How do you know when you’ve had an authentically Southern travel experience? You’ve probably received a warm welcome from some friendly folks who are eager to make you feel right at home. You’ve filled up on some soulful cooking. And you’ve witnessed the indelible imprint of African-Americans on the history and culture of the place.
The South has a wealth of great cultural and recreational attractions. Meeting groups will find state-of-the-art facilities and lodging catering to a wide range of needs. One of the region’s biggest selling points is a mild climate that makes outdoor activity and events available most of the year.
Here is a selection of destinations that are beckoning visitors with their Southern charm. With so many African-American cultural and historic sites found throughout the state, stay and extra day (or two) and see OUR America.
One of the 11 lakes that make up the new statewide Alabama Bass Trail might make an ideal setting for an incentive trip for an avid angler or the reunion of a family of fishing enthusiasts. Huntsville’s historic park and mansion Burritt on the Mountain has a new meeting facility under construction that will accommodate about 300 people, just right for a small conference or corporate retreat.
Mobile is ready to impress visitors with its rich, multicultural history on arrival: The city’s welcome center is housed in a recreated 1735 French fort. The National African American Archives & Museum is a great place to learn about the African-American heritage of this Gulf Coast destination. Visitors to Alabama’s capital city should be sure to check out the new Freedom Rides Museum, housed in the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station in the Court Square Historic District.
Ol’ School music lovers traveling to Tuskegee might get a kick out of seeing stage costumes and other memorabilia on display at the Commodores Studio. Tours are available by appointment only through the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center.
Birmingham is gearing up for a 2013 celebration at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center commemorating the city’s landmark civil rights events. Birmingham’s renowned Civil Rights District is a must-see attraction, home to such historic sites as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where the notorious KKK bombing took place; Kelly Ingram Park, where a series of sculptures commemorates the civil rights demonstrations held on the grounds; and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Other area landmarks include the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, located inside the historic Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts; the Fourth Avenue Business District; Alabama Penny Savings Bank, the state’s first Black-owned bank; and A.G. Gaston Gardens, a former motel and civil rights meeting space.
Several of Birmingham’s top visitor attractions offer space for meetings and other group events. Unique offsite venues include the Sloth Furnaces National Historic Landmark, which will open its new visitors and education center in late 2012; the Birmingham Museum of Art, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2012, the McWane Science Center; the WorkPlay Theater; and Barber Motorsports Park.
Birmingham also offers some notable settings for outdoor activity. A new zip line tour at Red Mountain Park is said to be the nation’s first such tour offering universal access. At approximately 1,200 aces, the park dwarfs New York City’s Central Park by 40 percent. Railroad Park, a 19-acre linear green space in a former downtown wasteland, recently won a national award for being an outstanding example of urban beautification.
The Five Points South district is a popular hangout for dining and entertainment, while the Alabama Adventure theme park serves up a day of family fun.
Birmingham’s largest meeting venue, the Jefferson Convention Complex, contains 220,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 60 meeting rooms, and a 10-story Medical Forum. There are about 14,000 area guestrooms.
Pick-your-own fruit farms are cropping up all over the nation, but only in Arkansas can visitors pick their own diamonds — at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro , which also offers picnic areas and hiking trails.
Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Regional Park hosts the popular Smoke on the Water barbecue and music festival every September. Pine Bluff’s Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center is also located in the park.
The spas on Bath House Row in Hot Springs National Park and the Magic Springs/Crystal Falls theme and water parks are just a couple of attractions that make Hot Springs an appealing destination for a business incentive trip, vacation or family reunion.
Little Rock’s most notable Black heritage attraction is the Central High School National Historic Site, where a landmark U.S. school desegregation case began. A conference room in the Central High School Visitors Center, located near the school, is available for meeting groups.
Visitors to the Sunshine State, which is marking its 500th anniversary in 2012, will find plenty of outstanding historical attractions to explore. The home of the famed African-American educator Mary McCloud Bethune is open for tours on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, where another historical point of interest is the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse.
Jacksonville’s Olustee Battlefield Monument is at the site of a significant Civil War battle waged by the all-Black Massachusetts 54th regiment for the Union. Other local attractions include the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville and the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum.
Along with being home to the historically Black Florida A&M University — and its famous marching band — Tallahassee also is the site of the John G. Riley Center & Museum of African American History & Culture and the museum at Union Bank, which houses exhibits from FAMU’s Black Archives.
