February is African American History Month. It is also known as Black History Month and is celebrated in United States and Canada in February and in the United Kingdom in October. It began in 1926 in the United States by Carter G. Woodson as a way to acknowledge and remember the accomplishments, events, groups and individuals in history of African Diasporas and descent.
The second week in February was chosen by Woodson to celebrate Black History because it was the birthday week of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It was Woodson’s hope that Black History week would be eliminated as African American history would eventually be incorporated into American History. Instead it was expanded to a month. Black History month was first acknowledged in 1969 at Kent State University and celebrated in 1970. In 1976 Black History month was acknowledged by the Federal Government with President Gerald Ford encouraging the honoring of the accomplishments of African Americans.
Since that time African American history month is celebrated in a great number of ways. It might be worth your while to make a trip to Philadelphia to take part in the exciting activities. Five places you must visit to complete your African American experience in Philadelphia includes the homes of some of my family and friends. It is an honor to serve and the Boards of Belmont Mansion's Women Heritage Society and the Board of Marian Anderson Historical Museum. It is also a privilege to know the family of Boxing great Joe Frazier. I welcome you to Philadelphia and offer you a warm African American experience as you visit the Coltrane home of my cousins John, Naima and Toni Coltrane. As well as my Great Aunt Gertrude Ward and cousins Willa and Clara Ward.
- Clara Ward and the World Famous Ward Singers began their careers in Philadelphia. The group was founded in 1931 by Gertrude Ward who was to become the first African American female millionaire gospel music promoter. Clara and Willa were both born and grew up in Philadelphia until they began traveling with their mother Madame Gertrude Ward singing gospel. They lived in thirteen places around the city before moving to California. However Willa Ward Royster spent most of her later years on the 4500 block of North Broad Street in Logan. They were gospel pioneers changing the sound, look and expectations of gospel music. They wore sequined gowns, lavish hairstyles, sung gospel in Las Vegas night clubs and arrived at their engagements in chauffeured driven limousines. You can read more about them in How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World Famous Ward Singers by Willa Ward Royster and Toni Rose at http://rbooksinternational.ecrater.com/
- John Coltrane Home in Philadelphia is located at 1511 N. 33rd Street. Coltrane was a world renowned jazz saxophonist. His work and genius has influenced music and the world of jazz like no other. He moved to Philadelphia in 1945 from North Carolina. He later moved to the Philadelphia home in the 1950’s with his wife Juanita called Naima and daughter Antonia. Among his many awards was the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and he is listed as one of the 100 Greatest African Americans.
- Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion located in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia. It was built in the 18th century and hosted George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Belmont Mansion is managed by Audrey Johnson Thornton and the American Women’s Heritage Society, a group of African American Women led by Johnson Thornton. The Society is the only African-American Women's organization to administer a historic mansion in Fairmount Park.
- Marian Anderson Historical Residence located at 762 S. Marian Anderson Way (Martin Street). Marian Anderson was acclaimed as one of the finest contraltos of her time. Born in Philadelphia in 1897 she is known for being the first African American member of the Metropolitan Opera Company and for her performance at the Lincoln Memorial at the request of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Anderson purchased her Philadelphia home in 1924, it was the first residence purchased after her singing success. The home is located not far from her birth home where her parents resided and where she grew up. The Residence is managed by Blanche Burton Lyles and Phyllis Sims.
- Joe Frazier, World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion lived in Philadelphia. You can still see his boxing gym located at 2917 North Broad Street. Frazier held the title from 1970 to 1973. A campaign has begun to have a statue erected at Xfinity Live an entertainment complex near the Philadelphia sports stadiums. Frazier is rated among the top ten greatest heavyweights of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization. He was also inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame as well as the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
These are just five of the many African American treasures that await you on your visit to Philadelphia. Enjoy your trip and come back really soon because you are just getting started.