Researching Philadelphia’s Black History
Written by: Jada Yolich
I’ve just finished up my first few weeks here at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia and my experience has been nothing short of inspirational. As a Black American, being able to conduct historical research that centers Black folk’s role in the creation of the United States–and at the very birthplace of the American republic–has been extremely powerful. The stories of the enslaved people who built America are so often undermined and disregarded, so I am excited and proud to be a part of Independence’s mission to showcase the lives of these nation-makers to the American public.
The project I’m currently involved with is a part of the Independence’s new commitment to telling the stories of African-Americans who were living in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary period. Philly has a long and rich history of being a hub for Black social, religious, intellectual and cultural life and it can all be traced back to the first enslaved and free persons of color that had lived in the city alongside its Quaker founders. Those early African, African-Americans, and people of color–particularly those who were self-liberated–are who this project is about.
Much of my time is spent carrying out independent research, but I’ve also had the chance to explore some of the park’s living museums and even set up some exhibits!
Even got to see the Liberty Bell for the first time!
Ironically enough, the Liberty Bell was not given that name until 19th century abolitionists and anti-slavery groups began to call it such. Hoping to call attention to their cause and the hypocrisy that existed among white slave holders who believed themselves to be slaves of the British, abolitionists subverted American ideals of liberation and freedom by co-opting a national symbol that represented the new American Republic (but not the African-Americans that built it) and transforming it into a call for the ending of the “peculiar institution” by referring to it as the Liberty Bell.
My work here at Independence has just begun and I am excited to see my research takes me!
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