Today's Greater Fort Lauderdale is a top destination in the U.S. for discerning African-American meeting planners and their delegates, offering a rare cosmopolitan experience in a resort atmosphere spiced with a unique historical character to explore. Year-round sunny skies and palm-fringed beaches set the scene for adventures and uniquely Lauderdale experiences that your attendees can enjoy with their families. An impressive collection of dining, entertainment, shopping, attractions, events, arts and cultural venues dazzles with Greater Fort Lauderdale's signature blend of beach-chic style and low-key, friendly ambiance.
If its Black history and culture that you crave, Ft. Lauderdale has more than its share. The African American Research Library and Cultural Center, the Old Dillard Museum and the Ashanti Cultural Arts Center are three notable Black heritage attractions in that should not be missed.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center sits facing the Intracoastal Waterway, offering panoramic water views through a soaring glass wall. Its 600,000 sq. ft. of exhibit, conference and meeting space on three levels of expansive architecture and distinctive décor remind attendees of the destination's water culture. The center's exterior features a fountain plaza surrounding a 35-ft. Kent Ullberg sailfish sculpture – dramatic by day and breathtaking by night. And all this is just a short drive from the airport, the beaches and downtown arts and entertainment district.
When it comes to housing your group within the Convention Center area, Greater Fort Lauderdale's ongoing hospitality renaissance and the recent addition of several prestigious properties means whatever your choice, you'll be pleased.
A new network for meeting planners called the Lauderdale Convention Collection features six participating hotels located within a mile and a half of the Broward County Convention Center. The one-stop planning system is designed to accommodate groups using up to 2,700 rooms. In April 2011, Fort Lauderdale opened the Royal Palms, the first full-service gay hotel in North America.
Miami’s Lyric Theater is the only remnant of the local district once dubbed “Little Broadway.” The landmark is located in the Overtown neighborhood, which also is the site of the Chapman House and the D.A. Dorsey House — home of the city’s first Black millionaire. The African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City contains a dance studio, gallery, shop, concert hall and art studios, with indoor and outdoor space available for events.
To explore more of the area’s history and culture, head for the Art Deco Historic District in Miami Beach, or tour the famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Other notable cultural and historical attractions include City Hall, the Holocaust Memorial, the Coral Gables Museum and the Miami Children’s Museum, which recently upgraded its digs.
Two of the area’s newest visitor destinations are the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center — a $51 million performing arts venue — and Heritage Park at Sunny Isles Beach. The new Orange Drive Miami Beach Music Festival, starting in late December, joins a special events lineup that includes the SoBay Festival of the Arts in February and the Goombay Festival in June, among others. Great natural scenery and outdoor adventure are the star attractions at Biscayne National Park, known for its vast mangrove forest, and Jungle Island.
The Miami Beach Convention Center, located in the Art Deco District, contains more than 500,000 sq. ft. of divisible exhibit space in a prime location near the beach. The Miami Convention Center, which can accommodate groups of up to 5,000, is planning a major renovation and expansion. There are nearly 50,000 hotel rooms in the Greater Miami area.
The area’s Green Lodging & Restaurant Program promotes waste reduction, water and energy conservation and other sustainability efforts. The Miami Beach Convention Center and the Miami Convention Center also have implemented a number of green practices.
Orlando’s Wells’ Built Museum of African-American History is located at the site of a hotel that lodged many famous African-American musicians who performed in the city during the 1920s. The neighboring town of Eatonville, the nation’s oldest African-American municipality, is home to the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts.
Of course, this top vacation destination is best known for its theme park: Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld Orlando, which now provides free admission to members of the military and up to three family members. Both the Disney World and Universal Studios resorts offer large meeting facilities.
PALM BEACH COUNTY
A must-see historical attraction for any visit to this area is the famous Breakers Palm Beach. This five-star resort was originally called the Palm Beach Inn when city founder Henry M. Flagler opened it in 1896. You can explore more of the area’s history at the Flagler Museum.
Noteworthy cultural attractions include the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, the Norton Museum of Art and Kravis Center for the Performing Arts — home to the Palm Beach Opera, which marked its 50th anniversary season in 2011-12. An outing for the kids might feature a trip to Lion Country Safari, the South Florida Science Museum or the historic Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.
