“The voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.” -- John Green, "The Fault in Our Stars"

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Safe Places

     My wife and I drove into Philadelphia so I could get fitted for a custom brace for my arthritic ankle. I don't know if it'll do any good; but it's worth a try. While we were in the city, we decided to make a day of it.

     We walked up to Washington Square, a six-acre park in Center City that features a statue of George Washington, as well as the tomb of an unknown Revolutionary war soldier. To me, the Revolutionary war seems abstract and far away. But this park is set on the site of a former cemetery. And when you stand in the park, gazing at the statue of Washington and the tomb, and realize there are hundreds of dead soldiers buried under this park, under your very feet, it brings home the terror and tragedy of even a long-ago war.

George Washington and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier

     We continued to the Curtis building, on the north edge on the park, once the headquarters of the company that published the Saturday Evening Post -- famous for its Norman Rockwell cover art -- as well as Ladies Home Journal, Jack and Jill and several other publications. Now the building has been developed into apartments and offices, and features a fountain and a wall-size mosaic in the lobby. 

The museum at the corner of 7th St. and Arch, north of Washington Square

     Our real destination, though, was the nearby African American museum, founded during the 1976 bicentennial, the first museum funded by a municipality to preserve the heritage of African Americans.

     The first floor offers a panoramic history of the struggle to overcome slavery from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War era. The second floor focuses on art -- some abstract pieces representing visual poetry, and a group of paintings by Miami artist Purvis Young (1943 - 2010). He painted scenes on whatever surfaces he could find -- scraps of wood, pieces of cardboard, automobile hubcaps and other trash he picked up in his neighborhood.

A Derrick Adams collage with Green Book in background

     My favorite exhibit was the Derrick Adams installation called Sanctuary, a group of paintings, sculptures and collages inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guide for black American travelers published from 1936 to 1967 by New York postal worker Victor Hugo Green.

"Keep Your Head Down and Your Eyes Open" features driving hats that represent cars

     You might be familiar with the book if you saw the 2018 movie Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, which followed the story of a black piano player on tour through the American South in 1962.

From the Green Book -- Mr. Green had a sense of humor

      The exhibit is set against a background of facsimile pages from the actual Green Book, listing hotels, restaurants, beauty salons and other "safe places" across the United States. Of course there were listings in Arkansas and Alabama. But there were also safe places for New York and Massachusetts ... because discrimination knew no region or boundary, and people needed places of safety and refuge even in the Northeast.


ApacheDug said...

What great photos! Loved seeing this Green Book exhibit Tom (loved the movie as well) thank you for sharing. 🙂

DUTA said...

Why did they have to turn the former cemetery into a park and not in a memorial place of some kind?! I would feel terrible to walk in this park knowing that lots of soldiers were burried here.

Tabor said...

I did not see the movie, but maybe will stream it sometime. I have yet to get into the African American museum here in DC. You have to reserve a time and I never know when I will be up there and have the time! I would like to see it when it is less crowded anyway. I love Philly. Such a pretty historic city.

Arkansas Patti said...

Don't know if my comment went through. You really had a historical day.
I haven't seen the movie but want to. Mr. Green did have a sense of humor. That list could be called the seven ways to be in serious trouble:)

Red said...

This would be a very interesting museum to visit.

DrumMajor said...

Break in your new brace gradually. If it rubs against skin or makes it red, let them know, and they can adjust it or add padding. Prevention is easier than trying to heal a wound. I've seen all kinds of "owies" on patients.

A big cemetery is sometimes overwhelming. That feeling of imagining a battle going on where you're standing is interesting. I saw a reenactment of a Civil War battle. That really made me realize people got shot and died, or from infections from their wounds, right where I was standing.

I'd heard of the Green Book from a AAA magazine article I think. Need to see the movie. It was a sorry situation then and still is. Linda in Kansas

Olga said...

I have not been to Philadelphia since I was a little kid. I had the idea to take my grandson on a history tour during his summer vacation -- disrupted by his father's sudden illness and death, then COVID and COVID. This summer may be the price of gas, but he is getting to the age of summer jobs.

Tom at Sightings said...

Patti -- I replied yesterday but somehow MY comment did not go through. But yours did. And as I said, I was so impressed that Mr. Green kept his sense of humor considering the times and circumstances under which he lived.

Btw, Green Book movie is available on Amazon for $3.99.

Jennifer (UnfoldAndBegin) said...

That feeling of terror and tragedy upon realizing you're standing where so many died is something I know well from visiting Gettysburg several times. My father would take us on vacations to visit historical Civil War and Revolutionary War battle sites.

Ed said...

I spent a week in Philadelphia precovid and had the time of my life steeping in history. The African Museum was on my radar but I ran out of time before I got to it.

Wisewebwoman said...

I loved the book and the movie, Tom, thanks for the tour.


Rebecca Olkowski said...

The Museum sounds fascinating. I loved the film the Green Book also. We have an African American Museum here in Los Angeles at Exposition Park. I haven't been there yet but your post has inspired me.

Linda Myers said...

Sounds like a bunch of walking with your arthritic ankle. Hope the brace helped.

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

I do hope the ankle brace is a polka-dancing success!
I'd love to go to this museum! I am constantly amazed at the strength and ingenuity of people. What they've gone through and continue to endure. They are much stronger and more determined than I ever would have been.

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago a friend and I were driving from Nashville to Las Vegas and stopped in Memphis to pay homage to MLK at the Lorraine Hotel. We found that the hotel is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum and thought we would spend an hour or so checking it out, and then be on our way again. It is an incredible, very moving museum and we were there for hours, until they closed for the day. I live in Pennsylvania, so I'm glad to know of the museum in Philadelphia and will include it the next time I am in the area. Thanks.

Meryl Baer said...

Interesting walk-about. I have been to some of those places, but not the African American Museum. Will check it out.

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Snowbrush said...

I only stayed in Philly once, and the fellow I stayed with took me to see the city from his plane. That was not long after the police raid on MOVE, so the ruins from that form my dominant memory: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/8/8/20747198/philadelphia-bombing-1985-move