Philadelphia has a long and rich African American history, but for too long, African American historic resources in the city and region have received little attention.
As a first step toward protecting these important resources, the Preservation Alliance has compiled an inventory of African American historic sites in Philadelphia. This inventory of 400+ structures includes churches, schools, businesses, homes, clubs, benevolent associations, and more.
To read the historic context statement for this inventory, click below:
Philadelphia’s African American Heritage: A Brief Historic Context Statement, by Dana Dorman (2009)
Methods and References for Inventory of African American Historic Sites
In 2009, thanks to the generous support of the Samuel S. Fels Fund, the Preservation Alliance hired graduate intern Dana Dorman to update and enhance the Alliance’s preliminary inventory of African American historic sites, compiled about 10 years earlier.
That original inventory was created in part through neighborhood community meetings, where residents were asked to suggest sites that were important to them. In updating that list in 2009, we added new research completed by historian Emily T. Cooperman in 2008 for the Preservation Alliance and consulted numerous additional resources (see below) to confirm or expand the inventory.
We aimed to cast a wide net, making no attempt to define “African American” or what should qualify as “historic enough” to warrant inclusion. However, we omitted some entries for which we could find no known address or context for the site’s inclusion. Because of time constraints, we focused on sites within the city of Philadelphia, but a handful of other sites appear on the list as we discovered them in our research. More work needs to be done to thoroughly inventory African American historic sites in the surrounding region.
The data is organized as follows:
- Site name (or names, if more than one)
- Neighborhood (for details, see below)
- Type of historic resource
- Date built & architect (if known)
- Extant or not (if known)
- Local and national historic designations
- Other historic resource databases or survey information
- State historic marker information, including date marker was erected if known
We used six possible neighborhood designations, referencing and in some cases combining the planning analysis sections used by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC):
- Center City
- North (PCPC’s Olney-Oak Lane, Upper North, and Lower North)
- Northeast (PCPC’s Far Northeast, Near Northeast, and Bridesburg/Kensington/Richmond)
- Northwest (PCPC’s Roxborough/Manayunk and Germantown/Chestnut Hill)
- West (PCPC’s West and Southwest Philadelphia)
Starting with the Alliance’s existing inventory of resources, we completed limited field work and consulted historical resources and information available through:
- Blockson, Charles L. African Americans in Pennsylvania: Above Ground and Underground, an Illustrated Guide. Harrisburg, Pa.: RB Books, 2001.
- Cooperman, Emily T. “Inventory of African-American Church Resources 1787-1949, City of Philadelphia.” Philadelphia, Pa.: Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, 2008.
- Goode, Gloria Davis. “African American Heritage Guide to Philadelphia’s Historic Northwest.” Philadelphia, Pa.: Germantown Historical Society, 2007.
- Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network
- Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
- Philadelphia Architects and Buildings
- Philadelphia Historical Commission
Selected Suggestions for Further Reading
Blockson, Charles L. Philadelphia: 1639-2000. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
DuBois, W. E. B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study; With a New Introduction By Elijah Anderson; Together with a Special Report on Domestic Service by Isabel Eaton. Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
Lane, Roger. William Dorsey’s Philadelphia & Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Nash, Gary B. Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Weigley, Russell F., ed. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982.