From the stops along the Underground Railroad to modern-day museums honoring influential African American figures, Pennsylvania is rich in Black history and culture. Explore these preserved landmarks throughout the state while discovering how the African American community has helped shape the commonwealth.
ART & CULTURAL CENTERS
1. August Wilson African American Cultural Center
A must-see destination, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center honors the legacy of the late Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright in his hometown. Boasting a wide range of dynamic exhibitions and educational spaces, the institution has hosted thousands of talented artists and creative students since it first opened to the public in 2009. Explore the beauty and rich cultural history of the African American experience virtually and plan to visit when you’re in town. Be sure to check their calendar for a slate of events and performances.
2. African American Museum in Philadelphia
Experience the richness and vibrancy of African American heritage and culture at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Founded in 1976, Philadelphia was the first major U.S. city to build a museum to honor and interpret the life, work, and major contributions of African Americans. Explore four magnificent exhibition galleries depicting African American family life, the Civil Rights movement, arts and entertainment, sports, medicine, architecture, politics, religion, law, and technology—from pre-colonial times to the current day.
3. Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County
Built in 1810, the historic Linn House is home to the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County and its permanent exhibit commemorating the major role the region played in the operations of the Underground Railroad. Take the museum's virtual tour to view various art works including vignette sketches by Lino Toyos, an overview of the Underground Railroad, biographical information about the African Americans who used the "railroad" in their escape to freedom, and details about the local free African Americans and others who assisted the enslaved reach their final destination in the Northeast, the Midwest, or Canada.
4. African American Heritage Trail
Powered by the “HelloErie” trip planning app, the African American Heritage Trail is a marvel of historic sites, murals, and businesses featuring influential people in region’s African American community. The self-guided tour invites visitors to discover more than 20 landmark locations to explore along the driving route.
5. Johnson House Historic Site
Built in 1768, the Johnson House served in the 1850s as a crucial stop along the Underground Railroad to secure safe passage to freedom for many enslaved African Americans, as well as a meeting place for noted abolitionists. Now transformed into a museum, here you can take a tour and gain an appreciation for the courageous decisions made by the enslaved to embark on a perilous, hope-filled journey to freedom and learn about the audacious men and women who labored for an end to the barbaric practice of slavery.
6. McAllister’s Mill Underground Railroad Site
Now, little more than ruins with the land privately owned, McAllister’s Mill was an important station along the Underground Railroad under the ownership of James McAllister, a loyal and committed abolitionist. The mill’s cog pit served as a secure and safe hiding place for those seeking to escape their enslaved existence and where they would rest before the next stage of their arduous journey north to freedom.
7. Pennsylvania Wilds
Williamsport and Lock Haven
A series of sites that are a part of Pennsylvania’s Underground Railroad can be found on the Pennsylvania Wilds website. Notable stops include the Lock Haven home of Maria Molson, a free African American woman who often sheltered up to 17 enslaved people at a time who were all seeking freedom. Another stop on the Underground Railroad was the home of Daniel Hughes in Williamsport who provided escaped slaves with food, clothing, medical treatment, and transportation on his lumber boats.
8. Destination Freedom: Underground Railroad Walking Tour
Learn about the complex history of a small Pennsylvania village and the role it played in the Underground Railroad and Civil War along Waverly’s Destination Freedom: Underground Railroad Walking Tour. Settled in the 1820s, Waverly became an important hub on the trail to freedom for the men, women, and children looking to escape bondage in the south. The interactive tour explores the lives of the village's early settlers and those of the formerly enslaved and free born African Americans who came to call the village home, and as a microcosm of the complicated nature of northern society during the 19th Century.
9. St. Paul’s A.M.E. Church
Because of the early anti-slavery movement in the area, Bellefonte became a safe home for the formerly enslaved and free men. This led to the establishment of St. Paul’s AME Church on land that was donated by a Quaker named William Thomas. The church was a safe stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. Through the years, the church became a key meeting place for African Americans in the community and remains an operating church in the community.
