Ideal Philadelphia Day with Storyteller Denise Valentine

In her SideTour, acclaimed storyteller and folk artist Denise Valentine doesn’t just want you to hear about the role African Americans played in Philly’s history (and, indeed, the country)—she wants you to feel it. Her passion for the subject is apparent in her animated speech, her active Twitter feed and now, in her ideal way to spend a day in Philly.

9:00AM: Get a café breakfast to go I’ve been looking for a chance to sit down for a morning bite Trolley Car Café in East Falls, but I always get my food to go so I can move to my next stop. It’s a converted old bathhouse, with its own fresh herb garden and quaint outdoor seating.

9:30AM: Savor a good book I head to a favorite reading spot on Benjamin Franklin Parkway to enjoy my meal and my current book, “Makeda” by Randall Robinson. In between pages, I can take in magnificent views of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Main Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, both designed by African-American architect Julian Abel.


Photo: Some rights reserved by Kansas Sebastian

12:00PM Grab a quick lunch After a leisurely morning I take a short walk down Arch Street. I usually grab a bite in Chinatown or at the historic Reading Terminal Market, which offers a dizzying array of places to eat with an atmosphere of hospitality and entertainment. You’ll find standard Philly fare here: cheese steaks, soft pretzels and apple dumplings baked by Amish farmers, as well as exotic cuisine from around the world.


Photo: All rights reserved by Morton Fox

12:30PM Visit with history, part 1 The next stop is the African American Museum of Philadelphia. It’s one of my favorite spots in Philly, and the starting location of my SideTour. Currently, you can enjoy “Come See About Me,” which boasts the Mary Wilson Supremes collection of stunning dresses and features an examination of the impact of the Supremes on the 1960s. A must-visit is the core exhibition, “Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia, 1776 to 1876.”

1:30PM Visit with history, part 2 I continue the museum exploration with a trip to the National Museum of American Jewish History, which I visited for the first time earlier this year to see “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges.” A current special exhibit, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats,” is a celebration of the famed children’s book author who was the first to feature an African-American protagonist in a modern full-color picture book.


Photo: Denise Valentine

2:30PM Visit with history, part 3 Once I’ve had my fill of being indoors, I take a short walk to the President’s House and Slavery Memorial at Independence National Historic Park. Our first two presidents, George Washington and John Adams, occupied the house that once stood here when Philadelphia served as a temporary capital. The Slavery Memorial remembers the nine enslaved Africans that Washington brought with him, 10 years after Pennsylvania’s Act of Gradual Abolition.


Photo: Denise Valentine


3:00PM Sit and tell stories Next I’ll head to Washington Square, also know as Congo Square, to meet with folks and chat. It’s a former potter’s field where Revolutionary War soldiers and victims of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic are buried. Africans called it Congo Square because it was the one place they were allowed to congregate to speak their languages, eat traditional foods, dance and sing. It was also where they were held in bondage to be shipped to points further south.


Photo: All rights reserved by Justin Murphy

5:30PM Jazz it up at happy hour A great place to wind down after a busy day is Warmdaddy’s on Columbus Blvd. On Friday evenings from 5:00PM to 7:00PM, radio station WDAS-FM broadcasts live from the bar.

Join Denise for her walk through the African-American history of Philadelphia with SideTour.

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