The African American Museum in Philadelphia is home to an amazing collection of objects and illustrations that chronicle and dramatically unfold the incredible story of the black Diaspora. A massive assortment of art, artifacts, period clothing, furniture, military weapons, industrial tools, musical instruments, photographs, diaries, documents, records, books, journals, paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, fiber and mixed-media works comprise our captivating collection.
The museum collects and preserves rare, unique and primary materials that document the history, literature, politics, and culture of peoples of African descent in Philadelphia and throughout the Americas, primarily in the twentieth century. Holdings include photographs, personal and family papers; records of organizations and institutions; subject or thematic collections; broadsides; programs and playbills; music; and books. Our collection showcases the Philadelphia story and beyond, civil rights organizations and activities, Negro baseball league memorabilia and the performing and visual arts.
Jack T. Franklin Collection
Selma to Montgomery March, 1965: Marchers sing “We Shall Overcome”; behind the children, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta. (Jack T. Franklin Collection, 1986.1.79, African American Museum in Philadelphia)
Jack T. Franklin(1922-2009) donated his collection of over 500,000 negatives and photographs to the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1986. The collection is a significant and extraordinary local history comprising virtually every social, cultural and political event in Philadelphia’s African American community during his lifetime, as well as all of the major events of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
During World War II, Franklin served as a photographer for the United States Army 1862nd Aviation Engineers in the South Pacific and later studied photography at the U.S. Army Signal Corps Photographic Center in Astoria, New York, where he became an instructor. He returned to Philadelphia after the war and became active in documenting social events and political activities in the city, in addition to being employed as a photographer and darkroom technician at Merlin Studios in Philadelphia. Franklin embarked on his journalistic career as a staff and freelance photographer for The Philadelphia Tribune—the oldest African American newspaper in the country—Ebony and Jet magazines, and The Pittsburgh Courier. The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Philadelphia Daily News, as well as other local and national publications and book publishers, purchased and published his photographs.
For the next forty years, he photographed political and social movements, including rallies, protest marches, and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Philadelphia, as well as in the south, becoming a major figure in photojournalism. The Jack Franklin Civil Rights Era Collection includes: the 1963 March on Washington; the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March; the 1968 Poor People’s March; as well as local political events, such as: the 1965 Girard College Protests, led by lawyer and President of the local chapter of the NAACP Cecil B. Moore, against the discriminatory policy of Girard College; the first major Black Power Rally, held in Philadelphia in 1966; and political rallies and events with guest speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Jesse Jackson and Stokely Carmichael, among others.
Throughout his career, Franklin photographed many notables including Thurgood Marshall, Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Malcolm X, Sidney Poitier, Julie and Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Rev. Leon Sullivan, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, as well as Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Ford and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He photographed many performers at the State and Uptown Theaters in Philadelphia, as well as other area venues, including Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, The Jackson 5, Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Ward Singers.
Philadelphia Civic Center Museum Collection
African drum: carved wood, leather, animal hide; probably a "Tamtam de Pimbawas" from Senegal, Africa. It is carried by a strap or chain which is slung around the neck of the player; used for functional purposes and for dances. (Civic Center Museum Collection, 2010.1.180, African American Museum in Philadelphia)
In 2003, The African American Museum in Philadelphia acquired a gift of over 400 African artifacts from the Philadelphia Civic Center Museum (formerly known as the Philadelphia Commercial Museum). This acquisition more than doubled the number of African artifacts in AAMP’s Collection. The majority of the objects had been exhibited in the Paris International Exposition of 1900 and the French Colonial Exposition of 1889, including weapons, tools, ceremonial objects, textiles, household goods and musical instruments from Western Africa—particularly Liberia, Senegal and Guinea. Many of the West African objects AAMP acquired are wood-carved, including bowls; musical instruments, tools, and stools. In addition to the artifacts from West Africa, the collection contains a small selection from Tunisia, including jewelry, leather footwear, harnesses, cushions, and trays. The North African objects of the Civic Center Museum were acquired chiefly from the Berlin and Vienna Ethnological Museums in the 19th century.
History of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum/Civic Center Museum
Philadelphia Commercial Museum; view in African collection showing handicraft; ivory, ostrich feathers, etc. [caption taken from label with photograph]; from a photo scrapbook of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, taken circa 1910.
The Philadelphia Commercial Museum opened in 1897 at 34th and Spruce Streets, and was the first institution in the United States to actively promote America's businesses and industries in foreign markets, and especially in the emerging markets of Africa, Asia and Central America. The idea for the Commercial Museum came from University of Pennsylvania botany professor Dr. William Wilson, who was inspired by his visit to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Wilson purchased much of the objects in order to fashion a permanent world’s fair exposition in Philadelphia. Soon the Commercial Museum became the unofficial repository for artifacts from world’s fairs and by the early twentieth century was among the biggest museum of any kind in the nation and became a destination not just for businesses, but for school groups, locals and tourists as well.
There was an attempt in the 1950’s to revitalize the museum and its surrounding area with a new public space dubbed the Civic Center, incorporating Convention Hall and the museum and renaming it the Philadelphia Civic Center Museum. The Philadelphia Civic Center Museum closed in 1991. The Civic Center’s hundreds of fascinating collections were distributed to museums in the region, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The University Museum and the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
The preservation, cataloguing and re-housing of the Jack T. Franklin Collection and the Civic Center Museum Collection was made possible with funding from “Save America’s Treasures”, administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
To view the Jack T. Franklin and Civic Center Museum Collections, please scroll down to the link for AAMP’s Collections (highlighted in red) and enter the keyword(s) “Franklin” or “Civic Center”.
Requests for reproduction of the objects or images from the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s Collection must be made in writing. If the request is accepted, a contract will be sent to the requestor stating the terms of usage and any associated fees.
Permission to publish or quote from unpublished manuscripts or from published items under copyright, must first be obtained from the copyright holder. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure that permission. In many instances, contact information can be provided for copyright holders or donors. Additionally, permission to quote from manuscripts must be obtained.
Requests should be sent to Collections@aampmuseum.org or The African American Museum in Philadelphia, Collections Department, 701 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19106.