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Historic house in Philadelphia's Germantown section celebrates Juneteenth with Art for Justice exhibit

Center for Social Advocacy in Philadelphia spotlights Art for Justice for Juneteenth
Center for Social Advocacy in Philadelphia spotlights Art for Justice for Juneteenth 03:03

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A historic house in Germantown has a record of social advocacy that began during slavery. Every Juneteenth it continues that legacy by shedding light on issues that affect the community.

This year a powerful art exhibit will be the focal point.

The Germantown Mennonite Church, which was home to the Germantown Women's Club, sits in the shadows of the historic Johnson House, a place where enslaved people found refuge and assistance from abolitionists on their journeys toward freedom.

These two sites share a storied history of advocacy during and after slavery.

"They actually advocated for rights quietly, but specifically in all social areas, education, opportunities for jobs after enslavement was over, supporting elderly, making sure young people had an education," Cornelia Swinson, executive director of the Johnson House Historic Site, said.

Art from Art for Justice is seen on display at the Johnson House
Some of the art created by Eddie Ramirez displayed in the Juneteenth exhibit at the Johnson House CBS News Philadelphia

In keeping with the theme of advocating for social issues in the community, the Johnson House created the Center for Social Advocacy in 2017.

"We've worked with many organizations that work on issues to advocate for changes in the community," Swinson said. "We are not the ones that provide those services; we are the hosts for that activity."

Every Juneteenth since the center's creation, organizers recognize an issue that impacts the community.

This year's powerful display includes an exhibit from Art for Justice, an organization that creates art exhibits out of powerful images from those who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

The art touches on issues in the criminal justice system including solitary confinement, wrongful conviction and the death penalty, Ann Marie Kirk, of Art for Justice, said.

Eddie Ramirez was exonerated in November 2023 after spending 27 years behind bars for a murder officials say he did not commit. His work will be on display for this Juneteenth exhibit.

"It's a picture of my face with cracks in it," Ramirez said, describing one of his pieces. "These other pieces also reflect my background in graffiti and street art."

Former death row inmate Daniel Gwynn was exonerated a few months ago after spending 30 years in prison for an arson murder.

His pain, his purpose and his poignant message are vividly displayed in every paint stroke. Seeing his work on display means his story is being heard and his hard work is paying off, Gwynn said.

"All of these men are extremely genuine, brilliant listeners, and they have so much to offer so I think that people will be very inspired," Kirk said.

Art for Justice has exhibited the work of former and current inmates since the late 1990s, traveling not just throughout Pennsylvania but all around the country.

People can meet one of the artists Sunday from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at the Germantown Mennonite Church at 21 West Washington Lane in Philadelphia.

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