During the Civil Rights Movement, African American activists held rallies and conventions at the Church of the Advocate. But people started to notice the absence of black figures from the church artwork. Father Washington remembered: “there were people who came into the church, and as they looked around they saw nothing and no one, including the figures in the stained glass windows, with whom they could identify. Everything they looked at was white, white, white. ‘How can we look at this white image for our liberation when it is our experience that it is the white man who is our oppressor?’" Upon hearing these questions, Father Washington realised that “we could see the black experience revealed and defined in religious terms, and find parallel situations in what we read in the Old Testament every Sunday.” He commissioned a series of murals for the side of the church, painted by Walter Edmonds and Richard Watson, that show parallels between the experiences endured by Hebrew slaves in Egypt and those suffered by African slaves in America.
In 2002, with support from the Freedom School Mural Arts Project, Parris Stancell created a mural in West Philadelphia titled Freedom School. The mural sets the faces of Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass against the backdrop of the American and Black Liberation flags. It depicts Douglass in his younger years, and refers to Malcolm X as Malcolm Shabazz – a composite of his names in the latter years of his life; Malcolm X and el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. The mural also champions women's activiism through Ella Baker’s quotation, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
John Lewis and Delia King’s Leidy School Mural is in West Phildelphia. Painted in 2004, the mural fuses history with contemporary scenes of children playing. The young African American children to the right-hand side of the mural are positioned inwards, absorbing the history of their city. The antislavery leader, Frederick Douglass, looks out to the viewer.
This large mural by Joshua Sarantitis, Lincoln Legacy, can be read from left to right, moving from Africa to America. The shape of Africa adorns the backdrop until the wooden boards of the slave ship transform into the American flag. Around the young child’s neck are three medallions: Abraham Lincoln’s face, Josiah Wedgwood’s abolitionist icon “Am I Not a Man and a Brother,” and Frederick Douglass' face. Made up of over 1 million glass mosaic tiles, it is the largest Venetian glass tile mural in Philadelphia at over 10,000 square feet. Located a block away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall, it is one of the few murals to be created in Philadelphia’s wealthier districts.
On May 25, 2011, a mural titled The Faces That Shape Us, was dedicated in Uncle David’s Playground. Mr Kenneth Gamble (pictured on the mural), the founder and chairman of Universal Companies, had bought a rundown building in South Philadelphia and tore it down. He wanted to bring something positive to the neighbourhood and so he funded a local children’s playground, complete with a mural. Muralists Keir Johnston and Ernel Martinez started the mural in the summer of 2010. The mural features Frederick Douglass and other historical figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver and James Baldwin, as well as local figures Dr. Emmett Chapell, Judge Frederica Jackson, and Faatimah Gamble. The mural was developed through a partnership with Universal Companies, the Philadelphia Prison System and the City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services.
In 2006, muralist Joseph Tiberino, along with his sons Gabe and Raphael, painted Wall of Black Heroes for the African American Museum of Philadelphia. When creating the mural, the idea was to provide a portable piece of work that would later be housed in the streets. Measuring 4ft by 12ft, the mural was created on such a scale so as to provide the audience with the sense that the figures of history were life-size. The mural takes the audience on a historical journey, starting with a self-emancipating shackled slave, then moving to the abolitionists Frederick Douglass andHarriet Tubman, then Angela Davis and Malcolm X, Spike Lee, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong and Martin Luther King Jr. The mural is now on the side of the Municipal Services Building next to City Hall.