There should be no doubt that Historic Germantown lives up to its name by housing some of the most influential and societal-shifting events in our region’s history. The Battle of Germantown was one of many battles during the Revolutionary War in 1777. While the American troops did not win, they did earn the respect of Europeans for their determination. But even before early fights for independence, folks in Germantown were fighting to dismantle slavery.
The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery is only one small piece of a vaster presence of Black experiences in Germantown and the nation. The Germantown YWCA was one of the first to integrate Black and white neighbors. Germantown High School students were amongst many Philadelphia school organizers to participate in the 1967 School Walkout demanding 25 requests, including integrating African American studies into the district curriculum. Germantown also harbors the Johnson House, one of the remaining homes on the Underground Railroad that supported Black folks in their journey to freedom.
Germantown has also been the birthplace and home to some notable Black figures like Sun-Ra, Tammi Terrell, Bilal, Lola Falana, Ursula Rucker, and three of Philadelphia’s Poet Laureates, Sonia Sanchez (‘12-’13), Yolanda Wisher (‘16-’17), and Trapeta Mason (‘20-’21). Below are a few different ways to honor the rich Black experiences of Germantown this month and every other.
Support the Community Fridges
We are still living in a pandemic that worsens the adverse effects on Black and Brown communities in various ways, including food insecurity. The fridges are a beneficial resource for the community, but they benefit the overwhelming Black majority of neighbors. Germantown Community Fridge and Ourchive 215 operate three different community fridges. Each one has guidelines for donation, so please research those before leaving items.
- 20 W. Armat Street
- 19 E. High Street
- 5424 Lena Street
Keep Up with Historic Germantown Happenings
Historic Germantown preserves the historical assets of the Northwest region of Philadelphia — 18 historic houses, including the Johnson House, destinations, and museums combined. Historic Germantown usually hosts events throughout the year that highlight Black experiences in Germantown. Last year, they co-hosted the Black Lives in Germantown walking tour and co-partnered in obtaining a historical marker for historic Black businessman John Trower.
This month, they are promoting four events:
- The Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion hosts their “Deep Rivers” program series that connects neighbors to a docent that will highlight the lives, stories, and achievements of Black entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and artisans from the 19th century. The next showing is on February 27 at 1 PM and 2 PM for $10. The showing is free for 19144 & 19138 ZIP codes residents. The mansion will also host a double theatre showing of “Tea With Frederick Douglass” and “A Life in Three Dresses.” Tickets are $20 for 19144 and 19138 residents and $30 for all other attendees. Masks and proof of vaccination are required. There are three showings:
- Friday, February 11 @ 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
- Saturday, February 12 @ 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
- Saturday, February 12 @ 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
- The Cliveden House will host a virtual event to process the stories of selected documents that illuminate the lives of Black residents through seven generations. Admission is free. Register here.
- Historic Rittenhouse Town will honor the life and legacy of Clarence E. Holbert, the second Black American U.S. engraver. His family will be presented with the David Rittenhouse award. Tickets are $55.
- Historic Hair Hill hosts a Black History Mural Tour on Saturday, February 12. Carolyn Singleton will share the stories behind the six murals. One tour will take place every hour starting at noon and ending at 3 PM.
Visit a Historic Black Museum
Did you know that Germantown has three museums that house different aspects of Black history? That is pretty untypical for one neighborhood.
- ACES Museum (5801 Germantown Avenue) — Formerly Parker Hall, the ACES Museum honors Black and minority veterans of World War II and their families. The museum is also a Veterans Service Organization with a mission to support services to veteran families.
- Black Writers Museum (5800 Germantown Avenue) — The Black Writers Museum is the first-of-its-kind in the country; it focuses on Black literary history by exhibiting classic and contemporary Black literature. Their mission is to “inspire and cultivate another generation of writers, speakers, and literary giants” to continue telling the rousing and resistant histories of Black people in America.
- Lest We Forget Museum of Slavery (5501 Germantown Avenue) — LWFMS provides a unique perspective on the enslavement of Black folks. This museum is the only of its kind, as it displays authentic artifacts from slavery, including proof documents of some of the Africans bought and sold as chattel.
Support Your Local Black Businesses
Germantown has a historical presence of Black-owned businesses. John Trower owned a restaurant and catering company where the Crab House now stands, and he created loan programs for Black folks looking to buy homes. Curtis Cisco bought the C.A. Rowell building (adjacent to the Crab House) in 1974, making him the first Black man to own a department store in the country. Today, that same spirit lives on through the multitude of Black-owned businesses in the neighborhood. Whether you are looking for an excellent book to read, need a bite to eat, need some hair supplies, purchasing flowers for a loved one, want a sweet treat, need an outfit, have a knack for fine art, or looking for some vintage swag, Germantown Black businesses have all your needs.
Share a Nomad Street Art Post
Germantown native and artist, Nomad, is one of Germantown’s most thought-provoking residents. His artwork is an ode to Germantown and calls to action about the displacement of long-time neighborhood residents. You can find his classic Nomad face posted around the neighborhood, sometimes with captions like “Black is Beautiful,” “Stop Gentrification,” and other values the artist holds closest to him. If you see his artwork, share the love on social media!
Learn More About Period Poverty
What is Period Poverty? According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab, it’s the “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.” Did you know that the nation’s first menstrual hub combating Period Poverty was founded in Germantown by Black mother-daughter duo Lynette Medley and Nya McGlone? The two service the broader Philadelphia community by distributing menstrual items and other toiletries, providing workshops, and having additional resources and services on-hand for guests. No More Secrets always accepts monetary and physical donations (menstrual items, toiletries, etc.). The nonprofit was also among the Best of Philly 2021.
Support Philly Forests and Your Local Farmers Market
According to their website, Philly Forests sits on three acres of land in the Awbury Arboretum. It uses “revenue from their crop sales to enhance Philadelphia’s ecosystem.” With the funds, they purchase trees, shrubs, and perennial plants and distribute them free to areas in the city with a low canopy. Philly Forests also has a Community Supported Agriculture Membership Program that allows members to receive fresh fruits and vegetables and other items. During the appropriate season, founder Jasmine Thompson also runs the Germantown Farmers Market to diversify the local food system. The market is BIPOC-owned, LGBTIA-owned, and woman-owned!
The Germantown Farmers Market will return on May 21. 2022, and will run weekly from 10 AM to 2 PM at the Market Square (5501 Germantown Avenue) on Saturdays.