With 47 miles of beaches, 160 public and private golf courses, 1,000 tennis courts, Palm Beach County offers lots of amenities for the active traveler. Lake Okeechobee is a popular spot for bass fishing, while the nearby Florida Everglades serve up a wide range of outdoor adventure, from kayaking and canoeing to exploring the wildlife.
For a more laid-back Palm Beach experience, book a spa treatment at one of the area’s many luxury resorts, or get some retail therapy on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach — the “Rodeo Drive of the East Coast” — Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, downtown Boca Raton or Antique Row in West Palm Beach. Downtown West Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Lake Worth are some of the favorite hangouts for evening entertainment.
The Palm Beach County Convention Center contains 350,000 sq. ft., including 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 21,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 22,000-sq. ft. grand ballroom. It’s located just three miles from Palm Beach International Airport, close to the CityPlace entertainment complex and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. More than 16,000 area guest rooms provide lodging accommodations.
One of the newest attractions in Pensacola is the Native Paths Cultural Heritage and Resource Center at the Jones Swamp Reserve. The facility includes a nature preserve, an art gallery and exhibits showcasing the area’s Native American heritage.
The Black history and culture of this Gulf Coast destination take the spotlight at two sites in Historic Pensacola Village: the art gallery and museum in the Kate Coulson House, run by the local African-American Heritage Society, and the Julee Panton Cottage, the early 19th century home of a free woman of color.
Visitors can also tour NAS Pensacola, the first U.S. naval air station, and other military heritage sites such as the National Naval Aviation Museum and Chappie James Memorial Gardens, named for the Pensacola native who was the first Black four-star general in the U.S. Air Force. Maritime Park, a $54 million downtown entertainment complex overlooking Pensacola Bay, is under construction. It will be a venue for concerts, minor league baseball games and festivals.
The city’s largest meeting venue, the Pensacola Civic Center, offers more than 20,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and more than 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. There are nearly 1,300 hotel rooms citywide.
One of the streetcar lines departing from downtown Tampa takes visitors to the historic Latin American neighborhood known as Ybor City. Centro Ybor, a 210,000-sq. ft. shopping and entertainment complex, is one of the area’s main attractions. Other cultural and historical points of interest include the Tampa Bay History Center, the David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts, the Tampa Museum of Art at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa, which focuses on the history of the Tampa Bay Hotel and the Gilded Age.
Kids tagging along with meeting delegates or as part of a family reunion group are sure to give a thumbs up to attractions like the Glazer Children’s Museum , Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry ,the Florida Aquarium — the departure point for a dolphin ecotour — and Dinosaur World in nearby Plant City.
Visitors might enjoy doing some of their sightseeing via a water taxi that travels over the Hillsborough River or the Tampa Bay.
The 600,000-sq. ft. Tampa Convention Center is the city’s largest meeting space, containing 200,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 36,000-sq. ft. ballroom. The area offers approximately 24,000 guestrooms.
Visitors to Georgia will find a wealth of cultural and recreational attractions throughout the state, including some of the nation’s most famous African-American heritage sites. The most widely known is the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, part of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn district, while the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, a relative newcomer, is gaining notice as the largest of its kind in the state. But some of Georgia’s hidden gems are the Black cultural and historical attractions found in smaller towns.
The Beulah Rucker Museum in Gainesville is one example, honoring the efforts of a local African-American leader to start a school for Black children. The Roland Hayes Museum and the Roland Hayes Music Guild, named for the pioneering African-American classical tenor who hailed from Curryville, GA, are located in Harris Art Center in Calhoun.
Among the state’s most prominent sites for outdoor recreation and sightseeing are the Chattahoochee National Forest, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Desoto Falls and the Chattooga River.
Construction of Atlanta’s new National Center for Civil and Human Rights breaks ground in June 2012. Targeted for a 2014 opening, the 30,000-sq. ft. facility will sit on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park, next to the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.
The city also recently added a couple more kid-pleasers to its things to do list. LEGOLAND at Phipps Plaza Discovery opened in March 2012, along with the new Geyse Towers attraction at Stone Mountain Park.
A new streetcar line providing transportation from the downtown convention corridor to some of the city’s top attractions begins operating in mid 2013.
This suburban destination is situated at what was once the easternmost stop of the Atlanta West Point Railroad, seven miles from downtown Atlanta. Less than three miles from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, East Point is easily accessible to MARTA and Atlanta attractions like the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, CNN and Centennial Olympic Park.
