Working to honor history and secure museum’s future

by Pryce Jamison
Posted 12/21/23

The Philadelphia Historical Commission has added a section of Germantown’s ACES Veterans Museum to its list of historic places.

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Working to honor history and secure museum’s future


Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Historical Commission added a section of Germantown’s ACES Veterans Museum to the city’s list of historic places. But even with that notable achievement, the institution hasn’t had a smooth pathway to prominence.

The museum that honors the history of veterans of color and commemorates their contributions has faced ongoing challenges, and is still fighting to provide a welcoming place to tell their stories.

“You would think we would be welcomed with open arms and that people can say we have a lot of funds, but we have constantly had to battle,” said Dr. Althea Hankins, a physician and co-founder of ACES. 

That fight has included the effort to repair the building’s interior, and also keep the historic Parker Hall open to the public. The 3rd floor space served as a USO for Black soldiers during World War II and was deemed historic by the Commission, but is closed until renovations can be made. 

ACES leaders are uncertain about when that day will come, given the museum’s current financial challenges. Architectural and scaffolding designs for the Parker Hall renovation are being prepared and soon will be available, Hankins said. In the meantime, the museum is still hosting events such as an upcoming Christmas toy giveaway for children on Dec. 23.

“How could one not support all the positive things that Aces have to offer,” Hankins said. “We have to believe it’s right to have more places in the city that have museums, after-school programs, and many more educational resources like what you’ll find in middle-class environments.”

The ACES museum exhibits authentic artifacts from World War II such as military attire, equipment, and smaller accessories from troops, as well as photographs, illustrations, wax figures, and other pieces of memorabilia. Visitors can take a tour, online or in person, which organizers say supports its fundraising efforts.

All of the museum’s artifacts, some moved from Parker Hall, are now located on the first floor of the building, down the hall from a medical office where Hankins sees patients. She has written a book, “Acting on Hope: World War II Black and Minority Veterans,” which expands on the resilient stories of Black, Hispanic, Native, Caribbean, Asian, and female veterans told throughout the museum.

Decades ago, Hankins purchased the building for her medical practice, and later discovered its historic significance. She co-founded the museum with a group of veterans in 2000. Hankins went on to take classes at Harvard and at the Smithsonian to sharpen her knowledge about the museum’s contents.

“If there’s something collectible, I’ll try to get it,” Hankins said. “I couldn’t tell you where all of these items have come from, as items have been brought here throughout the last two decades; it’s a combination of us buying items, getting things donated to us, and looking for certain things.”

In 2015, The Philadelphia Inquirer awarded ACES with an 800-pound Vietnam memorial plaque created by A. Thomas Schomberg, who also created the Rocky Statue. They are inviting all Vietnam Veterans from across the city, nation, and world to come and take a photo with the plaque to honor their contributions.

ACES also hosts a variety of events such as parades, Juneteenth celebrations for Black veterans, Vietnam veteran commendations, Native American code talker tributes, and Veterans Day occasions, which all invite veterans from all backgrounds to meet up and commemorate one another.

As part of the institution’s focus on young people, ACES offers an Educational Enhancement Program that welcomes youth in the city to participate in college preparation sessions. Hankins also shows people websites and databases that they can use to take college readiness courses. 

For Hankins, ACES is about more than just honoring minority veterans; it’s also about using the space to inspire the youth to grow and realize their importance to the future.  

“We have helped hundreds of young people go to college,” Hankins said. “Rather than being on the street, you have the chance to mature and develop yourself as an individual, and that’s good for anybody, and not just good for people with money.

“I love being a doctor, but ACES is infinitely more important,” Hankins said. “If we can save children and give them more educational opportunities, we can save lives, if we can stop Vietnam veterans from harming themselves, we are saving lives, if we can prove that America is worth fighting for, we can save lives.”

 ACES’ hours of operation are Monday to Thursday, and on every other Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tours are available by appointment on Cost is  $10 for adults, from ages 18 to 61; $8 for seniors 62 and up, $5 for students, and $5 for service members and veterans. Hankins’ book is available on the website.