in front of a painting inside the Museum of the American Revolution

Algernon Ward poses with Brave Men as Ever Fought painting. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution.

The Museum of the American Revolution in Old City offers virtual and in-person experiences highlighting the lesser-known stories of Black men and women who served a critical role in the American Revolution. A special exhibition called “Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia” opens on February 11, 2023 at the Museum. The exhibit will introduce visitors to James Forten and his descendants who navigated the American Revolution and cross-racial relationships in Philadelphia. They went on to become leaders in the abolition movement during the lead-up to the Civil War, as well as the women’s suffrage movement. The Museum also offers a virtual tour online, covering the time between 1776 and 1807 when women and people of color held the right to vote in New Jersey, and how that right was eventually lost, as part of the museum’s When Women Lost the Vote exhibition.

Portraits decorate a wall inside of a museum with a podium in front of it

The African American Museum in Philadelphia is the first museum built by a major United States city that is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting African American history and culture. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

At the National Constitution Center, visit the first gallery in the United States dedicated to telling the story of the nation’s second founding, Civil War & Reconstruction, which features rare artifacts such as Dred Scott’s signed petition for freedom, a pen and inkwell belonging to Frederick Douglass, and original copies of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments.

Learn more about inspirational leaders and heroes such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the National Liberty Museum, and explore groundbreaking exhibits while learning more about African American history and culture at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

In March of 2023, the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts are opening “Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America.” 20 artists were invited to collaborate in this exhibition, which will feature new art installations spread across multiple galleries at both institutions. Each artist was asked to create a work that responded to the question “Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy?”

A sign hangs outside of a brick building, the sign is white with different shades of blue writing saying, Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery. A hand is shown with a shackle breaking open on a wrist

Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery. Photo by J. Ryan for PHLCVB.

Located in a 130-year old Victorian house in Germantown, The Colored Girls Museum presents art, jewelry, books, and other items that reflect the stories, experiences and history of Black and Brown girls. Nearby, the Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery is the only museum of its kind in Philadelphia dedicated to shedding light on the injustice of slavery and its continuing impact on American ideals by way of rare artifacts, documents, memorabilia and compelling exhibits.

Shop from Black-owned businesses

Among Philadelphia’s great collection of Black-owned businesses is Dope Botanicals, a modern herbal a’plant’ecary, specializing in plant-based wellness located in Rittenhouse Square. The urban apothecary, offers visitors everything from tonics and teas to delicious smoothies and drinks.

For beauty and lifestyle products, consider Marsh and Mane in South Philadelphia or Freedom Apothecary in Northern Liberties.

Bookworms will want to inch their way over to Harriett’s Bookshop in Fishtown, which celebrates female writers, activists and artists. Don’t miss Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop, one of the country’s oldest Black-owned bookstores, founded by Dawud Hakim in the late 1950s.

If you need a place to stay, consider Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast Inn, which offers several suites designed to celebrate Philadelphia’s music legacy in a historic 1880s manor in West Philadelphia.

For more Black-owned businesses, consult Visit Philly’s roundup here.

Support Black-owned restaurants, bars, and breweries

Two men wearing baseball caps smile for the camera while holding beers up to cheers at a bar

Mengistu Koilor and Richard Koilor of Two Locals Brewing Company, Philadelphia’s first Black-owned brewery. Photo courtesy of FCM Hospitality.

Many of Philadelphia’s Black-owned restaurants are open for take-out or delivery and dining in. Start your day with coffee and breakfast at Good Karma Café in Center City or Bower Café with locations in University City and Washington Square West.

Later, savor a menu filled with Southern favorites at Booker’s Restaurant and Bar in West Philadelphia, or enjoy Southern-style cooking with a side of jazz at SOUTH Jazz Kitchen just a few blocks north of City Hall. Another essential soul food stop is Ma Lessie’s Chicken & Waffles in Reading Terminal Market. Philadelphia’s first Black-owned brewery, Two Locals Brewing Company, is operated by brother brewers Richard and Mengistu Koilor out of FCM Hospitality’s Craft Hall space, where you can also order and pick-up cans and kegs. You can find Two Locals’ beer on tap at other FCM properties, including Juno, Parks on Tap, and Morgan’s Pier. For delivery from Black-owned restaurants, consider ordering using Philadelphia start-up, Black and Mobile.

Explore murals honoring African American heroes

A colorful mural is hown on the side of a building with Mr. trotter, a member of a musical group, The Roots, is in the center of the mural.

“The Talented Mr. Trotter: You Can Be Anything.” Photo by J. Ryan for the PHLCVB.

As the “Mural Capital of the World,” Philadelphia is home to thousands pieces of public art painted on the side of buildings throughout the city. Many of these works of art honor African American heroes and key leaders in the Black community – both locally and nationally – and are worth adding to your itinerary as you explore the city.

In West Philadelphia, They Met the Challenge (16 S 39th Street) is a mural honoring the Tuskegee Airmen and includes portraits of members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the all-Black elite squad of pilots.

The Roots – a trailblazing hip-hop group from Philadelphia – have a mural called Legendary honoring their musical and cultural contributions at 512 S. Broad Street. One of the group’s members, Tarik Trotter, also has his own mural The Talented Mr. Trotter: You Can Be Anything in Olde Kensington.

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. is honored on several murals, including one in North Philadelphia depicting his march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, as well as another in West Philadelphia featuring a photograph of his 1965 “Freedom Now” rally at 40th Street and Lancaster Ave.

A mural featuring legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson can be found in North Philadelphia at 2803 N. Broad Street. For more murals featuring African American leaders, activists, musicians, and more, click here.

For more insights into Philadelphia’s outdoor art gallery, watch one of their short Murals on the Fly videos highlighting various artworks throughout the city.

Rendering Justice Virtual Exhibition

A man stands in front of multiple pieces of work all in black and white and gray hanging on a blue wall.

Reginald Dwayne Betts and Titus Kaphar, ‘Declaration Redaction’ series, 2020. Photo by S. Weinik for Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Rendering Justice is a virtual exhibition presented by the African American Museum in Philadelphia and Mural Arts Philadelphia examining mass incarceration and contemporary America. Curated by artist Jesse Krimes, the exhibition features the work of nine artists from around the nation and aims to make visible the people and perspectives otherwise hidden by the criminal justice system. For their work, the artists collaborated with currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as members of Mural Arts’ Reimaging Reentry Fellowship, which works with formerly incarcerated artists on public art projects.


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