There’s also plenty to see and do in East Point itself. Photographs on display at the East Point Heritage Society chronicle the history of the area’s African-American community, its city government, the railroad and other stories from the past. Additional exhibits in the gallery include vintage city maps and a variety of historical artifacts.
The Camp Creek Marketplace, featuring more than 100 shops and eateries, also serves as a venue for a variety of community activities. Festivals are often held in the Commons area of the marketplace. Downtown’s Main Street and White Way are two more favorite spots for shopping and dining. At East Point Farmers Market, open on the second Saturday of each month between August and December, hand-made local crafts and artisan foods share space with fresh-picked produce. Seventeen area parks offer such facilities as picnic sites, tennis and basketball courts, walking trails and pavilions.
The city’s special events calendar includes the Taste of East Point in May, the 4th of July Fireworks Extravaganza, the Destination East Point festival in October and carnivals in summer and fall. East Point has more than a dozen hotels, a number of which offer special reunion packages, and group travel accommodations are easily arranged. The ATL SkyTrain rail system provides an easy connection between the hotels and the Atlanta airport.
Travelers to the Macon/Bibb County area in April might catch the Barnesville BBQ and Blues Festival, but if you miss it there are still plenty of local places to experience Georgia’s rich cultural heritage.
Macon is home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which showcases the accomplishments of Georgia natives like Little Richard, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, gospel music pioneer the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Dorsey and other African-American musicians with connections to the state. The Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center, named for another well-known figure in gospel, and the Booker T. Washington Community Center, which houses the Otis Redding Memorial Library, are located in Macon’s Pleasant Hill Historic District. Redding also is honored with a statue in Gateway Park and the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge that stretches across the Ocmulgee River.
Macon’s most prominent Black heritage attraction is the Tubman African American Museum, whose centerpiece exhibit is a 63-ft. mural by Macon artist Wilfred Stroud titled “From Africa to America”. The Coliseum & Edgar H. Wilson Convention Centre is the largest meeting venue in the Macon/Bibb County area, with 140,000 total sq. ft. of space, including 20 meeting areas, a 9,100-sq.-ft. ballroom and more than 85,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space.
Known for the picturesque charm of its historic district, Savannah also is the gateway to one of Georgia’s favorite recreational destinations. Family reunion groups might especially enjoy an excursion to Tybee Island, located 18 miles east of Savannah, for a day of kayaking, beachcombing, picnicking and touring the Tybee Marine Science Center, Tybee Light Station and Tybee Island Museum.
History buffs will want to spend some time among the more than 1,600 buildings in the historic district, including several African-American heritage sites. Founded in 1773 and thought to be the oldest continuously operating Black congregation in North America, First African Baptist Church once served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Other local Black heritage attractions include the Beach Institute African-American Cultural Center, the King-Tisdell Cottage and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum.
The city’s largest meeting space is the 330,000-sq. ft. Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, offering river views, 100,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 13 meeting rooms, a 25,000-sq.-ft. ballroom and a 3,670 seat auditorium. The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, which contains meeting and event space, is just one example of Savannah’s interesting offsite venues. There are more than 14,000 area guest rooms.
Along with boasting the 2012 NCAA basketball champs, Kentucky’s capital city is known as the heart of the state’s Bluegrass Region. The 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park and 450 area horse farms have earned Lexington another nickname: Horse Capital of the World. Two notable Black heritage sites in Lexington are New Zion, a neighborhood founded by former slaves, and the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, named for the artist who created commemorative U.S. coins honoring Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver.
Louisville’s must-see attractions include the Muhammad Ali Center and the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, which houses a permanent exhibit on the role of Black jockeys and trainers in the famous Thoroughbred race. The Kentucky Derby Festival starts two weeks before the race with a huge fireworks display called Thunder Over Louisville. Visitors might also enjoy a cruise aboard the nation’s oldest operating steam-driven river paddlewheeler, the Belle of Louisville
Each year Louisiana plays host to more than 400 festivals, with many of them celebrating food, from the Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula to the Catfish Festival in Washington. Some of the most popular musical events — Jazz Fest in late April and early May, the French Quarter Festival in mid-April, the Essence Fest in July and the Satchmo SummerFest in August — take place in New Orleans, where the biggest party of them all is Mardi Gras.
New Orleans is home to the nation’s oldest African-American neighborhood, Faubourg Treme, which in 2012 marks a bicentennial that coincides with the state’s 200th birthday. The New Orleans African American Museum is housed in one of the neighborhood’s historic homes.
