From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement by Andrea Burns, among other things, shares the story behind the creation of the African American Museum of Philadelphia. When books talk about details leading up to an important event they risk overwhelming readers with details, names and acronyms. Here is a brief overview regarding the establishment of the African American Museum of Philadelphia, starting with background influences in Philadelphia society.
Philadelphia’s Bicentennial was scheduled to be celebrated for the year 1976. In 1965, the group responsible for initiating Bicentennial projects (Philadelphia ’76) decided that the theme of the event would be “human values.”  They outlined the three primary purposes of the Bicentennial program in a document called “Detroit Bicentennial: Catalyst for Progress.” Within the document they decided to redirect the people to pursue the unrealized ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They also sought to celebrate the city’s diverse ethnic heritages, and regenerate the city into something more beautiful.  A man named William Rafsky suggested recruiting more members of the Black community into the group to help execute an exhibition that reflects an accurate portrayal of the role Black people played in developing the city, state, and Nation. He gathered support to secure the success of his idea. 
From the beginning it was decided that the museum would be planned and executed by black groups and organizations. Philadelphia’s black community wanted to control the presentation of their history. Who better to accurately portray African American history than members within that group? White Philadelphians seemed to have a more hands off approach regarding the topic. Caroline Golab, a white woman, wrote “if the exhibit never materializes, it is thus their fault not ours.” 
Philadelphia Mayor Rizzo was warned that white working class voters would not reelect a mayor who funded an African American museum. He informed Clarence Farmer—one of the first African American members of the original Bicentennial planning group (Philadelphia ’76)—that the funding for the history museum had been killed. Instead, $8.5 million would go toward a Living History Museum that dealt with American history without singling out any specific ethnic group.  Plans were made for a temporary African American history exhibit to appease people during the Bicentennial. Surprisingly, people who were originally opposed to the construction of a permanent black museum protested. City Council president George X. Schwartz spoke out against scrapping the idea to avoid embarrassment and violence during the Bicentennial.  After that, Mayor Rizzo publicly pledged his solid support for the permanent African American museum. Some called it “political pandering to powerful black activists.”  Regardless, $2.5 million was approved for construction of the museum.
Theodore V. Cam, an African American architect was hired to create an architectural study for the location of the permanent black history museum. His study was published in 1974. Criteria for the site considered: available building space, cost, pedestrian access, public transit access, the physical character of the neighborhood surrounding the museum, the presence/work of neighborhood organizations, and accessibility to diverse groups of people—rich and poor as well as black and white.  Society Hill was deemed most suitable for the construction site, but the Society Hill Civic Association (SHCA) immediately opposed the decision. They argued the museum would violate zoning ordinances, create parking problems, and that the museum was too big to fit into the area. Mayor Rizzo echoed African American sentiments when he stated that “many are opposed to it because it involves blacks” but the SHCA stayed careful to avoid signs of racism. They eventually agreed that the museum could be made provided that it followed resolutions which limited operating hours, the number of visitors to the museum, food sales in or around the museum, and the use of interior space within the museum.  Proponents of the museum were faced with a choice: compromise the design of the museum to keep it located at Society Hill and not have it open by the Bicentennial, or keep the design but choose a new location.
It was decided that the museum should open for the Bicentennial celebration. A mock funeral was held to recognize the loss of Society Hill as a site. Museum construction broke ground on the corner of 7th and Arch street, a business district at the edge of Philadelpha Chinatown that was isolated from where African Americans in Philadelphia live and work. The museum stands there to this day.
 Andrea A. Burns, From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), 43.
 Storefront to Monument, 44.
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