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Black Writers’ History in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has long had a stronghold on places that recognize its gifted and historically valuable African-American writers and artists. This page will focus on three of these venues, offering a full day of literary experiences.

African American Museum

The African American Museum is a thriving center of learning at 701 Arch Street, with multiple galleries and programs for all ages. Only a block away from Independence National Historic Park, a highlight is Audacious Freedom, a permanent exhibit featuring “Ten full-size video projections of trailblazers from 18th Century Philadelphia,” according to the Museum’s website at https://www.aampmuseum.org.

The video projections include two very influential writers: the Right Reverend Richard Allen (1760-1831), also known as Bishop Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911). Read about Allen’s writing here: https://docsouth.unc.edu. An excellent example of Harper’s poetry can be read here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52448/learning-to-read.

Black Writers Museum

The Black Writers Museum at 5300 Germantown Avenue is in northern Philadelphia and is housed in a building that was originally built as a luxurious home at the beginning of the 19th century.

“The mission of the Black Writers Museum is to provide a venue and forum for the public to explore, celebrate, and experience the wonders of writing and reading through the exhibition and study of Black Literature. Our mission is to inspire and cultivate another generation of writers, public speakers and literary giants that will tell the story of history as seen through their eyes and expressed in their vernacular,” according to its website at https://www.blackwritersmuseum.com.

In addition to the ongoing offerings of the facility, its signature event is the People’s Poetry and Jazz Festival, held annually in August. Literary exhibits, including thousands of print items, range from the early 19th century to the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts Movement and beyond.

Charles L. Blocksun Afro American Collection at Temple University

The Charles L. Blocksun Afro American Collection at Temple University Library is the home to a robust collection of more than 700,000 print artifacts connected to Black history in Philadelphia. Visitors intending to do research should contact this institution in advance at (215) 204-4723.

According to its website at https://guides.temple.edu/blocksoncollection, “Researchers will find rare works such as, Leo Africanus’ A geographical historie of Africa (1600), Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral (1773), Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), David Walker’s Walker’s Appeal (1830), Frederick DouglassNarrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: an American slave (1845), W.E.B. Du BoisThe Philadelphia Negro: a Social Study (1899) and many other important publications.”

This part of the Pennsylvania Author Adventures Trail can be traveled as its own tour in a full day, blended with other Philadelphia literary sites, or combined with even more Pennsylvania stops as part of several days of literary travel.

The map at the top of this page is for the places described on this page only. The map belows shows how they can be woven through the other historic literary sites in Philadelphia. Together, they comprise the third, fifth, and sixth stops of the Pennsylvania Author Adventures Literary Road Trip, with the fourth on the route being the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.

Patricia Smart