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From Memphis to Boston, uncover important monuments, museums, and historical sites.

Jess McHugh
February 01, 2018

Parks, monuments, and historic homes throughout the U.S. bear witness to the lasting cultural and historic achievements of Black residents over the centuries.

The legacy of black Americans is often overlooked by the country at large, and it wasn't until November 2016 that the Smithsonian dedicated a national museum to African-American history and culture. But traces from some of the country's most influential musicians, politicians, writers, and Civil Rights leaders can be found in just about every state.

Travelers may not have noticed some of the historic sites in their own cities and towns, such as the lunch counters where young people fought against segregation laws, or the African Meeting House in Boston, which is the oldest Black church in the country. Throughout Black History Month this February, consider making a trip to one of these nine sites — only a small selection of the hundreds of locations where travelers can learn about black heritage in the U.S.

Civil Rights Trail

This national trail includes 100 locations across 14 states, educating visitors about the long and ongoing struggle of Black people to achieve equal rights.

Locations include the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, location of a police confrontation during the Selma, Alabama marches.

National Museum of African-American History and Culture

Inaugurated in November 2016, this Smithsonian museum in Washington is the “only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, history, and culture,” according to its website.

Objects on display include Chuck Berry's Cadillac, Harriet Tubman's prayer shawl, and protest signs from the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Sweet Home Café in the museum showcases some of the stories and themes of the rest of the museum, giving visitors a taste of traditional meals from the diaspora. Taste spicy oxtail pepperpot or savor sweet potato pie.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History

These two new museums attempt to take a critical look at the state's controversial history, particularly during the height of Jim Crow segregation laws in the 20th century.

The Civil Rights Museum in particular explores how Mississippi often served as a prime organizing ground for the movement in the 1960s. Protests such as the Freedom Rides and other forms of resistance against segregation often started in Mississippi, given its fierce segregation.

“These museums are telling the stories of Mississippi history in all of their complexity,” said Katie Blount, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which operates the two new museums, in a statement. “We are shying away from nothing. Understanding where we are today is shaped in every way by where we have come from in our past.”

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Beale Street Historic District

This neighborhood in Memphis served as the incubator for some of the best early jazz, blues, and R&B music. Louis Armstrong, B.B. King, and Muddy Waters all played in this district's famed clubs, and Elvis spent a lot of time there as a teenager, listening to the blues music that would inflect his rockabilly style.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Local historians and former baseball players helped create this Missouri museum, founded in 1990. The museum now occupies 10,000 square feet of space in a building shared with the American Jazz Museum.

Visitors can explore photographs and interactive exhibits chronicling some of the most well-known black baseball players, including Jackie Robinson and Buck O'Neill.

African Meeting House

Built in the early 1800s, this small place of worship in the neighborhood of Beacon Hill Boston, is one of the oldest historically Black churches in the country. The location served as a church, school, and meeting house where members of Boston's Black community organized, particularly during the push for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century.

Frederick Douglass National Historical Site

Visitors can tour Douglass' historic house to learn about his lifetime of activism and writing. A leader in both the abolition and suffragette movements, Douglass fought for equal rights after escaping from slavery, going on to pen an autobiography about his experiences.

Museum of the African Diaspora

This San Francisco museum showcases contemporary art from across the African diaspora. Exhibits explore everything from slave narratives to the celebrations of Carnival in the Caribbean islands.

Harriet Tubman Historical Park

A former slave who went on to become a leader of the Underground Railroad that smuggled slaves to safety in the North, Harriet Tubman is one of the most iconic women in history. The land encompassing her home in upstate New York was named as a national park in 2017, ensuring its legacy.

“What makes her so incredibly striking is that she went back several times after her own escape to freedom to help others,” Debra Michals, Ph.D. and director of women and gender studies at Merrimack College, told Travel + Leisure at the time. “I don’t think most people today could comprehend what kind of inner fortitude and dedication to the larger cause of freedom that that must have taken.”

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