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Black History Month 2023

January 30, 2023

The history of public transportation is an integral part of the history of America. In honor of Black History Month - we wanted to take a closer look at the influence African Americans have had on public transportation.

One of the more notable examples of the impact African-Americans have made in public transportation is - of course - Rosa Parks. In early December of 1955 - Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Her ensuing arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. It lasted from December 5, 1955 to December 20,1956 - when it was ruled by the Supreme Court that segregated buses were unconstitutional. Her immense  bravery was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.

There are also many African-Americans who influenced the operations of public transportation. For example - Elbert R. Robinson refined the electric trolley in 1839. In 1923, Grantville T. Woods invented the Induction Telegraph System - which allows trains to communicate with one another to prevent head-on collisions. Andrew Jackson Beard invented the Jenny Coupler - which automatically links cars without workers needing to do the dangerous job. Garrett A. Morgan improved the traffic signal in 1923 - which became the basis for the modern three-way traffic light. And Dr. Gladys Mae West was instrumental in developing a system to detect locations. Among other things - she is known for her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System [or - as we know it today - GPS].

In 1926 - thirteen African-Americans in Winston-Salem, North Carolina created the first black owned bus company - the Safe Bus Company - to service African-American neighborhoods, which were ignored by the public transportation offered by the city. It was operational until 1972 - when it was bought by the city.

Philadelphia has long been known as an important center for African American history and culture. This was true in the 18th century when Philadelphia had the largest free black population and was the center of the abolitionist movement - and it holds true today. The following are destinations that offer a look into the Philadelphia story that began centuries ago. And guess what? You can ride SEPTA to each and every one!

Black History Month at The African American Museum in Philadelphia

The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) is the first institution built by a major U.S. city to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage and culture of African Americans. February is your last chance to catch the museum’s powerful Vision & Spirit: African American Art exhibition. The collection features more than 100 works from 48 artists and explores the many meanings behind African American resilience. The exhibition runs through February 19, 2023. AAMP also hosts a special event with Dr. Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., at Mother Bethel A.M.E Church on February 26, 2023, which you can read about further down in this article. And, of course, you don’t want to miss the museum’s core permanent exhibit Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776 – 1876, allowing trailblazers like Octavius Catto and Richard Allen to tell their stories through the use of technology, photographs, videos and artifacts. Get here on SEPTA. It's a short walk from the 8th Street stop on the Market-Frankford Line or hop Routes 47 or 48.

Black History Month at the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Free Library of Philadelphia celebrates Black History Month with free events at libraries throughout the city all month long. On the docket: author talks, soul food culinary classes and even a hip-hop dance class for the youngsters. Check out the Free Library of Philadelphia’s official website for a rolling list of events throughout the month. Take Trolley Routes 10, 11, 13, or 34 there!

Black History Month at the National Constitution Center

Black History Month programming at the National Constitution Center includes daily self-guided tours of the museum’s vast collection of African American artifacts, including a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. Visitors can also experience The Four Harriets of History, a special show exploring the lives of Harriet Tubman, Harriet Robinson Scott, Harriet Jacobs and Harriet Beecher Stowe — four women who fought to overturn slavery in the United States through direct action. On weekends, guided tours offer special insights into the permanent Civil War and Reconstruction exhibit. All Black History Month programming is included in regular museum admission. Hop the Market-Frankford Line to 5th Street/Independence Hall or Routes 17, 33, 38, 44, 48 or 57.

A Soldier’s Play at the Forrest Theatre

 This gripping production [closing 2/5] of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is centered around the murder of a Black sergeant on a Louisiana Army base in 1944. Get there on SEPTA. Take the Market-Frankford Line to 11th Street or hop Routes 42, 21, or 12.

Black History Month Film Screening: Descendant at Stenton Park Recreation Center

This free screening on Thursday of the 2022 documentary tells the story of the Clotilde, the last known ship carrying African slaves to arrive in the United States illegally in 1860. The film also traces the lives of the descendants of some of the 110 passengers on board. Get here on SEPTA. Take Regional Rail to Wanye Junction, the Broad Street Line to Wyoming Station, or hop the Route 23.

