Where to Learn About Atlanta's Black History
From art museums to bike tours, these are the best ways to learn about Atlanta's African American history, for Black History Month and beyond.
From Valentine’s Day to the Super Bowl, February is packed with exciting holidays and pop culture events, but perhaps the most significant aspect of the second month of the year is its designation as Black History Month. So in honor of the month-long holiday, we have put together a guide to places where you can meaningfully celebrate the history, culture, and societal contributions of Black people in Atlanta. Before we dive into those, however, an age-old criticism about Black History Month is that the holiday is celebrated in the shortest calendar month of the year, and that’s why nearly every single place or experience featured in this guide was selected for its year-round availability.
Given that Atlanta's population is 51% Black and that Atlanta is one of the largest Black communities in the US, its rich history is especially important to study and pay tribute to. With the following local attractions, you will be able to increase your understanding and appreciation of Atlanta’s Black history and culture during Black History Month and throughout the rest of the year as well. Here is everything you need to know about Atlanta’s Black historical landmarks and institutions. And when you're done, be sure to check out Atlanta's essential Black-owned restaurants.
The Atlanta History Center is known for boasting 33 acres of historic houses and gardens, and in addition to its spectacular permanent exhibitions—like the Atlanta ‘96, Cyclorama, Atlanta in 50 Objects, and more—AHC currently has a few Black history-themed exhibitions on view. Those interested in a virtual learning experience can check out United States Colored Troop Collection Highlight for free on AHC’s website, and if you visit in-person, access to both the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith and Explore Black Atlanta exhibitions is included in admission.
Cost: $9.80 - $23.41
Now that you’ve got the gears turning in your head about how you can learn more about Atlanta’s Black History, get some gears literally turning by embarking on a self-guided Civil Bikes Tour. The Atlanta-based historic biking and walking tour company gives participants an opportunity to get physical exercise while learning about all of the rich Black history in the Downtown, Five Points, and Sweet Auburn areas. You can book a private tour on Civil Bikes’ website, but if you and your family just want to dive in on your own, you can also opt to do its self-guided bike tour that takes you to The Zero Milepost, Hurt Park, the John Lewis mural, Atlanta Daily World, and more. To gain access to the self-guided tour, just subscribe to Civil Bikes’ email list, and from there, all you have to do is head to Five Points Marta Station and secure a HOPR bike or scooter to get started.
Like its namesake suggests, the Apex Museum is one of the top Black history museums in Atlanta, and for added cultural significance, it’s stationed right on Auburn Avenue, smack dab between two important Black literary resources—the Auburn Avenue Research Library and For Keeps Bookstore. The Apex Museum was first opened all the way back in 1978, making it the oldest Black history museum in Atlanta and significantly older than many of you reading this guide right now. And don’t let its exterior fool you. When walking by the Killer Mike-approved institution, you may wonder if such a small entrance can lead to a worthwhile museum, but upon entering, you’ll come face to face with a wealth of knowledge and insightful information about African-Americans and the Black diaspora. Stop by between 11 am to 3:30 pm from Tuesdays to Sundays for a renewed and deeper understanding and appreciation for the contributions of African-Americans to American and global society.
Cost: $5 - $7
Old Fourth Ward
Although they are both currently not open to the public due to COVID-19, there is no way that anyone could put this guide together without mentioning The King Center and the birth home of Martin Luther King, Jr. Given the cultural significance of MLK and his lifelong ties to Atlanta, the immortalized Civil Rights Movement leader played an integral role in Atlanta’s Black History. In addition to featuring the Freedom Hall exhibition space, the King Center houses the beautiful marble crypt that serves as the final resting place for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Furthermore, MLK’s birth home is also within walking distance of the King Center, and when tours become available once again, you can schedule a tour in advance here.
One quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that we’re likely all familiar with is, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That’s why the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is such an important Atlanta attraction. In addition to documenting the Civil Rights struggles of African-Americans with permanent exhibitions like Rolls Down Like Water: U.S. Civil Rights Movement, FRAGMENTS, and Voice To The Voiceless: Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, the NCCHR also stresses the importance of fighting global injustices in Spark of Conviction: Global Human Rights Movement and temporary exhibitions like Entitlements. A truly well-rounded museum, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is an important place to visit if you want to learn more about the Civil Rights era of Black History. Plus, the NCCHR has a litany of virtual Black History Month programming that students, youth, adults, and everyone in between can access for free all February long.
Cost: $15.99 - $19.99
While it’s incredible that The Dungeon—aka the house where André 3000 and Big Boi created the classic debut OutKast album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik—is now an accessible and temporarily inhabitable Atlanta landmark, its hefty $300+ price tag isn’t the most suitable for a quick Black Atlanta History field trip. For a more cost-efficient tour of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, head over to the Trap Music Museum on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. In addition to having fun activities like “Escape The Trap” and “Sip & Trap,” the Trap Music Museum preserves an incredible collection of Atlanta Hip-Hop memorabilia and illustrates the progression of the Atlanta-birthed subgenre of rap from its earliest stages with artists like T.I., Gucci Mane, and Jeezy to contemporary torchbearers like Future and Lil Baby. As evidenced by many of the aforementioned artists’ involvement in the 2020 protests, hip-hop history is intertwined with Black history, so make sure you make a visit to the Trap Music Museum sometime this Black History Month.
Many of the greatest Atlantans to have ever lived rest at Oakland Cemetery, and the same applies to famous and everyday Black people throughout the A’s history. In fact, there are over 12,000 African-Americans—including several former slaves in the notorious Slave Square, Selena Sloan Butler, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, Morris Brown College founder Bishop Wesley John Gaines, and many others—buried at Oakland, and in honor of Black History Month, the cemetery is currently offering the free We Shall Overcome tour. The 75-minute tour is an eye-opening experience that highlights the deep cultural roots of Atlanta’s Black community, and the remaining dates for this month include Tuesday, February 15; Saturday, February 19; Sunday, February 20; and Saturday, February 26. Keep in mind, however, that like the majority of the other entries in this guide, you can go and visit the resting sites of Black historical figures resting at Oakland Cemetery year-round.
In contrast to the Oakland Cemetery, South-View Cemetery was established solely for African-Americans who had suffered disrespect from predominantly white cemeteries in 1886, and today, it remains the oldest “non eleemosynary” African-American corporation in the country. Among the 80,000+ Black people resting at South-View are notable scholars, entrepreneurs, political leaders, entertainers, athletes, activists, and military heroes, and it’s also famous for being the cemetery where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was laid to rest. South-View is a historical landmark that makes Black History the primary historical context, and if you’re interested in visiting, you can use the cemetery’s website as a guide for an extremely informative self-guided historical tour.
Although many of us spend Black History Month reflecting on past decades and eras, it’s imperative that we all remember that Black History is made every single day. That’s why a visit to the High Museum of Art is absolutely mandatory this February. Currently on view is The Obama Portraits Tour special exhibition, which features Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s respective portraits of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. The quaint exhibition details the thought-provoking artistic processes behind both beautiful portraits, and just in case you didn’t know, Amy Sherald is both a Columbus, Georgia native and a Clark-Atlanta alumna. That’s Black Atlanta History at its finest, so dedicate some time this month to go see Sherald and Wiley’s gorgeous works of art.