Other points of interest along Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail include the Arna Bontemps Museum in Alexandria, the Northeast Louisiana African American Heritage Museum in Monroe, the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville and the Hermione Museum in Tallulah.
Baton Rouge’s Southern University Museum of Art, located on the main campus of the nation’s largest historically Black university, offers Mississippi River views and event space along with its art collection. Other interesting offsite venues in Louisiana’s capital city include an outdoor pavilion overlooking a pond at Louisiana State University’s Hilltop Arboretum, the museum aboard the USS Kidd
and the ballroom at the Old Governor’s Mansion.
The city’s largest meeting venue is the 200,000-sq. ft. Baton Rouge River Center, which encompasses The Arena and the Theatre for the Performing Arts. More than 9,000 area guestrooms provide lodging accommodations.
Visitors interested in exploring the Black heritage of Shreveport and Bossier City, its neighbor across the Red River, can tour the Stephens African American Museum. Shreveport also is home to a second branch of the Southern University Museum of Art and the Multicultural Center of the South.
Two top attractions in Bossier City are the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale AFB and the Louisiana Boardwalk. Five area riverboat casinos and horseracing at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs provide lots of options for visitors who want to try their luck. The area’s largest meeting facility, the Shreveport-Bossier City Convention Center, contains more than 350,000 sq. ft. of space.
The Mississippi Culinary Trail highlights places to sample hot tamales, barbecue, catfish and other regional favorites. For a taste of the rich musical history of the Magnolia State, you can visit some of the stops along the Mississippi Blues Trail. Outdoor adventurers might head for the hiking trail along the Black Creek in the DeSoto National Forest, go canoeing on Bear Creek in Tishomingo State Park, or spend some time hiking and dolphin watching on Ship Island, just south of Gulfport.
If gaming is your favorite adventure, Gulfport’s Island View Casino Resort offers 1,900 slots and 20 table games, along with an assortment of nightclubs, shops and restaurants. The resort also includes a large meeting space and 562 hotel rooms. Other local attractions include the CEC & Seabee Memorial Museum, the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, the Gulfport Symphony Orchestra and the Arts Under the Dome concert series at First United Methodist Church.
Fans of “The Help” can check out Jackson’s new driving tour, with stops in the Belhaven neighborhood, downtown and other parts of Jackson where scenes from the Academy Award-winning movie were set.
Entertainment is the theme of many of the top visitor attractions in Mississippi’s capital and largest city. Jackson/Evers International Airport houses the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. The Farish Street Historical District, once the city’s Black cultural and commercial center, is home to Ace Records, Trumpet Records studio, the Alamo Theater, and Birdland — the live music venue where Ellington, Hampton, Armstrong and other jazz legends performed when it was known as the Crystal Palace Night Club. Tours are available at Malaco Records, a historic blues, R&B and gospel music company. The Summer Hotel earned its Mississippi Blues Trail marker for having housed the legendary Subway Lounge in its basement.
Music history accounts for just a portion of Jackson’s long list of Black heritage sites. Others include the Farish Street Baptist Church, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, the Medgar Evers Home Museum, the Margaret Walker Alexander National African-American Research Center, Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and the Old Capitol Museum, which houses the nation’s first permanent civil rights exhibit.
A number of local attractions provide unique meeting venues, including the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Dupree House & Mamie’s Cottage, the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the Mississippi Fairgrounds Complex and Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The city’s largest meeting venue is the Jackson Convention Complex, which contains more than 330,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space, including a 30,000-sq. ft. banquet hall, 60,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall, a 33,000-sq. ft. registration lobby, a business center and a 382-seat theater. The convention center is located next to the 74,000-sq. ft. Mississippi TelCom Center. The number of hotel rooms citywide totals approximately 5,500.
Natchez draws thousands of visitors to see the historic homes on tour during the annual spring and fall pilgrimages. Another popular event is the Natchez Bluff Blues Festival, with music venues throughout the city. A Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Jack Waite Park pays tribute to the African-American harmonica player Alexander “Papa George” Lightfoot.
Don’t miss a tour of the Natchez Museum of African Art and Heritage, housed in the old Natchez post office on Main Street and operated by the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture. Other local Black heritage sites include Rose Hill Baptist Church, the state’s oldest Black Baptist congregation, and Zion Chapel African American Episcopal Church, whose 19th century pastor, Hiram R. Revels, became the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Congress.
