A countrywide list of must-visit black historical sites, monuments and museums
Black history isn’t a separate entity in and of itself. It is definitively American history, and celebrating only in February isn’t enough. Channeling the spirit in which The Green Book was published, here we delve more into our country’s abundant black history, to more deeply understand the context of black history in cities beyond North and South. From under-represented historic sites to newer, comprehensive museums like The National Center of Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, these locations around the country denote points of interests for tourists and locals to get in touch with history. And while The Green Book is no longer published, sites like Black Chicago Eats, Black Food and Beverage, Travel Noire, or the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s recent offering, a Green Book of South Carolina carry on its legacy, offering travelers safe havens and delicious bites along the road. Meanwhile, history buffs can further rely on resources like the US Civil Rights Trail, which launched last year, detailing sites instrumental to the Civil Rights Movement.
The Underground Railroad, a link of safehouses helping enslaved Africans escape for their freedom, wasn’t only contained within the South. The city of Philadelphia has numerous sites that can attest to that mere truth, one of them being Johnson House Historic Site in the Germantown area of the city. Visit the Historical Society of Philadelphia (by appointment only) and get a glimpse at an original journal of William Still, an Underground Railroad agent. Also plan to stop by Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, the first church to emerge as a new denomination that also helped to house and feed enslaved Africans as they escaped.
Charleston, South Carolina
Skip the blasé horse-drawn carriage tours common throughout Charleston -- they neglect to tell the truth about how the city was literally built upon the backs of black people. Instead, stop into the Avery Research Center to thumb through the archives dedicated exclusively to black history and spend some time in The Old Slave Mart Museum to learn specifically how the slave trade played out to this region of the country.
This southeastern metropolis was the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a pivotal city for the Civil Rights Movement. Visit Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the skilled orator and ordained pastor often gave sermons. To learn more about his role in the Civil Right Movement and the fight for human rights that continues today, consider spending a few hours looking through the exhibits at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights. And to pay tribute to both him and his late wife, Coretta Scott King, visit their grave site at the reflection pool at The King Center.
When most talk about Mississippi, they allude to the racial tensions leading to violence clustered in and around the city of Oxford. But Jackson also has important black history ties to revisit or visit for the first time. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a good place to start and is as an all-encompassing resource on the fight for civil rights within the state. To get a more personalized depiction on how racism affected black people who have lived in Mississippi, plan to spend some time at the Medgar Evers Home Museum, a tribute to the civil rights activist who was murdered also within the city of Jackson.
While in Indianapolis, start at Indiana Avenue and the Madame Walker Theatre Center. The six block area holds stories of black residents who lived there and black greats passing through the area for shows, Duke Ellington and Count Basie to name a few. The theater, which hosts concerts and theatrical performances, is named in homage of the first self-made black woman millionaire Madam CJ Walker. For a bonus trip, travel an hour outside of the bigger city of Indianapolis, Roberts Settlement is a historic area where black people settled and lived. It was a rural, farm community. In 1840, the area had 900 acres of land and 10 families lived and worked there. Every Fourth of July weekend, descendants journey back to the area for a homecoming celebration.
Strong ties of black history are abundant in this city because of black southerners migrating and settling in Chicago during the Great Migration. Learn about black visual artists and their creations at eta Creative Arts Foundation, spend time browsing through the exhibits at DuSable Museum of African American History and visit the homes of famous Chicagoans, notably President Barack Obama and the late Muhammad Ali.
Mention Tulsa and you can’t ignore the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, resulting in the deaths of 36 black residents. A centennial commemoration is currently being planned for 2021. Pay homage to the entrepreneurial past and black brilliance in strolling through the Greenwood District, lauded at the time as Black Wall Street, for being a bastion to black business and enterprise. You’ll see gold plaques with business owners’ names and what they did. For a moving tribute to the Tulsa Race Massacre, spend a few hours at Reconciliation Park.
There’s no shortage of state parks, lakes and rivers in this state, but so is lesser known black history. Travel to Helena to Helena Club, a historic building that also housed a private club inside, where several black people worked, like Julian Anderson, a famous and well-loved bartender.
Often touted as being one of the progressive cities in our country, black history is embedded in the city as a whole. Music lover? Plan a trip around the annual PDX Jazz Festival created to specifically honor black musical genius and contributions to jazz. If you’re into films, The Portland Black Film Festival is the longest running nonprofit film festival in the US. While in town, learn more about the proposed revitalization being called The Soul District, a historically black neighborhood clustered around Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in northeast Portland, too.
With temperate, mild weather year round, one of the best ways to take in all things black history in Oakland is by foot. Depending on your interests, there’s a walking tour for you. If a biker, journey through the city on wheels while learning about the black people who contributed to the fabric of the community via Walk Oakland Bike Oakland and The Oakland Museum of CA. The museum also offers full black history programming through February.