Each week in February, we’ll be publishing new bike rides that highlight Black histories and futures in motion around Philly. This ride series is an adapted-for-the-pandemic-times version of the Black History Month group rides we’ve held in previous years in partnership with Indego.
Week 1’s bike ride takes you through Fairmount Park and West Philadelphia. The full route is 18.5 miles, perfect for a big day on the bike, but we designed it so you can also break it up into two ~9 mile loops, one through Fairmount Park and the other through West Philly. All versions of the route start and end at the Art Museum, but feel free to start and end wherever makes sense for you!
Read on for some more in-depth info about each of the stops along the West Philly part of the route (details about the Fairmount Park loop are here). This is a totally free event, we’re just asking for your info so we can keep track of how many folks are participating.
West Philly loop
STOP 1 – BRICK HOUSE SCULPTURE: A monumental sculpture by acclaimed artist Simone Leigh, ‘Brick House’ is cast in bronze, stands 16 feet high, 9 feet in diameter at its base, and weighs 5,900 pounds (!!)
‘Brick House’ is part of my series called Anatomy of Architecture in which I conflate ideas concerning the body and architecture as well as gender and representation. I operate in an auto-ethnographic way, in which I research African and diaspora art objects, material culture and philosophies. Often my work is sparked by underlining texts from Black feminist thinkers. ‘Brick House’ is not a portrait. It brings disparate forms together in a way that collapses time. I would describe this way of building sculpture as ‘critical fabulation.’ – Simone Leigh
STOP 2 – BREAKING CHAINS MURAL: ‘Breaking Chains’, a mural by KC White and Gabe Tiberino, shows a young girl inspired by the stories of Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Madame CJ Walker, Guion Bluford, and Paul Robeson. ‘Breaking Chains’ replaces the original mural ‘Broken Chains’, also designed by KC White but damaged during building renovations in 2017. Read more about the history of both murals, the neighboring Malcolm X Park (previously called Black Oak Park), and contested public space in the neighborhood.
STOP 3 – SITE OF THE MOVE BOMBING: On May 13, 1985, a police helicopter dropped a bomb on a Philadelphia rowhouse in a majority Black neighborhood. Eleven people were killed. Five of them were children. 61 homes were destroyed in the resulting inferno, leaving hundreds of people homeless. In November 2020, 35 years after the bombing, City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier worked with activists and members of MOVE to draft a formal apology from the City of Philadelphia because, per Gauthier:
No one was ever held accountable in a real way for what happened with the MOVE bombing, which was an atrocity…not only did I think this [city apology] was important from a symbolic perspective. I also think it’s important because we see echoes of what happened in the MOVE bombing in what we’re seeing now between police and community and with the police violence that we’ve seen in the very same neighborhood. This is also the neighborhood where Walter Wallace Jr. was gunned down by police.
MOVE issued a statement on Twitter saying “apology without action is meaningless” and reasserting their call for the release of Mumia Abu Jamal from prison. Read more about what these differing calls for justice look like (and about the new MOVE documentary 40 Years A Prisoner) here.
STOP 4 – PAUL ROBESON HOUSE: Paul Robeson was a civil rights activist, scholar, athlete, and internationally renowned singer and actor who spent the last ten years of his life in this house on Walnut Street. The Paul Robeson House & Museum is run by the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, established in 1984 by community activist Francis P. Aulston. In addition to preserving the Paul Robeson House and activating it as a space for community arts and engagement, one of the early missions of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance was to organize a weeklong arts festival to start the process of community healing after the MOVE bombing in 1985. You can take a virtual tour of the house and museum here.
STOP 5 – MLK AT LANCASTER mural and sculpture: In 1965, with less than 12 hours notice, Martin Luther King Jr. drew a crowd of 10,000 to the corner of 40th and Lancaster for a historic speech now marked by Cliff Eubanks’ mural ‘MLK at Lancaster.’ Read about MLK Jr.’s “lesser known” connections to the city of Philadelphia here, from Temple Professor of Journalism and MLK scholar Linn Washington.