The area’s Native American history takes the spotlight at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, where free admission lets you tour a reconstructed Natchez Indian house and three ceremonial mounds, hike a nature tail and browse in a gift shop filled with Native American crafts.
The Natchez Convention Center Complex, located in the historic district, contains nearly 30,000 sq. ft. of function space on two levels, including a 5,100-sq. ft. pre-function area.
The Afro-American Cultural Center in North Carolina’s largest city sports a rooftop terrace that would make a prime spot for a conference reception. Other top cultural attractions in Charlotte include the Mint Museum of Art, the Mint Museum of Design, the Levine Museum of the New South and the Charlotte Museum of History, which has the historic Hezekiah Alexander Home on its campus.
Visitors to Durham can browse the African-American art and artifacts at the Hayti Heritage Center, operated by the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation. More artwork is on display at the NCCU Museum of Art, on the campus of historically Black North Carolina Central University.
Along with several sites reflecting its Moravian heritage, Winston-Salem offers African-American heritage attractions like Winston-Salem State University and the Delta Arts Center. Winston-Salem also is the surprising birthplace of Texas Pete® hot sauce, and visitors can tour the company’s headquarters and factory.
Greensboro is chock full of attractions where visitors can explore the area’s Black history and culture. The most recent addition is the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, housed in the original downtown Woolworth’s store where four North Carolina A&T State University students staged their famous lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s.
The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Institute, at the former site of a Black preparatory school founded in 1902, offers event space in one of the school’s former dining halls. At Mendenhall Plantation, one of the key exhibits is a false-bottom wagon used to transport runaway slaves. Other notable sites include Guilford College, the former location of a shelter for escaped slaves, the African-American Atelier art gallery and the Walkway of History, lined with markers commemorating events in local Black history.
One of Greensboro’s most interesting historic al landmarks is the Old Mill of Guilford, a working water-powered gristmill where the gift shop sells local crafts, honey and ham along with the stone-ground meal. The Sheraton Greensboro Hotel & Koury Convention Center, the city’s largest meeting venue, offers 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a business center along with its 1,106 guestrooms.
South Carolina’s Gullah community is a prominent part of its African-American history. You can learn more about the culture by taking a Gullah tour in Charleston and shopping at the City Market where artisans sell their traditional hand-made sweet grass baskets and other wares. Other Black heritage sites in Charleston include the Old Slave Mart and Museum and Emanuel AME, the oldest AME church in the South, where the slave rebel Denmark Vesey once preached.
Meeting groups and other travelers looking for a coastal retreat will find plenty to like in Myrtle Beach. One of the resort’s newest attractions is the Grand Park Athletic Complex. Golfers can tee off at one of the unique courses along the Grand Strand featuring design themes like jungles and dinosaurs, while the Oceanfront Boardwalk holds a Kids Carnival every Monday night. The Broadway at the Beach shopping, dining and entertainment complex is another favorite hangout.
If you’re gathering in Columbia, don’t’ miss a chance to tour the Mann-Simons Cottage, the home of Celia Mann, a slave who walked from Charleston to Columbia after gaining her freedom. The home remained in the hands of Mann’s descendants until the 1970s. A new addition is an exhibit on the history of a lunch counter that operated at the site from 1891 to 1900, featuring artifacts unearthed from a major archeological dig.
Additional local Black heritage attractions include the home of city civil rights leader Modjeska Simkins, the African-American Monument on the grounds of the State House, the African-American history collection at the South Carolina State Museum and the Big Apple — a former synagogue that became a popular Black dance club. Today, the Big Apple functions as a nightclub that also offers space for meetings, luncheons and other events.
Another choice for evening entertainment is a performance at the Koger Center for the Arts, which also has two meeting rooms. Columbia’s former warehouse district, dubbed the Congaree Vista, offers lots of entertainment options in its restaurants, galleries and nightclubs. One of the city’s top cultural attractions has gone green: Tourists visiting the Columbia Museum of Art will note that the roof is adorned with 177 solar panels, which are expected to offset 40 tons of carbon a year.
Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, kayaking, canoeing, camping and more at sites like Three Rivers Greenway and Congaree National Park. Nature-loving kids might get a kick out of exploring the Carolina Children’s Garden. Sports-loving groups can access a special marketing arm of the local visitors’ bureau for help with their event-planning needs.
