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Dallas Nightlife

DALLAS, TX

Come January 2008, the nationally renowned Booker T. Washington High School for Performing and Visual Arts, alma mater of Erykah Badu and Norah Jones, will move to the Dallas Arts District, which is the largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation. When the new Dallas Center for the Performing Arts opens in 2009, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre will be among the featured companies taking the stage.

Dallas already is home to the Southwest’s only Black art, history and culture museum. The African American Museum is located in Fair Park, which also happens to have the nation’s largest collection of 1930s art deco-style art and architecture.

“It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and has nine museums and six performance halls spread out over 277 acres, including the Cotton Bowl, where the legendary Grambling-Prairie View game is played each fall,” says Phillip Jones, president and CEO of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau.

One notable city-designated historic landmark is St. Paul United Methodist Church, which was founded by freed slaves in 1873. The downtown church is currently undergoing restoration.

“The city has many outlets for those seeking heritage-based tourist activities, such as exploring Freedman’s Cemetery or visiting the South Dallas Cultural Center and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters for arts, theatre and dance,” says Jones, who adds that the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the African American Museum, New Arts Six and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters drew one million visitors in 2005.

“As the fourth largest metropolitan area in the U.S., Dallas is such an incredibly diverse city, and cultural and heritage tourism will always be important,” Jones says.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL

At Fort Lauderdale’s African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, one of only three such facilities in the nation, one of the most interesting exhibits is the Council of Elders Collection, says Jessica Taylor, media relations director for the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Visitors discover the oral histories of Broward (County’s) Black pioneers, long-time families and historic gatherings, including 100 video-taped interviews, photographs, documents and first-hand journals from residents of African, African-American and Caribbean neighborhoods,” Taylor says.

Gospel music star Bobby Jones has chosen Lauderhill, located just west of Fort Lauderdale, as the site of his Gospel Complex for Education and Preservation.

“The complex celebrates the vibrancy of gospel music and will keep its history alive for many years to come,” Taylor says. “A heritage archive will be featured, in addition to performances, seminars, and hands-on training and educational experiences for youth. The Gospel Complex has received a warm reception from the community, with an anticipated opening of late 2010.”

In a bow to Lauderhill’s Caribbean heritage, the new Broward County Central Regional Park, which opened in 2006, has a 15,000-seat cricket field, while Caribbean-themed art and entertainment, along with upscale shopping, will be featured in a future $450 million complex called Carichoca.

“Cultural and heritage tourism are an important part of the diverse mix of visitors that represent a total of almost $9 billion a year to Greater Fort Lauderdale’s economy,” Taylor says. “The county has increased funding to address the needs of cultural and heritage tourism.”

JACKSON, MS

The birth of the blues in Mississippi’s Delta region is common knowledge, but the important role of the capital city in the state’s musical heritage may be more of a surprise, says Mara Hartman, manager of communications and public relations at the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“The way the music got out to the people was when those musicians traveled to larger cities where they could record this music and get it out to the masse — and that, typically, in the beginning was in Jackson and Memphis,” Hartman says.

Blues lovers will also find more opportunities to hear the music performed in Jackson than in the place where its roots began.

“You can catch live blues almost any night of the week in Jackson,” Hartman says. “And that’s something that a lot of people don’t realize: You can go to the Delta, but you might not be able to catch live blues music, because the towns aren’t big enough.”

The Malaco Records studio is still churning out blues recordings, along with gospel and soul, while a marker at the former site of Trumpet Records is a recent addition to the statewide Blues Heritage Trail. Another local site on the trail was once home to the famed Subway Lounge, the subject of a documentary called “The Last of the Mississippi Jukes.”

Two local heritage sites commemorate the life and achievements of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. “His home is a museum now that’s open by appointment, and near his neighborhood is a library named after him,” Hartman says. “There is a beautiful life-sized bronze statue in front of the library that was erected by the citizens who live there who wanted to pay tribute to him.”

Jackson plays host to many African-American family reunion groups who come to the city to trace their Mississippi roots. “Some of them are really into their genealogy, and we have a great Department of Archives and History here that they can come to and research their family ancestry,” Hartman says.

