Each week in February, we’ll be publishing new bike rides that highlight Black histories and futures in motion around Philly. This series is an adapted-for-the-pandemic-times version of the Black History Month group rides we’ve held in previous years. This week’s ride loops through Germantown. Check out the other rides in the 2021 virtual series: Fairmount Park and West Philadelphia.
This Germantown route be done as a shorter (9.5 miles) or longer (~15 miles) bike ride, with the only difference being the starting location. The shorter route starts and ends at the Cadence Cycling Centers – Manayunk parking lot, and the longer route starts and ends at the Art Museum. Read on for some more in-depth info about each of the stops along both Germantown routes.
Again, this is a totally free event, we’re just asking for your info so we can keep track of how many folks are participating.
Germantown loop (short and long)
STOP 1 – OCTOBER GALLERY: October Gallery is “one of the oldest African- American art galleries in the nation” featuring paintings, artifacts and reproductions from many artists who call Northwest Philadelphia home. The gallery has operated a physical space in Philadelphia since 1985. Its latest iteration is the first floor of Mercer and Evelyn Redcross’ Victorian home in Germantown. The gallery is currently open Wednesday through Saturday 1 to 5 PM, masks and social distancing required. Learn more and browse their enormous art collection here.
STOP 2 – JOHNSON HOUSE HISTORIC SITE: Germantown was not only a center of the 19th-century American movement to abolish slavery, it is recognized as the site of the first North American protest against slavery on February 18, 1688. The Johnson House was a key part of the 19th century abolitionist movement as a stop on the Underground Railroad (tradition holds that Harriet Tubman even visited the house). In 2015, Johnson House established the Center for Social Advocacy (CSA) to “educate, train and empower everyday citizens in the Germantown area and beyond to address racial and human justice issues.” Johnson House won’t be offering indoor tours again until March 12, 2021, but you can still check out the architecture and outside space until then.
STOP 3 – UNCLE BOBBIE’S COFFEE & BOOKS: Opened in 2017 by Temple professor and CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books “was created to provide underserved communities with access to books and a space where everyone feels valued.” The space is named after Lamont Hill’s real-life Uncle Bobbie, who from a young age taught him about the necessity and beauty of literature and media that is by and for Black people.
So when I got the chance to actually open a bookstore and continue that tradition, I said, ‘How could I not?’ My dream has always been to do this. Market forces make it hard, but I have had an abiding faith in Black people. That we will support each other, that we will care for each other, and that we are interested in knowledge…But beyond that, I wanted Germantown to have nice things. Too often, we don’t find the nicest things in neighborhoods that include Black and Brown folk, that include working-class folk. So I wanted to create a space where Black and Brown folk, working-class folk, young and old people, could all come together.
Read more from Marc Lamont Hill on community building vs gentrification and his long-term vision for Uncle Bobbie’s and Germantown. Uncle Bobbie’s is open Tuesday – Sunday (with masks and social distancing requirements) for book-browsing, plus coffee and snacks to fuel the rest of your ride.
STOP 4 – ‘VOA NU, PWISANS NU (OUR VOICE, OUR STRENGTH)’ MURAL: Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left millions of people homeless, eighteen survivors were relocated to temporary housing in Germantown by Partners in Health. A year later, artists Parris Stancell, Felix St. Fort, and Ernel Martinez worked with the group of survivors to teach art-making techniques and brainstorm visions for the finished product. The result of their collaboration is this large-scale mural designed by Felix St. Fort and Ernel Martinez that adorns the Haitian church at 4675 Germantown Avenue, and the smaller mural designed by Parris Stancell installed on the exterior of the survivors’ current residence adjacent to the church on the 5000 block of Wakefield Street. Learn more about the murals and the process here.
STOP 5 – THE COLORED GIRLS MUSEUM: In 2015, Vashti DuBois turned her 130-year-old Germantown home into The Colored Girls Museum, a “memoir museum, which honors the stories, experiences, and history of ordinary Colored Girls.”
For DuBois, the acquisition of Black art is a duty and a calling. After centuries of plunder across the diaspora dating back to colonialism that continues in the present day, Black people must become guardians of our own legacy. ‘These are our children. So many other people were collecting our babies. The only people that should be collecting them should be us,’ Dubois said. The task is almost spiritual. ‘When I purchase, I feel like I’m freeing my ancestors. I’m buying my people off the block, because I know that they’re in there.'” – Errin Haines, Dispatch from The Colored Girls Museum in Black Futures
The Colored Girls Museum is typically open for salon-style guided tours, which will resume in a COVID-managed future. Right now you can ride by the lovely house and check out the porch exhibit that will be on display soon, and follow them on Instagram for their multi-dimensional digital programming.
STOP 6 – ‘SUNSHINE SURROUNDS US’ MURAL: ‘Sunshine Surrounds Us’ is a mural by artists Willis “Nomo” Humphrey, Jenny Lee Mass, and Mike Reali on Philly’s oldest rec center, Happy Hollow. The mural “reflects the rec center’s warm history and bright future,” specifically of the prominent athletes and coaches who got their start at Happy Hollow (like Jerome Allen, current assistant coach of the Celtics) and who are still involved in connecting with and shaping the athletes and youth playing there today.