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As Black History Month rolls around each year, American school kids learn that Black history is actually a significant part of American history. Beyond lessons on MLK, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, they may learn that centuries of enslaved labor is largely what made the U.S the economic powerhouse that it is today, and that the presence and influence of Black people is deeply woven into every aspect of this country—from art and music to scientific innovation to the civil rights movement, and beyond. But rather than acknowledge these contributions just one month a year, consider weaving one of these 11 Black heritage sites and attractions into your next family road trip. Each site has stories to tell that go beyond what you’ll remember from history class, making them essential destinations that every American should visit at least once.
National Museum of African American History and Culture: Washington, DC
This museum, which opened in 2016, offers the most exhaustive collection of exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays showcasing African Americans’ wide-ranging contributions: If you can only visit one site dedicated to Black history, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is it. With five floors, 85,000 square feet of exhibition space, 3,000 objects, and 17 interactive stations, you could spend weeks in this DC museum and not see everything. Visitors can view everything from a plane that was flown by Tuskeegee Airmen and Nat Turner’s bible, to George Clinton’s Funkadelic spaceship and an exhibit on African-American chefs.
Find your DC hotel here.
U.S. Civil Rights Trail: Arkansas to North Carolina
Running through 15 states and 100 locations, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail traces important events in the battle for African Americans to obtain civil rights. The trail starts at the site of school integration in Little Rock and spans sites like the Greensboro, North Carolina whites-only Woolworth counter where students from the Agricultural & Technical College of North Carolina staged a sit-in protest and the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where four little girls were killed in a church bombing.
Find deals on hotels along the trail here.
Whitney Plantation: Louisiana
Many plantations glorify the antebellum era with tales of gentility and happiness, which is exclusively from the enslaver’s point of view. Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, prioritizes the stories and voices of the enslaved, and is billed as the country’s first slave museum. The 250-acre plantation goes well beyond the sanitized versions of plantation life and lays out the ugly truths of American history.
Find a place to stay near the plantation here.
Penn Center: South Carolina
A historic landmark that was one of the first American schools opened for the formerly enslaved, Penn Center preserves and displays Gullah Geechee history and culture on South Carolina’s St. Helena Island. Gullah Geechee heritage is a distinct culture that reflects the language, traditions, and food that can be directly traced to Sierra Leone in West Africa. The center also served as a retreat for civil rights leaders and was where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a portion of his “I Have A Dream” speech.
Find your Saint Helena Island hotel here.
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel: Memphis
A fully immersive experience that uses historic milestones to analyze how they can be used to address modern challenges, the National Civil Rights Museum offers five centuries of history through oral histories, films, and displays. Housed in Memphis’ Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the museum traces the American Civil Rights movement from slavery to 1968.
Book your Memphis hotel right here.
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House: Washington, D.C.
A National Historic Site, the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House is the DC Victorian townhouse that served as the headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women, the organization she founded to advocate for legislation concerning African Americans. A humanitarian, special advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and founder of Bethune Cookman College in Florida, Mary McLeod Bethune was a civil rights icon.
Find your DC hotel here.
Studio Museum of Harlem: New York
An influential institution that collects, researches, and interprets the work of artists of African descent, the Studio Museum of Harlem also examines and displays art that has been inspired and influenced by Black culture. The museum’s artist-in-residence program has produced some of the most critically-acclaimed Black artists in the U.S.
Find a great Harlem hotel here.
African Burial Ground National Monument: New York
This African burial ground in Lower Manhattan was rediscovered during construction in 1991 and established as a National Monument in 2006. An important site for all Americans, the African Burial Ground Monument honors the 419 enslaved Black people buried there, and shatters the myth that slavery only happened in the South. New York was second only to Charleston, South Carolina in its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. Slavery was only declared illegal in New York in 1827; enslaved Africans were brought from the late 17th century until 1827 to build the city. This sacred site is the largest and oldest known excavated burial area in North America. The visitor center displays four exhibit areas, a theater, and a library to learn about the site and the people buried there.
Find a deal on a Manhattan hotel here.
National Blues Museum: St. Louis
The National Blues Museum examines and celebrates the genre that forms the foundation of all American music, including jazz, rock, R&B, and hip hop. Located in downtown St. Louis, the interactive museum explores blues history and music with digital displays, films, photos, artifacts, and songs.
Book your St. Louis accommodations here.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park: Maryland
Located on some of the same landscapes where Harriet Tubman used to guide the enslaved to freedom, the Harriet Tubman Underground National Historic Park details the life of this American heroine and the landmarks of the underground railroad network. Located near the Maryland plantation where Harriet Tubman was born, visitors can walk the fields and marshes that she traversed and view exhibits and interpretive programs.
Find a great place to stay near the park here.
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site: Alabama
Walk through the airfields and hangars once used by the legendary Tuskeegee Airmen, the first African American fighter and bomber pilots in the U.S. Known as the Red Tails, the Tuskeegee Airmen National Historic Site commemorates the bravery and skill of these pilots that faced brutal racism in and out of the military but still successfully completed every mission. This Alabama site displays exhibits and a few of the planes flown by the pilots.
Book a room soon near the Tuskegee site.
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