Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel

MONTGOMERY, AL

Like many cities in the South, Montgomery’s historical image is marked with contrast. “History is particularly rich here, dubbed as both the ‘Cradle of the Confederacy,’ and ‘Birthplace of Civil Rights,’” says Dawn Hathcock, vice president of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitor Bureau. “Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederacy, and the location from which the telegram was sent that started the War Between the States. Visitors can tour the First White House of the Confederacy and the Civil Rights Memorial, where two different historical stories are told.”

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum, located at the site where Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a White passenger, chronicles the event that led to the boycott that put the modern Civil Rights Movement in the national spotlight. The museum recently opened a children’s wing featuring a multimedia “Time Machine” presentation.

Montgomery is also home to the only church where Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

“Visitors to the church can view a mural depicting the events of the Civil Rights movement, in the basement where many meetings were held to plan the strategy of the bus boycott,” Hathcock says. “Upstairs in the church’s sanctuary, visitors will see the pulpit where Dr. King preached his message of non-violence.”

A new self-guided Civil Rights Audio Tour is now available through the Montgomery Area Visitor Center, in MP3 format for walkers and on CD for drivers.

To Hathcock, the advantage of promoting heritage tourism is more than economic.

“In addition to the financial impact, another benefit of cultural heritage tourism is the preservation of Montgomery’s unique character,” she says. “Montgomery has rich history that changed the world; we invite visitors of all ages and all races to come and experience these great stories!”

NATCHEZ, MS

Music is the star of two of Natchez’ most interesting cultural experiences, says Marsha Colson, marketing director for Natchez Pilgrimage Tours. A performance by the Holy Family Church Gospel Choir, representing the oldest Black Catholic church in Mississippi, is a regular feature of the city’s popular Spring Pilgrimage Tour of antebellum homes.

“During Pilgrimage they do something called ‘Southern Road to Freedom,’” Colson says. “They intersperse (their) songs with first-person narratives by maybe half a dozen of the performers who will step forward one or two at a time and portray some significant African-American person from local Natchez history.

“Another group called Amos Polk’s Voices of Hope, an African-American choir, (does) gospel songs following a traditional Southern-style dinner at a restaurant called the Carriage House, which is on the grounds of Stanton Hall, a fabulous mansion built in the 1850s by a wealthy Irishman.”

The home of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours manager Jim Coy, called Bontura House, was built by Robert Smith, a free Black man who ran a carriage service in the city. Coy has records of when Smith obtained his freedom and purchased the slave woman who later became his wife.

The Bontura house is open by special request and during the spring and fall Pilgrimage Tours. “It’s the only home on Pilgrimage that was built by a Black person and has such a strong African-American history,” Coy says. “All of the other homes were built by White men of wealth in the elite Southern society.”

Also worthy of note, Coy says, are the William Johnson House, home of a free Black barber who kept of vivid diary of his daily life in Natchez, and the Forks of the Road, the reputed site of the South’s second largest slave market.

THE HERITAGE TOURISM MARKETING VISION

The growing interest in heritage tourism has spawned organizations like the Cultural & Heritage Tourism Alliance, a coalition of professionals in the field that held its 9th annual conference on November 28-December 1, 2007, in Seattle. 

The CHTA marks the start of the heritage tourism movement at the American bicentennial of 1976. In later years, offices designated to promote heritage tourism began popping up in convention and visitors bureaus, tourism marketing corporations, regional and state arts and tourism councils, local historical commissions and other agencies.

As the CHTA notes on its Web site, there are many ways to define heritage tourism, but everyone involved in its marketing shares a similar vision: “introducing tourists to what makes our home towns, cities, regions or states unique and fascinating.”




TOUR OPERATOR

LaVerne L. Holmes

Site Seeing Tours, Inc., Washington, DC

Each year tour director LaVerne Homes offers a special itinerary that reflects the official Black History Month theme for that year. The 2007 theme was From Slavery to Freedom, in honor of the 1947 book by John Hope Franklin.

