-Courtesy of Philly PR Girl
South Street Headhouse District is honoring Black History Month with a self-guided tour that will take visitors throughout the district to locations that have shaped the history and culture of the city. Black History and South Street History are inseparable: the all-Black Engine #11 fire station; the Seventh Ward and sociological studies of W.E.B. DuBois; Black community members like educator and civil rights activist Octavius V. Catto, artist Conrad Booker, and skateboarder Roger Browne; and the origin stories for would-be famous performers like Boyz II Men and The Roots. The growth and evolution of South Street would not be possible without the cultural input and impact of Black community members, neighbors, and business owners.
Stops along the route include:
Avenue of the Roots, located on the 600 block of East Passyunk Avenue, honors long-running hometown hip-hop act, the Roots. As aspiring young musicians, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson attended nearby music schools and busked on South Street corners in the late 80s/early 90s. In 2000, photographer Annie Leibovitz captured an iconic portrait of The Roots on the corner of East Passyunk and South Street as they performed for an onlooking crowd. Later, in a 2017 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Black Thought proclaimed that his “favorite historical landmark is Fifth and South Street, right off the corner of Passyunk Ave,” because “[i]t’s where the Roots first started.” In February 2020, the 600 block of East Passyunk Avenue was renamed “Avenue of The Roots” in honor of the dynamic and influential hip-hop group.
Several murals throughout the South Street Headhouse District are featured on this tour, including the one created by Philadelphia artist Jim Houser in late 2022. Located on the side of Nocturnal Skateshop’s new location at 5th and Kater Streets, this mural is a tribute to Black Philadelphian skateboarding legend Roger Browne. Immortalized at 612 S. 5th Street with the help of Mural Arts, Roger was and continues to be a staple in Philadelphia’s skate scene.
In the summer of 2022, a new mural honoring seven Black trans women was added to the wall above Philly AIDS Thrift at 710 S. 5th Street. Created by lead artist Ali M Williams in collaboration with Mural Arts and RHD Morris Home—a residential recovery program for trans and gender non-conforming individuals—the mural is titled “All At Once” and depicts Kyra Cordova; Charlene Arcila; Nizah Morris; Michelle Tamika Washington; Shantee Tucker; London Kiki Chanel; and Dominique Rem’mie Fells alongside the words “We are the past, the present, and the future. All at once.”
The filming locations of the Boyz II Men “Motownphilly” Music Video account for several stops on the tour. The iconic Philadelphia vocal group Boyz II Men released their first single, “Motownphilly,” off their debut album Cooleyhighharmony, in 1991. In the first verse, they croon “Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD / The East Coast family / Never skipped a beat / While cooling on South Street.” In the music video for this song, the group was filmed in a car driving down South Street at 3rd and South Streets. Other parts of the video were filmed under the Headhouse Shambles in front of the restaurant currently known as Cavanaugh’s Headhouse, located at 421 S 4th Street.
The South Street Headhouse District’s Black History on South Street: A Self-Guided Tour will offer these and many more iconic, Black historical landmarks throughout the district. Black History continues to thrive on South Street at their Black Owned Businesses. Make sure to visit and support these shops, stores, salons, and restaurants throughout the self-guided tour.
For more information on tour locations and all things South Street, you can also follow South Street Headhouse District on Instagram, Twitter and like the Facebook page. For more information, you can visit SouthStreet.com.