10. Dennis Farm
The hauntingly beautiful Dennis Farm was originally settled by the family of Prince Perkins, free African Americans who moved to northeastern Pennsylvania from Connecticut in 1793. Dennis Farms is filled with historical landmarks that include the Perkins-Dennis Cemetery, the Prince Perkins Archeological Site, fieldstone walls, the farmhouse, and barn ruins. Dennis Farm served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, with men and women who died along their journey among the fifty souls interred in the cemetery.
TRIBUTES TO INFLUENTIAL BLACK AMERICANS
11. Daisy Lampkin House
Born in Reading in 1888, Daisy Lampkin was a suffragette and one of the best-known leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1912, Lampkin held her first women’s suffrage meeting in her home in Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh and in 1929 was named co-chairperson of the national NAACP's anti-lynching campaign in Pennsylvania. She served as the NAACP’s national field secretary from 1935 to 1947 and then as a member of the board of directors from 1947 to 1965, tirelessly working for the rights of African Americans and women.
12. The Old Eighth Ward
Take a virtual tour of Harrisburg’s Old Eighth Ward and its rich history as the heart of the city’s African American, Jewish, and immigrant neighborhoods until it was systematically demolished between 1919 and 1940 to make way for an expansion of the state Capitol grounds and “beautification” project. The project destroyed the neighborhood, displacing hundreds of residents, businesses, churches, schools, and other mainstays of the community, as clearly shown on an interactive map comparing a 1901 city map with modern-day aerial photos of the same locale. A monument now stands adjacent the State Capitol building commemorating the neighborhood, the 50th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
13. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza
Located on South Fraser Street, between West College Avenue and West Beaver Avenue, sits Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. Officially opened in 2017, the site was created to commemorate and remind those of King’s legacy as an advocate for peace, equality, and justice. Before his historic “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, King visited Penn State’s University Park campus on Jan. 21, 1965, and spoke to an estimated crowd of 8,000 people in Rec Hall. Can’t see the plaza person? State College also offers a virtual tour of the Plaza to view in the comfort of your own home.
14. Patriots of African Descent Monument
King of Prussia
The Patriots of African Descent Monument was built to honor Black soldiers who served during the Valley Forge Encampment in 1777. This structure is comprised of a granite block and a bronze bas-relief that includes carved texts. The bronze relief depicts three soldiers, all wearing military uniforms, each holding a musket in hand. On the back of the monument are the words, “In Honor of the PATRIOTS OF AFRICAN DESCENT who served, suffered, and sacrificed during the Valley Forge Encampment 1777-1778.”
15. Harry A. Roberts Plaza / King Memorial
The Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial was dedicated on Jan. 17, 2011. The statue makes this memorial site the only in the world to have a statue memorial dedicated to both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Martin Luther & Coretta Scott King Memorial on January 17, 2011. The memorial and affiliated programs honor the King Family and address issues of civil rights, world peace, and economic equity for all.
16. Fairview Park
Developed in 1945 by the Monongahela Valley Sunday School Association – a group of African American churches from Westmoreland and Allegheny counties – Fairview Park was Pennsylvania’s first and only Black-owned amusement park. The attraction provided safe and family-friendly entertainment for the community during segregation. At one point, the park had a roller coaster, merry-go-round, skating rink, and much more. In 2011, Fairview Park received recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.
17. John Brown House
Noted abolitionist, John Brown, occupied the upstairs bedroom of what is now known as the John Brown House during the summer of 1859 as he prepared for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. To remain undercover, he assumed the name of Dr. Isaac Smith and claimed to be scouting the area as an iron mine developer. Several famous abolitionists visited him that season including Frederick Douglass and Henry Kagi. A National Historic Site and owned by the Franklin County Historical Society, the house is open for tours, but it is highly recommended to call before visiting.
18. Little AME Bethel Church
Founded by former slaves, the Little Bethel AME Church (previously known as the African Methodist Episcopal Church) was a place where African Americans who were banned from other churches could come and worship. Constructed in 1868, the former church with its old red brick façade is currently being converted into a dedicated museum that will chronicle the building’s history as well as the stories of the African Americans who worshipped here and made lasting contributions to their community and the nation.
Check out the Underground Railroad webpage to learn more about the journey to freedom. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date on even more great ideas and historic places to visit around the commonwealth. Don’t forget to never miss an update and sign up for our monthly Happy Thoughts e-newsletter.