Last summer (2016), I attended the Amistad Commission Summer Institute for Teachers at Rowan University. The Amistad Commission is a division of the New Jersey Department of Education and as per their website “The Amistad Commission ensures that the Department of Education and public schools of New Jersey implement materials and texts which integrate the history and contributions of African-Americans and the descendants of the African Diaspora”. The experience was amazing.
I was exhausted at the end of each day! Our workshops were fascinating. For our region, the topics included W.E.B. Du Bois’ study of Philadelphia’s Black Community and The Great Migration. In my U.S. History II class, we study W. E. B. Du Bois. We discuss his philosophy and his contributions. We compare his ideas with Booker T. Washington’s. Yet, I learned so much more about Du Bois on the walking tour and I love that I can take my new knowledge back to my classroom.
W. E. B. Du Bois was commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania department of sociology in 1896 to conduct a survey of blacks living in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward. At the age of 30, he and his new wife moved to Philadelphia. The research was published in his 1899 paper, The Philadelphia Negro. We did not just learn about Du Bois’ research, we walked it.
On day 2, we took a walking tour down South Street, past shops and restaurants I have seen dozens of times, and walked a small portion of what he walked. His case study covered Philadelphia’s central Seventh Ward running north-south from Spruce Street and east-west from Seventh Street to the Schuylkill River. Probably the only similarity was the weather. Dr. Du Bois conducted his research in August, wearing a top hat and long coat. We walked part of it in July wearing shorts and sneakers. I always tell my students when we study history that someone lived through it and try to imagine what it was like for that person. Here I was doing just that. Imagining the street we were on, imagining what it looked like in the late 1800s and imagining Dr. Du Bois knocking on all the doors, asking questions, and collecting data over and over.
The mural above is titled Mapping Courage: Honoring W.E.B. Du Bois and Engine #11. Artist Carl Willis Humphrey completed in 2008. It is located at 6th and South Streets. The scene is painted on the wall of Engine #11, a historical African-American firehouse. W.E.B. Du Bois is depicted observing a city scene with a census in his hand.
As we walked around, we saw more beautiful murals and mosaics. If you are visiting Philadelphia or are interested in planning a field trip, you can find information about it here.
From there we visited Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church. The Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1794. While visiting Philadelphia, there is so much to do, but I highly recommend visiting Mother Bethel. Below are some pictures. The church has beautiful stained-glass windows with both religious and Masonic images. In the basement, is a small museum with original artifacts and the tomb of its founder, Bishop Richard Allen.
Next, we were off to lunch at City Tavern, a reconstructed Colonial tavern where servers are in period dress. City Tavern first opened in December 1773 and was home to some of history’s most famous people. It even hosted a banquet for George Washington as he traveled through Philadelphia on his way to New York for his inauguration. The building was damaged by fire in 1834 and later demolished in 1854. However, a replica was built in 1975 just in time the nation’s bicentennial.
Our final destination for the day (this is only day 2) was Lazaretto. In 1799, the Lazaretto Station was established in response to the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. If you are interested in historic novels, be sure to read Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
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