Black History Month at the Betsy Ross House

Learn about the contributions of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history at Betsy Ross’ pint-sized property each weekend in February. On Saturdays, meet Black history makers like Bishop Richard Allen, abolitionist James Forten and famed cake baker Margaret Woodby. On Sundays, grab a seat to hear brief, five-minute tales of Black history from the award-winning storytellers from Once Upon A Nation. Short walk from 2nd Street Station on the Market-Frankford Line or hop Routes 17, 33 or 48. Get $1 off tickets when you flash your SEPTA Key card!

Keep Going: A Black History Discovery Hunt at the Independence Visitor Center

Pop into the Independence Visitor Center on weekends in February to get started on this all-ages scavenger hunt. Search for clues to uncover hidden stories of Black resistance in and around several historic sites in Old City. Get there on SEPTA. Ride the Market-Frankford Line to 5th Street or hop Bus Routes 17, 33, 38, 44, 47 or 57.

Leaders and Legends at Smith Memorial Playground & Playhouse

An outdoor exhibition honoring African American leaders returns to Fairmount Park. The Leaders and Legends outdoor gallery highlights the accomplishments of artists, activists, educators, public servants and athletes. After checking out the exhibit, which features prompts to visit other Philadelphia landmarks, families can head to the playground and playhouse for more fun, including a trip or two down that famous wooden slide. So easy to get here on SEPTA Route 3.

Behind the Bookcase Tour: Black Writers, the Jazz Age, and the Harlem Renaissance at The Rosenbach

Enjoy rare, hands-on access to books, manuscripts and other items in The Rosenbach’s impressive collection during this Behind the Bookcase tour on Sunday, 2/5. Read through personal letters and first-edition works from several Harlem Renaissance writers, including poet Langston Hughes and philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke.

Black History Month: Celebration of African Americans in Science at The Franklin Institute

Join The Franklin Institute and other local organizations for this Black History Month celebration, exploring the accomplishments of Black scientists and workers in STEM fields. The afternoon also sees traditional African and hip-hop performances from the Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble. The event is included in regular museum admission. Leave the driving to SEPTA. Short walk from Suburban Station, hop Bus Routes 7, 33, 38, 48 or Trolley Routes 10, 11, 13, 34 or 36.

The African American Children’s Book Fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

The 31st annual African American Children’s Book Fair [on Saturday, 2/11] — one of the oldest and largest single-day events for African American children’s books in the country — features nationally known authors and illustrators, representatives from the multicultural literary community, enriching children’s books and activities that promote the joy of reading. You can ride the Market-Frankford Line to 11th, the Broad Street Line to City Hall or hop Routes 23, 45, 48 or 61.

Helium Presents: Black History Monthly’s Winter Cookout at Helium Comedy Club

This variety show on 2/21— co-founded by comedian friends Ronald Metellus and Brandon Mitchell — features a mix of crowd work, music, sketch comedy and rapid-fire games. In addition to the usual high jinks, the Winter Cookout features diverse sets from some of Philly’s best up-and-coming comedians. Take SEPTA there! It's a short walk from Suburban Station.

NLM Celebrates: Beyond Wakanda: Imagining the Future with Black Comic Creators at the National Liberty Museum

Join Black comic creators for a sneak peek at their latest creations and reflect on the future of Black superheroes in light of the museum’s Imagined Futures exhibit. The event is included in regular museum admission, but advance registration is encouraged. Get there on SEPTA! Catch the Market-Franklin Line or take Bus Routes 42, 44, or 48. 

An Evening Conversation with Dr. Bernice A. King at Mother Bethel A.M.E Church

Enjoy a very special evening in the historic Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcipol Church as Rev. Dr. Mark Tyler hosts a conversation with Dr. Bernice A. King, minister, lawyer and daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. During the event, which celebrated the theme of “The Beloved Community,” King speaks about her father’s legacy and her own work to ensure a more just society as CEO of The King Center. Tickets are required. Take Route 40 to visit this historic spot.