“A lot of people don’t know that there is a Black history theme, so that’s our way of letting people know,” Holmes says. “There are a number of Black history sites in Washington, DC, and we simply emphasize those places that would relate to slavery — for example, the Seventh Street Wharf, which is where the Pearl Affair took place. That was probably the largest attempt (though unsuccessful) by 77 Black slaves to get away down the Potomac.”

Holmes is especially excited about Washington’s new African American Civil War Memorial & Museum, which she says is outstanding, and is looking forward to being able to take visitors to the future Martin Luther King Memorial. In the meantime, the company’s Footsteps of Dr. King tour has become quite popular.

“We take groups to many of the places where he spent some time, such as the Willard Hotel, the Lincoln Memorial, our U Street neighborhood — which pre-dated Harlem — and the Tidal Basin area, which is where the nation is going to build a memorial honoring (King),” Holmes says.


TOUR OPERATOR

Elaine Turner

Heritage Tours, Inc., Memphis, TN

With excursions to places like the Beale Street Historic District, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Henning, Tennessee, hometown of Roots author Alex Haley, business has been growing steadily at Heritage Tours, says co-owner Elaine Turner.

“It seems that more people are tapping into learning about heritage and their connection with African-American history in whatever city they happened to travel to,” Turner says. “There just seems to be a growing interest, especially, of course (among) African-Americans, but other cultures also.”

Besides the Beale Street Walking Tour, the Memphis Civil Rights Tour, the Music Heritage Tour and the Henning, Tennessee Roots Tour, the company also offers a tour of sites associated with anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells.

Leisure and educational groups account for about 50% each of customers, including a significant number of senior travel groups.

“That’s a pretty big market: senior citizens rediscovering their roots,” Turner says. “(For) many of them, their families came from the South, and they want to come back and explore the South.”

Class and family reunions are also major sources of business. “We are finding that family reunions are doing more than just the family picnic,” Turner s says. “They want something else, and they realize that Memphis has a unique heritage, with the civil rights, the music and the whole spectrum of African-American history.”


TOUR OPERATOR

Kevin Cottrell

Motherland Connextions, Niagara Falls, NY

Calling himself stationmaster of the upstate New York tour company Motherland Connextions, Kevin Cottrell specializes in Underground Railroad tours and other historic travel experiences.

“The Underground Railroad is hot,” Cottrell says. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I would have thought that the window would have closed by now, but the window has gotten wider.”

Cottrell is a big proponent of forming partnerships with area businesses to expand the economic benefits of heritage tourism in the community.

“We’ve partnered with a theater company, so now my guides are full-blown actors,” Cottrell says. “Not only will I train them to know the history, but we’re going to be offering more vignettes than we normally do.”

Another alliance will have Motherland Connextions offering Underground Railroad tours that embark from the upscale Barton Hills Spa & Salon, in Lewiston, NY.

Through an initiative he created called the Northstar Project, Cottrell has become an advisor to the city of Niagara Falls in finding ways to entice more visitors to stay overnight in New York instead of on the Canadian side of the famed waterfalls.

Cottrell views himself as primarily a preservationist and educator who uses his tours as a teaching tool.

“We use tourism as a venue to educate,” Cottrell says. “Our buses are our classrooms.”

GETTING IN TOUCH

Atlanta CVB — (404) 521-660
Greater Birmingham CVB — (800) 458-8085
Greater Cincinnati CVB — (800) 543-2613
Columbia Metro CVB — (800) 264-4884
Dallas CVB — (214) 571-1000
Greater Ft. Lauderdale CVB — (800) 356-1662
Jackson CVB — (800) 354-7695
Knoxville TSC — (800) 727-8045
Greater Louisville CVB — (800) 626-5646
Memphis CVB — (901) 543-5304
Montgomery Area COC/CVB — (334) 834-5200
Kevin Cottrell — (716) 282-1028
LaVerne L. Homes — (888) 273-3748
Joan Nelson — (901) 527-3427
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