KNOXVILLE, TN

Knoxville recently launched an initiative dubbed KAATCH — which stands for the Knoxville African American Tours of Cultural Heritage — to promote tours and cultural events in the Black community.

“KAATCH successfully established the Haley Heritage Summer Movie Classics, offering a family-oriented funfest with a movie in Morningside Park,” reports Linda T. Milan, senior sales manager at the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation. “Other initiatives include virtual tours with digital story videos, as well as self-guided walking and driving tours.”

KAATCH is a partnership of several local organizations: African American Appalachian Arts, Inc., Beck Cultural Exchange Center, Inc., The Carpetbag Theatre, Inc., The Literacy Imperative, Inc. and the University of Tennessee Community Partnership Center.

Each year, thousands of visitors tour the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, which Milan notes is one of the oldest African-American museums in the Southeast.

“At Beck, visitors will learn about Knoxville natives Judge William H. Hastie, first Black governor of the Virgin Islands, and Nikki Giovanni, poet, author and educator,” Milan says. “Nikki was born and reared in Knoxville. The Library & Research Center has more than 1,100 Black history-related books, (with) over 50 written by Black Knoxvillians. Another unique exhibit at Beck is the African-American postage stamp exhibit.”

Milan views heritage tourism as an “educational and exciting” part of the industry. “Every city has a history and a story to share,” she says.

LOUISVILLE, KY

Recognizing both the growth of heritage tourism and the economic impact of the $4.6 billion African-Americans spend on leisure travel each year, Louisville is working to tap some of that market potential.

“The Louisville Convention Bureau has developed multicultural tour itineraries and is in the process of developing a quarterly Multicultural E-Newsletter that will provide updates on new tourism productions and developments in the city,” says Peggy Riley, director of multicultural affairs for the Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Riley points to the Muhammad Ali Center as one of the city’s must-see heritage attractions.

“This center is more than a museum,” Riley says. “It serves as both a destination site and an international education and cultural center that is inspired by the ideals of its founder, Muhammad Ali.”

The center features two and a half levels of multimedia, interactive exhibits that both highlight and transcend Ali’s illustrious boxing career. For example, Riley says the Core Value Pavilions and the Journey Lines “will not only take visitors through Ali’s life story, but (they) will also give them a look at what was happening in Louisville and the nation during the civil rights era.”

The Louisville CVB is also promoting a new heritage attraction at the Carnegie Center for Art & History in New Albany, Indiana, just five minutes from downtown Louisville. (i)Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage: The Men and Women of the Underground Railroad(ei) is an interactive, feature-length multimedia presentation about the lives of those who helped fugitive slaves in Kentucky and Indiana.

“Other local attractions that tell the story of African-American heritage in Louisville are the Farmington Historic House Museum, where enslaved African-Americans lived and worked for the prominent Speed Family of Louisville, and Historic Locust Grove, believed to have been built by slaves who not only lived and worked in the house and the fields but also served as surveying assistants for the owner,” Riley says.

MEMPHIS, TN

The Beale Street Historic District in Memphis is the most visited attraction in Tennessee, drawing 4.2 million visitors a year. That means nearly half the tourists who travel to Memphis spend some time checking out the area’s entertainment offerings and rich musical heritage.

“Beale Street was the social gathering magnet and meeting place for blues legends like the ‘Father of the Blues,’ W.C. Handy, who began publishing his songs as early as 1912,” says Jackie Reed, communications manager for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And the Memphis jug bands, prominent during the late 1920s and early 1930s, represent another of the transitional phases in Memphis blues music.”

While Beale Street is Memphis’ biggest cultural attraction, Reed says the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, at the original site of Stax Records, is “equally important” to its heritage.  In 2007, the museum led the city in a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Soul. The 17,000-sq. ft. facility showcases more than 2,000 artifacts and items of memorabilia. Besides exhibits related to the Stax label, as the “only soul museum in the world,” the Stax Museum also spotlights the music recorded for other companies like Muscle Shoals, Motown and Atlantic and Hi Records, Reed says.

Of course, no discussion of heritage tourism in Memphis would be complete without mentioning the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the former Lorraine Hotel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

“The National Civil Rights Museum is by far one of Memphis’ most compelling tourist attractions,” Reed says.


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