A couple of years ago, I had submitted the proposal to Chicago Review Press for America’s Black Founders: Revolutionary Heroes and Early Leaders. I had not yet been offered the contract to write the book when my family decided to take a family vacation. My husband, Jeff, and I live in southern California but I’m from the small town of Everett, PA. Our vacation plans included traveling with our two adult sons to visit my family in Pennsylvania. We decided to fly into New York City to see a Broadway show, then drive to sightsee in Philadelphia, and finally drive to visit my family.
During this trip, I was hoping with all I was worth that I would land the contract to write the book on America’s Black Founders. In our travel plans, we included key sites both in New York City as well as Philadelphia that were rich in African American history.
The main place I wanted to go in Philadelphia was the Richard Allen Museum. It is housed in the basement area of the beautiful Mother Bethel AME Church, the church that Richard Allen founded. Richard Allen was the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of his day during the founding years of our nation. Social activitist, powerful preacher, and community leader, this trailblazer forged a path of freedom for others to follow in his footsteps.
My family and I arrived at the museum just before it opened. We had planned specifically on visiting there on Juneteenth, an important holiday celebrating the day freedom arrived for slaves in Texas after the end of the Civil War. Along with the other museum visitors there that day, we were met by a reporter from a Philadelphia newspaper who interviewed us about why we chose to celebrate Juneteenth at the Richard Allen Museum. What an exciting opening that was to our special day!
Then, we went inside the museum. We saw the pulpit Richard Allen made with his very own hands when he first started to preach at this church in the late 1700s and early 1800s. We saw the guns he used with the African American volunteers he helped lead to protect Philadelphia from British attack during the War of 1812. We saw the beautiful blue and white dishes, plates, and dinnerware his family used in their home to eat their meals.
I had researched and studied about the life of this great Founding Father, but seeing things such as the very dishes he ate on and the pulpit he carved out of wood with his own hands made him come alive to me as never before.
The museum allowed us to take pictures of the artifacts in the museum, and after we returned home, I eventually was offered a contract to write the children’s nonfiction book America’s Black Founders. The amazing thing was that because this book has over 100 images and photographs in it, I was able to use so many of the photographs I took just as a sightseer on vacation. Its website is at
One of Richard Allen’s close friends was James Forten, a sailmaker who was one of the wealthiest merchants of Philadelphia and whose family became some of the most influential black abolitionists in our nation over a span of three generations from the Revolutionary War era on up through the Civil War. James Forten’s home is still there in Philadelphia, so we found it. It’s currently a residence, so someone lives there today. A beautiful brick building in historic Philadelphia, it’s hard to describe the feeling I had as I walked up to his front door and imagined him walking out the door and down the street.
I knew the address of his childhood home, too. Even though that building no longer exists, we drove to that spot. I stood on the sidewalk where his house was, and to my surprise, I discovered that I could see Independence Hall through the treetops. I simply had not realized that James Forten lived close enough to Independence Hall to see it! This experience really made a difference in how I viewed James Forten. I already knew he had heard the Declaration of Independence when it was read aloud for the very first time in front of Independence Hall. He was about nine years old at that time and always recalled how it moved him deeply even at that young age.
Now, standing on the spot where James Forten grew up in his childhood home, I realized that he could hear the Liberty Bell ring each time it announced important news. James Forten grew up right in the middle of all the events associated with Independence Hall and the founding years of America. No wonder he was passionate about freedom! Being there and actually experiencing this visit really helped me write about him from a fresh new perspective I had never considered before. After he grew up, James Forten held many anti-slavery meetings in his home and wrote influential articles against slavery. Now I knew one of the reasons that compelled this great man to influence our nation as he did.
That vacation trip was absolutely amazing. On that day, Juneteenth, we also visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia. To celebrate, they had a guest actor portray Frederick Douglass and read portions of his speeches. It was a very moving and powerful experience. It was one of the factors that motivated me to write my next book for Chicago Review Press, Frederick Douglass for Kids. You can visit the website at:
Thank you so much Nancy for enlightening me and my readers about this important topic. I wish you all the best in the future, and we will be always in touch.