February is Black History Month, but here at Wandering Moms we celebrate Black history all year long! So whether you’re able to plan a trip this month or you’re not able to travel until later in the year, we’ve put together a list of 10 cities to visit to learn about Black History!
10 Cities to Visit to Learn About Black History
1. Memphis, Tennessee
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is home to the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. The Museum offers audio tours featuring first hand accounts of life under the Jim Crow laws and of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum was a stop on the famed Underground Railroad and now offers tours that highlight the prominent abolitionists in Underground Railroad movement. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is housed on the original site of the Stax Recording Studios where numerous African American musicians launched their music careers. The museum not only features famous Black musicians but highlights how music has the power to unify us during such challenging times.
2. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia is a hot-spot for African American History. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, home to MLK’s birth house, church and tomb, is a great place to start an MLK inspired trip to Atlanta. Next, head over to the Center for Human and Civil Rights to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement here in the US as well as around the entire world. The Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change preserves the legacy of MLK and is a must visit when exploring Black history in Atlanta. The Atlanta University Historic District offers a self guided tour of some of America’s major higher education institutions for Black Americans including Atlanta University, Clark and Morehouse.
3. Washington, DC
The National Museum of African-American History and Culture is the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institute, opening it’s doors in 2016. The museum documents African American life, history, and culture in over 36,000 stunning artifacts. Admission is free, but timed tickets must be reserved in advance and often fill up quickly. The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery is another great stop, featuring the portraits and stories of highly regarded Black Americans throughout history. The National Museum of African Art and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial also prominently feature Black history in Washington, DC. Here you’ll also find Howard University, founded in 1867 as the “capstone of Negro education” and home to the first Black law school in the US.
4. Detroit, Michigan
Detroit has a rich African American history with numerous sights to explore. The Henry Ford Museum of Innovation houses the Rosa Parks bus. Visitors can walk through the very bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat- sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is home to the largest permanent collection of African American culture in the US. Also in Detroit you’ll find the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum where you can learn about the first squadron of Black military airmen and the Motown Museum where you can explore the history of the irresistible music that spurred social and cultural change throughout America.
5. Birmingham, Alabama
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an excellent interpretive museum that features civil rights advocates of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Exhibits feature the Freedom Riders, Selma-to-Montgomery marches and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and much more. The Southern Museum of Flight documents the Tuskegee Airmen and their contributions to World War I. The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame displays 40 years worth of archives and artifacts on the greatest jazz musicians of all time- many of who came from the state of Alabama. The Carver Theater is another great historical site. Opened in 1935 as a movie house, it was one of few places African Americans could watch films during the years of Segregation.
6. Montgomery, Alabama
Not far from Birmingham, you can continue to study Black history in the state of Alabama in Montgomery. Montgomery is home to numerous stops on the US Civil Rights Trail, including the location of Rosa Park’s arrest, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church and the courthouse of Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. The National Memorial for Peace And Justice is an eye opening history of racial injustice in the United States. Opened in 2018 and informally called the “Lynching Memorial”, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the first location in the US to formally honor the thousands of Black Americans who died simply because they were Black. The museum houses 805 hanging steel rectangles in the shape of coffins to commemorate documented lynchings in the US. Just down the street you can also visit the Legacy Museum, which houses the most comprehensive collection of data on African American lynchings in the United States. The Legacy Museum digs deep into the experiences slavery, segregation and racial terror in America.
7. Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock, Arkansas is synonymous with the movement to desegregate American public schools. Following the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, segregation in American public schools was ruled unconstitutional. In 1957, a group of students known as the Little Rock Nine enrolled in Little Rock Central High School, throwing the students, the entire city of Little Rock and the nation into chaos as the students and their families stood up for the education they deserved and were promised by the Supreme Court. Little Rock Central High School is now a National Historic Site where you can walk the very steps on which the brave Little Rock Nine students faced off with the US National Guard. The Little Rock Nine Memorial at the state capitol is also a part of the Arkansas Civil Rights Memorial Trail.
8. Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Cincinnati was a border town on the Underground Railroad. Cincinnati itself was in the free state of Ohio but it sat just across the river from Kentucky, a slave state. Thus, Cincinnati played a critical role in the Underground Railroad. The museum not only focuses on the historical aspects of slavery, but it also highlights more modern day issues related to slavery in hopes of “inspiring everyone to take courageous steps towards freedom today.” You can also visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe House where Stowe and her husband assisted African Americans fleeing slave states via the Underground Railroad.
9. Kansas City, Missouri
If you want to learn about and celebrate the athletic and creative contributions African- Americans made to the social structure of the United States then Kansas City, Missouri is the place to go! Kansas City is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Here you can learn about the rich history of African-American baseball players and their contributions to America’s favorite pastime. The museum highlights the huge impact the Negro Leagues and African-American players had on sports and social development in America. The American Jazz Museum celebrates the contributions of Black jazz musicians including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. The lives and careers honored in these two museums are inextricably linked with the sports and music we know and love today!
10. Hampton, Virginia
The Door of No Return is located in Elmina, Ghana- a main hub of the former slave trade in Africa. The Door of No Return is the last door African’s walked through before being loaded onto slave ships headed across the Atlantic. Where did the slave ships that left the Door of No Return in Ghana end up? In Hampton, Virginia. “20 and odd” African men landed at Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia in 1619. The Hampton History Museum houses a powerful exhibit that highlights Point Comfort’s role in the history of slavery in the US. The Hampton University Museum, the oldest African American museum in the country, also houses an impressive collection of African-American artifacts. You can also visit the Emancipation Oak– a living symbol of freedom for African Americans. Slavery started and formally ended in Point Comfort- as President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation proclamation under this very oak tree.
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