Columbia has more than 537,449 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the 142,500-sq. ft. Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. That facility contains 15,125 sq. ft. of meeting space, 24,700-sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 17,135-sq. ft. ballroom.
Visitors to Knoxville, the largest city in the eastern region of the Volunteer State, can explore the history of women in round ball at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Knoxville’s Black heritage is highlighted at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Morningside Park, which features a 13-ft. bronze statue of Roots author Alex Haley.
Memphis, Tennessee’s largest city, lies at its eastern edge. Its famed historic Beale Street entertainment district is a must-see attraction, while two other top sites are the National Civil Rights Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul.
In the state’s central region, the capital city of Nashville is home to such historic landmarks as Jubilee Hall, on the campus of Fisk University, and Music Row, the heart of the country music recording industry. A new addition will be the $17 million African American Museum of Music, Art and Culture.
Cultural and historical attractions in this mountainous destination include the Chattanooga African-American Museum, the Bluff View Art District and the 4 Bridges Arts Festival in May. Of course one of Chattanooga’s biggest draws is its natural landscape, on view at sites like Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls and Rock City. A ride on the world’s steepest passenger railway offers a great sightseeing post. Kids might especially enjoy a visit to the Tennessee Aquarium or the Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park, while adult shopping enthusiasts might choose Hamilton Place Mall as their playground.
The Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center contains 185,000 sq. ft. of space, including 100,800 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space, 21 meeting rooms and a 19,000-sq. ft. divisible ballroom. It’s adjacent to the 342-room Chattanooga Marriott Hotel, which has another 7,712 sq. ft. of meeting space. There are an additional 1,650 hotel rooms near the convention center and a total of 9,000 rooms in the metro area.
The convention center is the first in the United States to incorporate “day lighting” technology, utilizing sunlight streaming in through openings in the ceiling. Another notable “green tech” feature in Chattanooga is its free zero-emission electric shuttle system.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
Family reunion groups and business travelers considering a retreat in the mountains might check out the services of Timber Tops Luxury Cabin Rentals. With its headquarters located 50 miles from the McGee/Tyson Airport in Knoxville, the company offers cabins and chalets in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville in styles ranging from elegant to rustic. At the premium level are the cabins perched at high elevations, affording spectacular views. While Timber Tops, LLC manages these facilities, each one is individually owned.
Containing anywhere from one to 15 bedrooms, all of the cabins come equipped with heat and air conditioning, refrigerator and other kitchen equipment, television, bed linens and towels. Upgraded accommodations include those featuring hot tubs, saunas, spas, game rooms and home theater systems. “Silver” cabins have indoor swimming pools, while Chalet Village has a clubhouse pool that all guests can access. Some of the cabins are pet-friendly.
For visitors who want to stay connected during their Smoky Mountain retreat, Timber Tops offers some cabins with free unlimited long distance phone service and hi-speed or wireless Internet. Dollywood theme park is close to the Timber Tops office in Pigeon Forge. Other things to do in the surrounding area include cruising through Cades Cove Lop, exploring Forbidden Caverns and hunting for local arts and crafts.
Diversity is a key part of Nashville’s past, present and future. While slavery was part of plantation life in Middle Tennessee, this area was also one of the first to embrace economic and educational freedom for former slaves as the Civil War ended. In the 20th century, Nashville was the site of many non-violent demonstrations during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Today, the city has become a model of the American melting pot with an active Native American population, thriving Hispanic community and growing Middle Eastern and Asian presence. Different cultures, religions, ideas and customs have come together harmoniously in modern day Music City.
For history buffs, the city has a plethora of African-American cultural treasures to explore. Options like famed Fisk University, the American Baptist College, Meharry Medical College and Tennessee State University are must-see attractions, while a visit to the Civil Rights Collection exhibit at the downtown library or the African-American Historic Sites driving tour are two more possibilities. Plans are underway for the city to soon welcome the new Museum of African American Music, Art & Culture celebrating the contributions of African-Americans on a local, regional, national and international level.
Nashville also boasts two outstanding meeting venues for larger events, with a third facility coming on line in 2013. The Nashville Convention Center conveniently located in the heart of downtown, is connected to the 673-room Renaissance Nashville Hotel and adjacent to Bridgestone Arena. Combined they offer a grand total of 310,000 square feet of available meeting, exhibit and event space. More than 3,000 additional rooms are within walking distance or a short ride, and over 25,000 can be found in the area. The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center features 2,881 guestrooms and 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting, exhibition and pre-function space. The new facility – Music City Center – will house 1.2 million sq. ft., including 350,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, and 90,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Virginia’s oldest museum is found on the campus of the historically Black Hampton University. Hampton’s Virginia Air & Space Center includes an exhibit on Tuskegee Airmen, and there is more history to explore at the Hampton History Museum, the Mariners’ Museum and the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe.
