A City Transformed

An exhibition about the historic tide of African Americans to the North and its impact on Philadelphia's culture and industry


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Scribe Video Center, Slought

Contributing Institutions

BlackStar Film Festival


Louis Massiah, Charles Hardy


This exhibition is organized in conjunction with Scribe Video Center's The Great Migration, which is supported by Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the Department of History of Art and Center for African Studies, University of Pennsylvania, Lincoln Financial Foundation and Hamilton Family Foundation.

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web


Slought and Scribe Video Center are pleased to announce "A City Transformed," a pop-up exhibition on display from August 3-12, 2016 that explores the historic tide of African Americans moving North during The Great Migration, and their transformative impact on the culture and industry of Philadelphia. The exhibition, organized in conjunction with the BlackStar Film Festival, will feature two site-specific installations by artists Mendi + Keith Obadike and Lonnie Graham, and a selection of documentary films from Scribe's "Precious Places Community History Project." It will open on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 from 7:00-8:30pm, and will be followed on Friday, August 5 from 6:00-8:00pm by a public conversation with the artists and project co-director Louis Massiah.

The Great Migration was one of the largest and most rapid mass internal movements in history. The post-Reconstruction era saw a dramatic reversal of advancement through the terror tactics of the the Klu Klux Klan, as well as the development of Jim Crow laws across the South. The North and Midwest became mythologized as places of racial, socio-cultural, and economic opportunity, where one could find better jobs, safety, suffrage, and educational opportunity. The Migration of Black Americans also gained momentum during World War I through the efforts of Northern businessmen seeking to fill the labor shortage. Northern companies offered incentives to Black workers to relocate, including free transportation and low-income housing. Philadelphia, which had the largest free Black population in the United States during the Civil War, became a new magnet for those moving North.

In Philadelphia, Black men found employment in the steel mills and munitions plants in Nicetown, Eddystone, Coatesville, and Carney's Point, New Jersey; they manned the shipyards in Philadelphia, Chester, and Camden; worked on the docks and wharves and in the sugar mills and oil refineries that lined the Delaware River, and did the hard physical labor needed throughout the region. Thousands of southern women found employment cleaning, cooking, and caring for the children of white families, while others worked in the city's factories.

The Great Migration also inspired new forms of creativity within the Black community, and contributed to the Harlem Renaissance and other movements. Yet this creativity , as Isabel Wilkerson reflects in The Warmth of Other Suns, was grounded in "six million Black Southerners [moving] out of the terror of Jim Crow to an uncertain existence in the North and Midwest." By the end of the Great Depression and the First Great Migration, some 1.6 million people had fled the South.

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Ancestral Correspondence
Lonnie Graham

Ancestral Correspondence: Looking Back at Our Future uses photographs, found objects, and storytelling to highlight the events motivating individuals and families to transverse vast tracts of land, to leave families, to initiate new lifestyles, and to establish themselves in unknown communities. As he traveled the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic United States, Graham explored the ways in which families stayed connected and how the stories and ideas were conveyed. Young people from the Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club worked with Graham to document and record interviews of community members who traveled from the South to create an inclusive, multi-generational project.

Lonnie Graham is an artist, photographer and cultural activist whose work addresses the integral role of the artist in society and seeks to re-establish artists as creative problem solvers. He is a Pew Fellow and Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University. Graham is formerly Acting Associate Director of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia Pennsylvania and served as Director of Photography at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an urban arts organization dedicated to arts and education for at risk youth.

The installation at Slought is a collaboration with John Stone, who is a sculptor and designer who has worked in the past as a construction manager at Project H.O.M.E. and helped clear out St. Elizabeth's Church before its demolition. He has previously exhibited his work at the Levy Gallery at the Moore College of Art and Design.

Sonic Migration
Mendi + Keith Obadike

Sonic Migration: Homes is a sound and video installation that explores the rich musical history of the church and the role that Tindley Temple played for newcomers in Philadelphia during the first Great Migration. The project is a meditation on the desire for sanctuary, using audio and video recordings of the architecture of the church and lyrics from the song "Better Home" by Dr. Charles Albert Tindley. Tindley is the renown preacher, activist, and composer who was pastor of the church during The Great Migration.

Mendi + Keith Obadike make music, art and literature. Their works include The Sour Thunder, an Internet opera, Crosstalk: American Speech Music, and Big House / Disclosure, a 200 hour public sound installation. They have contributed sounds/music to projects by wide range of artists including loops for soul singer D'Angelo's first album and a score for playwright Anna Deavere Smith at the Lincoln Center Institute. They were invited to develop their first "opera-masquerade" by writer Toni Morrison at her Princeton Atelier. Their music has been featured on New York and Chicago public radio, as well as on Juniradio (104.5) in Berlin.

"A railing divided the stairs onto the train, one side of the railing for white passengers, the other for colored, so the soles of their shoes would not touch the same stair. He boarded on the colored side of the railing, a final reminder from the place of his birth of the absurdity of the world he was leaving.

Leaving as he did, he figured he would never set foot in Eustis again for as long as he lived. And as he settled in for the twenty-three-hour train ride up the coast of the Atlantic, he had no desire to have anything to do with the town he grew up in, the state of Florida, or the South as a whole, for that matter".

-- Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration