Philadelphia’s 6th Street: Avenue of Freedom

Sixth Street in Philadelphia, from Vine to South, is unmatched in American history for its sites about Africans and American freedom leaders who rejected the profits and shackles of slavery. While this ten block area marks some of the most heinous events in the dark saga of Philadelphia race relations, it likewise marks momentous triumphs in the struggle to define freedom for all. The Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides (APT) was instrumental in pushing through an initiative to rename this stretch of Sixth Street between Vine and Lombard “Avenue of Freedom.”
Relevant sites include:
1. Franklin Square, 1681 (original name: North East Publick Square or North East Common. Renamed in honor of Benjamin Franklin in 1825.)
200 N 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Ben Franklin (1706-1790) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, printer, statesman, slave owner, and runaway indentured servant. He stood for personal freedom and national independence. He became an abolitionist in the 1780’s and wrote an anti-slavery letter to Congress in 1790. He enslaved five Africans: King, Othello, Robert, Jemima, and Steven. (1)
2. Ben Franklin Bridge, 1926 (original name: Delaware River Bridge. Renamed Benjamin Franklin Bridge in 1955.)
Philadelphia walkway access: 5th and Race Street, across from the U.S. Mint. NJ walkway access in Camden: 4th and Pearl Street.
The Ben and William Franklin story is about a family choosing sides when fighting for independence, freedom, liberty, and power. The British offered Blacks freedom for service. (2)
3. Sculpture: “Bolt of Lighting,” 1984, by Isamu Nguchi. (3)
Benjamin Franklin Bridge, 5th and Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
4. Pennsylvania Hall, May 1838, category: Women’s Rights.
Historical marker at 177 N Independence Mall W, 6th Street south of Race, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Angelina Grimke, the Forten sisters, and other abolitionists attended the Women’s Anti-Slavery Convention at Philadelphia’s brand new Pennsylvania Hall in 1838. Within 4 days of its opening, the Hall was burned down by rioters. The angry community attacked suffragists, Africans, and abolitionists. A church and a Black orphanage were also burned that day. (4)
5. Eleanor Harris’ School for African Students, 1793, category: Educational Freedom.
Was at 6th and Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (5)
6. Sculpture: “Phaedrus,” 1977, by Beverly Pepper, category: Greek Democracy.
Philadelphia Federal Reserve, 150 N 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (6)
 7. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, 1976, by architects Ewing, Cole, Cherry, and Parsky, category: Economic Freedom.
10 N. Independence Mall W., Philadelphia, PA 19106 (7)
8. National Constitution Center, 2003, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (original design of main exhibit and visitor experience by Ralph Appelbaum Associates).
525 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Here is the story of the constitution and amendments with interactive exhibits. The newest exhibit as of January 2020 is “Reconstruction and the Civil War.” At the Center is also offered the multi-media presentation “Freedom Rising.” (8)
9. James A. Byrne United States Courthouse, 1975, category: Civil Rights
601 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., African American civil rights advocate and author, served here. Sculpture: “Bicentennial Dawn,” by Louise Nevelson, 1976
James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse (interior), 601 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (9)
10. Fountain: “Voyage of Ulysses,” David Von Schlegell, 1977.
James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse (exterior), 601 Market Street (west side of 6th between Market and Arch), Philadelphia, PA 19106 (10)
11. Declaration (Graff) House (originally built 1775, torn down in 1883. Rebuilt from photos in 1975.) Category: Freedom and Independence.
700 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
This is where the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson. (11)
12. The President’s House: “Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation,” 2011, category: Slavery and Money.
524-30 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
This exhibit tells the story of Philadelphia mayor John F. Street, ATAC (Avenging the Ancestors Coalition), Martha Washington, George Washington, and Ona Judge and the part they played in defining freedom. (12)
13. Liberty Bell Center, 2003, category: Abolitionist, Suffragist.
526 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
The world’s most famous symbol of Liberty (13)
14. Congress Hall, 1789
Intersection of Chestnut and 6th Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19106
  • Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
  • Slave Trade Act of 1794
  • Petition of Absalom Jones, and others, people of color, and freemen against the slave trade to the Coast of Guinea, January 2, 1800 (60 Black signers). (14)
15. Independence Hall (Pennsylvania State House and State House Yard), 1735
520 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
  • Declaration of Independence and PA Constitution, 1776
  • Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, 1780, and Amendment in 1788
  • The Negro Robert Tharp, 1794, PA Supreme Court
  • Belt vs. Dalby, 1786, PA Supreme Court
  • Respublica vs. Negro Betsy, 1786, PA Supreme Court
  • Frederick Douglass speech “Address on Slavery,” 1844. (15)
