African-American Museum in Philadelphia

"Let This Be Your Home"

The figures shown above were originally used in a museum exhibition called "Let This Be Your Home" which explored African-American, post-bellum migration from the southern to the northern states. Contemporary visitors are invited to journey into the cultural and historical record of Philadelphia's African-American community.

This museum is home to art shows and special historic exhibits that focus on African-American themes. Also on display within its four galleries is a permanent collection of African-American art and historical photographs of Philadelphia. Additionally, the museum provides space for special cultural performances, such as an annual all-night Jazz 'Til Sunrise music marathon held every February.

Painters featured in past shows have included Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden and most recently Palmer Hayden. Forty Hayden works, including his chef-d'oeuvre "Midsummer Night in Harlem," kept visitors warm during the winter of '95. Special exhibits have included a detailed look at the civil rights movement and the rise of the black church.

Three Generations Of African American Women Sculptors: A Study In Paradox

On the first and second floors, until October 1996, is an absolutely terrific exhibit entitled, "Three Generations of African American Women Sculptors: A Study in Paradox." Sixty works by ten African American female artists are displayed in the nation's first major exhibition of its kind. Visitors are able to discern individual artistic growth as well as to chronicle the influence prior generations had on succeeding ones.

The exhibition starts on the ground floor and includes the works of sculptors May Howard Jackson (1877-1931) and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890-1960). Prophet's polychromatic wooden busts should not be missed.

The exhibition continues on the second floor. Elizabeth Catlett's "Tired" was this writer's favorite piece in the exhibition. A terra cotta figure sits slumped on a bench, her shoulders sag, her feet are heavy, and her eyes are scooped out and hollow. These sad slits seem to see just more work and pain in the future.

Augusta Savage's (1900-1962) "Gamin," a bronze executed in 1929, shows a cocky, smart, resigned, young face set off by a tilted gap. This is a face that will outwit the Depression. Another Savage work is of Marian Anderson the great Philadelphia contralto. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is Savage's 1931 sculpture, "Harp." Each string on the harp is a actually a human figure; each figure is a member of a choir. A hand that forms the back of the harp also holds the choir members in place. Listen closely and you almost hear the voice of angels.

Healing The Body And Mind -- African American Sports Tradition In Philadelphia

The 3rd and 4th floor galleries are given over to an exhibit entitled "Healing the Body and Mind -- African American Sports Tradition in Philadelphia" (through December 1996).

The 3rd floor is a picture story of the lives of young athletes, accented with selected quotes painted on the wall. The pictures recount the role sports played in their lives. The nurturing role of the YMCA and the YWCA in the lives of Philadelphia's young African-American athletes is explored in great detail. Philadelphia's Christian Street YMCA was the country's first branch to open specifically for African-Americans. Sponsored in part by the Philadelphia Tribune, the nation's oldest continuously owned African-American newspaper, the "Y" gave the community its own teams and a place to participate in athletics.

The 4th floor is about the pros. Photos of famous professional Philadelphia athletes cover the walls. Wilt Chamberlain shares space with the Rockettes, a 1954 South Philadelphia women's basketball team. Baseball fans will enjoy photographs of the Hilldale and Philadelphia Giants, a team from the Negro Leagues. Many of the Giants were indeed baseball giants -- Roy Campanella, Judy Johnson, and Bill "Ready" Cash.

While the baseball exhibit duly notes that Philadelphia's Phillies and A's were two of the last major league teams to integrate, sometime in the early-1960s, the museum has chosen to focus on the contributions African American athletes have made.

Its coverage of boxing lacks punch. Philadelphia has long been recognized as a pugilistic mecca, and although there are photos of Philly's own champ, Smokin' Joe Frazier, among others, the rich boxing culture is never given a proper treatment. A movie on the life of Joe Louis (a Detroit fighter) does play in the gallery.

By the way, watch for the photo of Bill Cosby running in the Penn Relays, as a member of Temple's track team.

The museum hosts an annual all-night jazz jam every February. Jazz greats who have participated in the Jazz 'Til Sunrise show have included: Shirley Scott, Jimmy Heath, Jimmy Oliver, and Ted Curson.

The land on which the museum was built was once part of a historic black community.


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