The mini book bank is one of many across the city, put together by Visit Philadelphia, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Little Free Library, and other local organizations.
To open the month, Visit Philadelphia announced its partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia and Little Free Library to honor Black History Month by uplifting Black authors through launching “Little Free(dom) Libraries” across the city. These take-and-give book banks are positioned to freely distribute more than 1,500 banned books by Black authors across the city at various locations, including Historic Germantown.
Visit Philadelphia serves as Philly’s official marketing agency, seeking to enhance the city’s image, drive tourism, and boost the economy. This initiative is the third installment of the agency’s In Pursuit of A Perfect Union series, their latest approach to celebrating and commemorating heritage months in Philadelphia.
President and CEO of Visit Philadelphia Angela Val talks about the importance of the initiative, saying, “Philadelphia strives to be a welcoming destination where every person can feel a sense of belonging. We take pride in celebrating Philadelphia as the cradle of liberty, while also recognizing the complexity of its history. We want travelers and residents to know that in Philadelphia, Black history is American history, and Black stories are worth telling and sharing.”
Historic Germantown Executive Director Tuomi Forrest says there were several reasons the organization decided to serve as one of the book distribution sites, but primarily, it’s a way to get books to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access. The organization also aligns well with the project, as it has a library and database for the public.
Forrest says banning books, specifically by Black authors, must be resisted, “Some of the books being banned are classics in American literature by Nobel Prize-winning authors. The idea that you can have the peak of cultural expression being banned in this country is a travesty, and people, young and old, need to have access to these incredible works of art.”
Another reason he cites is that these books help teach essential history, citing The 1619 Project by Nikkole Hannah-Jones as an example. PEN America reports that more than 30 states have banned a selection of books by Black authors that have been deemed “harmful” and “explicit.” The 1619 Project is one of those banned books that is being offered at the Little Free(dom) Libraries. Other titles include The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson, and Beloved by Toni Morrison.
All the books were purchased at Black-owned bookstores around the city, like Harriett’s Bookshop, Hakim’s Bookstore, and Germantown’s very own Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books. Uncle Bobbie’s has, and continues to, highlight many of the banned titles in the past within their store and via social media. They even designed “Read Banned Books” hoodies and T-shirts for folks who “want to make a statement,” says Uncle Bobbie’s General Manager Justin Moore.
“Books are the key to everything — education, access to information, and understanding the world around you. For that reason, literacy has been something that was denied to the ancestors of Black people, so seeing Black authors banned brings us back to the original sin of this nation,” says Moore.
Moore says it is essential that bookstores are vocal about this issue but says it’s even more critical that Black bookstores are “the leaders in [the literary] space” and that the public relies on them to get the latest information about world events. He ends his sentiments by saying, “Keep the books, ban white supremacy.”
Forrest shares that throughout the year, the library will continue to be filled with different kinds of books, thematically by culture and heritage. While those themes haven’t been solidified, folks should expect different kinds throughout the year. Each book also comes with an insert featuring bold artwork and uplifting expressions by Philadelphian self-taught artist Alloyius Mcilwaine.
Neighbors can find Germantown’s Little Free(dom) Library in front of the Historic Germantown building at 5501 Germantown Avenue from 12-4 p.m. from Thursday through Saturday. Germantowners can also find a second one at the Johnson House Historic Site at 6306 Germantown Avenue.