16. Independence Hall, Federal Court on 2nd floor, category: Personal Freedom.
520 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
  • Trials involving the rescue of Jane Johnson, 1855
  • Trial of abolitionist Thomas Garret, 1848
  • Trial of fugitive slave Stephen Bennett, 1851
  • Trials from the Riot of Christiana, 1851 (16)
17. Walnut Street Prison, 1775, category: Personal Freedom.
Historical marker on Walnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19106 
The first state penitentiary, 1790. The birthplace of our modern prison system. (17)
18. Washington Square, 1682 (original name: Southeast Square or Southeast Commons also known as Congo Square. Renamed after George Washington in 1825), category: Graveyard and Culture.
210 W. Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA 19106
  • Revolutionary War veterans buried here in 1781.
  • African graveyard petition, 1782. Signed by free black men James Black, Samuel Saviel, Oronoco Dexter, Cuff Douglas, Aram Prymus, and William Gray. (18)
19. Curtis Center Building, 1910, by Edgar Seeler, category: Civil Rights.
601 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106
The Saturday Evening Post was published here. Following his contract there, Norman Rockwell published a print of his painting The Problem We All Live With (aka Ruby Bridges) in Look magazine, 1964. Curtis Center is very near the original site planned for James Logan’s Library (Loganian Library) on 6th Street. (His personal 3000+ book collection went to the Library Company after his death.)
20. Sarah and Anna Allen House, 1832, category: Underground Railroad.
6th & Pine Streets, Philadelphia
The house of Richard Allen’s daughters. (Richard Allen’s house was on Spruce between 4th and 5th Streets.)
21. Francis (Frank) Johnson, 1792-1844
Historical Marker: 65 S. 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
A very popular 19th century composer and musician. (18)
22.  St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, founded 1787, category: Religion.
Historical Marker: 5th St. and St. James Place, Philadelphia, PA 19106. 
Organized in 1792 as an outgrowth of the Free African Society, formed 1787. The original church edifice stood here. Under the ministry of the Rev. Absalom Jones (1746-1818), a former slave, this became the nation’s first Black Episcopal church. (19) (Absalom Jones’ home was the southeast corner of Pine and 3rd Streets.)
23. Mother Bethel A.M.E Church, 1794.
419 S 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147, Historical Marker: 6th and Lombard Streets.                                                                                 Founded on ground purchased by Richard Allen in 1787, this congregation is the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. The present structure, erected 1889, replaces three earlier churches on this site. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court created an Independent A.M.E. Church in 1816 (20). The First Colored Convention is held here in 1830.
24. Statue: “Richard Allen,” Fern Cunningham-Terry, 2016.
Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, 419 S 6th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
25. Free African Society, 1787
Historical Marker: 6th and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Established in 1787 under the leadership of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, this organization fostered identity, leadership, and unity among Blacks and became the forerunner of the first African American churches in Philadelphia.
26. Starr Garden Park, 1895
600 block of Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19147
Black Republicans like Gilbert A. Ball (controversial politician) and Octavius V. Catto were the heart of the Black community in Philadelphia the second half of the 19th century. Catto was murdered during the 1871 voting riot. This is only one of the riots which happened around the Starr Garden Recreation Center and the 7th Ward. (21) (Catto was murdered near his home at 814 South Street.)
27. W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868-1963.
Historical Marker: 6th and Rodman Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19147; Mural: 6th and South Streets
Sociologist W.E.B Du Bois conducted a survey of blacks living in Philadelphia’s Seventh Ward. The survey, the first scientific study of race, served as the basis for his 1899 paper, The Philadelphia Negro. (22)
28. Engine Company #11 (Established 1871, a segregated African-American company from 1919, and desegregated in 1952.)
6th and South Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19147
A segregated black fire company that served the same area Du Bois surveyed. It is part of the South Street tradition: music, clothing, hippies, and style. This street echo’s the stories of success, from the rise from the slave ships  to the Mayor’s Office in  City Hall.
— Written by APT members Joseph W. Becton and Ernest Rouse and edited by Marianne Ruane