(Photo credit: www.explorepahistory.com)
Since the founding of the city, Black Philadelphians have served as key figures in shaping the culture, values, and politics of Philadelphia. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service on January 19, here are some lesser-known historical sites that celebrate and remember these contributions to Philly life:
Johnson House Historic Site
6306 Germantown Avenue
The story of the Johnson House begins in an unremarkable way. John Johnson, the Quaker son of a Dutch immigrant, builds the home for his own son and establishes there a thriving farm and tannery. During the 1700’s, this agricultural business was not unlike the many others thriving in Philly. Around the turn of the century, however, the story changes. Beginning in the 1800s, the Johnson House served as a pivotal stop on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves make their way to freedom. Today, visitors to the farm will find exhibits about some of the earliest Black Philadelphians.
Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church
419 South 6th Street
Founded in 1731 by Bishop Richard Allen, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church stands on the oldest parcel of land in America continuously owned by African Americans. Allen was a key figure in the American abolition movement, lobbying for religious freedom for Black Americans both free and enslaved. Convinced that slave owners could not gain entry to heaven, Allen preached a gospel of freedom. Since his time, four different churches have occupied the land on the corner of 6th and Lombard in Society Hill. Visit the church’s website to schedule a tour today.
Marian Anderson Historical Residence Museum
762 South Martin Street
Though the name Marian Anderson might not ring a bell for most people today, during the early- and mid-20th century this Philadelphia-native was one of the most celebrated singers in America. Not only did Anderson regularly woo crowds with her low-pitched contralto voice, but she was also a key figure in the struggle for Black artists to overcome discrimination in the United States. During the early days of Anderson’s career, Black Philadelphians were not permitted in most social hotspots. Undeterred by prejudice, Anderson opened up her home to the area’s Black community, going as far as to turn her basement into a happening bar. Pay a visit to her preserved home, right in the heart of Rittenhouse Square, for a unique look at the history of the arts in Philadelphia.
The Legendary Blue Horizon
1314 N. Broad Street
Well known to boxing enthusiasts, the legendary Blue Horizon was one of the world’s top boxing venues for most of the second half of the 20th century. Built in the 1860s as a swanky residential property, the building was purchased in 1961 by boxing enthusiast Jimmy Toppi Jr. Quickly, the venue became a hub for Philadelphia (and global!) boxing culture, as well as a social hotspot for Black Philadelphians. Though the venue closed recently, visitors to this historic site can still find an impressive mural memorializing the contributions of Black boxers to sports culture in Philly. Boxing and murals have always been important parts of the Philadelphia cultural scene, and this little-known attraction rolls the two interests into one must-see spot.