In the capital city of Richmond, some of the most significant Black heritage sites are in Jackson Ward. Visitors to this historic neighborhood can tour the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and view a statue of Richmond native Bill “Bojangles” Robinson that stands next to city’s first traffic light, a gift from the entertainer. A Gallery Walk at the Virginia Historical Society features exhibits on the Civil Rights Movement and the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.
The list of recreational and sightseeing attractions in the Commonwealth includes Hampton’s Buckroe Beach, Shenandoah National Park, Luray Caverns and the 343-mile Virginia Creeper Trail.
Norfolk’s Granby Street Food Tour and Historic Ghent Food Tour, part of a tourism program called Coastal Food Tours of Virginia, offer a great chance to sample some local delicacies while you’re in town.
If you have a taste for art, you can watch a glassblowing demonstration at the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio, which opened in November 2011 next to the Chrysler Museum of Art. The museum houses a major collection of photography chronicling the Civil Rights Movement and one of the nation’s largest collections of Tiffany-blown glass. It also has space for group events. The Attucks Theatre, named for the African-American Revolutionary War hero Crispus Attucks, is another option for an offsite venue.
The Norfolk Scope arena, with 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, is one of several participants in the city’s Waterside Convention Connection, a hospitality alliance that facilitates access to more than 1,200 hotel rooms, 55 meeting rooms and more than 200,000 sq. ft. of convention space. Other members include the Waterside Convention Center, the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, the Radisson Hotel Norfolk and the Waterside Festival Marketplace. The city has a total of about 5,400 guestrooms, and several hotels are “Virginia Green Certified.”
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center or the Contemporary Art Center would make a memorable setting for a meeting or reception in Virginia Beach. For large groups, the LEED® Gold-certified Virginia Beach Convention Center offers a total of 516,000 sq. ft. of meeting, exhibit and function space, including a 31,029-sq. ft. ballroom. There are more than 3,500 committable hotel rooms within two and a half miles of the convention center.
The Virginia Legends Walk is paved with tributes to Ella Fitzgerald, Arthur Ashe, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allen Poe and other famous Virginians. Two more places to explore local history are the Cape Henry Lighthouse and the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, which is housed in the last remaining cottage on the Virginia Boardwalk.
For some outdoor recreation, you might embark on a wintertime whale-watching boat trip from the Virginia Aquarium, take a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay or plan a picnic in First Landing State Park. The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape offer more recreation and sightseeing opportunities.
Town Center is a favorite haunt for shopping and dining, and many local restaurants are proud participants in the Virginia Green program.
Among the best places to enjoy the views of West Virginia’s picturesque landscape are the Bluestone National Scenic River in the southern part of the state, the Gauley River National Recreation Area in the south-central area and the Midland Trail National Scenic Highway near Charleston. The Mountain State is world-famous for its crafts, and one of the state’s top art events is Charleston’s Capitol City Arts & Crafts Show in November. The Fenton Art Glass factory near Charleston is open for tours.
For a closer view of the area’s African-American culture and history, you can visit the Mattie V. Lee Home, the residence of the first Black female physician in the state; the Samuel Starks House, home of the nation’s first Black state librarian; the Black Culture and African Heritage Center at Heritage Towers; and the Booker T. Washington Memorial in nearby Malden. For entertainment, consider heading over to the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Crosslanes.
If this sampling of Southern destinations makes you hungry to learn more, the state tourism offices listed with this article have lots of information to help get your meeting, incentive trip or reunion plans started.
GETTING IN TOUCH
Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
Visit Florida/Florida Tourism and Marketing Corp.
Georgia Department of Economic Development
Kentucky Department of Tourism
Louisiana Office of Tourism
Mississippi Division of Tourism Development
(866) SEE MISS
North Carolina Division of Tourism
(800) VISIT NC
South Carolina Department of parks, Recreation & Tourism
(888) SC SMILE
Tennessee Department of Tourism Development
Virginia Tourism Corp.
West Virginia Division of Tourism