Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: February/March 2008
Black History Month Focus: Historic Sites and Venues
By: Norman Mayers
Every February, African-Americans can reflect on their past during Black History Month. This time of year creates the perfect opportunity for Blacks to learn about the unsung heroes, pioneers, and legends of our culture. Television ads remind us of this fact, as do countless magazines, promotions, and websites. So rather than simply reading up on African-American history, why not take a more active approach. All around the United States there is a living history that is being told in every state, every neighborhood, and every region. Hundreds of museums, historic sites, monuments, festivals, and neighborhoods tell our story through vivid imagery and experiences. But the best part is that these historic sites can be experienced year round. Black History isn’t confined to February. Blacks have contributed to all aspects of American life throughout history and as such have offered an infinite number of possibilities. Why not start exploring your history first hand today?

As the center of the plantation system, the Southern United States is where most of African-American culture can ferret out its roots. It is in the South where most of us can trace our families to and it makes sense that this is where most of the stories about African-American history will be told. A wealth of attractions can be found in states like Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Everything from the stories of slavery and the Civil Rights movement to the creation of rock n roll and jazz can be experienced in the South. Each state and city has a different story to tell.

Birmingham, Alabama is perhaps best known as the centerpiece of the Civil Rights movement and thus the city is home to The Civil Rights District, a six-block area that pays tribute to the fight for human rights. The district’s most prominent attraction is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, home to permanent exhibitions that show the journey through the movement. The institute is more than a museum, acting as a center for education, research and discussions on civil and human rights issues. Other important sites in the district include the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, a tribute to the great jazz artists hailing from Alabama, and Kelly Ingram Park, the focal point of grassroots resistance. The park is full of sculptures depicting attacks on demonstrators and children for participating in movement activities and a tribute to the ministers, who played a pivotal role in the success of the movement.

There is plenty for the African-American visitors to discover in Montgomery, Alabama. The Civil Rights Memorial Center expands the experience of the Civil Rights Memorial, which honors the memory and achievements of those who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Memorial was designed by famed architect, Maya Lin, who also crafted the Vietnam Wall memorial. In addition to state-of-the-art exhibits and in-depth information, the center houses a 69-seat theater, a classroom, a section dedicated to contemporary social justice issues, and the Wall of Tolerance, where visitors can add their name as they pledge to help end social injustice.

  The Rosa Parks Library & Museum provides a reenactment experience involving the activities of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and involvement of other early Civil Rights leaders. Visitors are able to put themselves in the place of Rosa Parks through a recreated street scene and replica of the bus, while video footage transports witnesses to the fateful day. Additional exhibits lead visitors on an emotional journey through the days of the Bus Boycott, which became the first step on the difficult path to civil rights in America.

What truly sets Memphis, Tennessee apart are the wealth of attractions and entertainment options that highlight the trials, triumphs, and contributions of African-Americans. No visit to Memphis is complete without exploring Beale Street, one of America’s most famous musical avenues. Located in the heart of downtown Memphis, this entertainment area offers three blocks of more than 30 nightclubs, restaurants and shops. Go let loose to traditional blues, R&B, jazz or rock. The Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum presents a remarkable exhibition, as created by the Smithsonian Institution, on the birth of rock & roll and soul music by delving into the backgrounds of musical legends such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Al Green and many others.

The National Civil Rights Museum provides interpretive exhibits and audio/visual displays that bring to life the most significant moments of civil and human rights struggles and victories. The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum is a deeply moving and fascinating glimpse into how runaway slaves escaped to the North.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, attractions of interest include the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, a museum for research, preservation and display of Knoxville’s African-American citizens’ achievements from the 1800s; and Haley Heritage Square, home of the 13-ft.t bronze Alex Haley statue — the largest statue of an African-American in the United States. Chattanooga also has its own African-American museum. The Chattanooga African-American Museum has a reservoir of materials on almost any aspect of Black American history and effectively portrays African-American contributions to the growth of the city and the nation.

One of Louisville, Kentucky’s top attractions is the Muhammad Ali Center, an international, cultural and educational institution that is guided and inspired by the ideals of Muhammad Ali as they relate to our individual lives. This non-traditional museum experience follows Muhammad Ali’s steps to “personal greatness” which are goal-setting, training, motivation, and humanitarianism. In addition to the visitor experience, the Center includes educational classrooms and distance learning facilities, an orientation theater, an auditorium, an exhibit gallery, a library and archives, multi-function rooms for up to 300 people, a shop and a café.

Georgia is another state with plenty to offer the African-American history buff. Atlanta is home to many popular cultural attractions such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site and the Sweet Auburn District, which appeal to African-American travelers looking to reconnect with their past. Just an hour south of Atlanta, Macon offers compelling attractions of interest to African-Americans such as the Tubman African American Museum, the South’s largest museum devoted to African American art, history and culture or the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, home to fascinating interactive exhibits dedicated to legends such as Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown and Little Richard.

The African American History Monument in Columbia, South Carolina is the first of its kind on any of the nation’s statehouse grounds. It captures the rich history of African-Americans and their contributions to the state of South Carolina. Sculptor Ed Dwight of Denver, CO, modeled the monument after an African village built in the round. The center obelisk represents spirituality and is reminiscent of the pyramids in Egypt. At its base is a nine-ft. bronzed ship icon with 336 enslaved Africans chained together in the bowels of the vessel for the trans-Atlantic voyage from their motherland to America.

New Orleans is known for its rich African-American history. For a small taste check out the historic Fauborg Treme neighborhood, the oldest urban African American neighborhood in the country. Explore the area for the brilliant architecture as well as the great museums and restaurants. Other attractions of interest include the New Orleans African American Museum of Art, Culture and History and the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

In Arkansas, a trip to the Central High School National Park Site in Little Rock is an essential. This national landmark was the battleground for the Brown v. Board of Education decision that rocked the nation and changed the course of African-American history and politics.

The South, however, isn’t the only place to experience the beauty of the African-American story. Throughout this great nation our stories and achievements have continued to inspire and change those in all 50 states. Another important attraction awaits in Cincinnati, Ohio in the form of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This $110 million, 158,000-sq. ft. facility tells the story of the struggle to abolish slavery through interactive exhibits, galleries, and films. This compelling facility is beautifully constructed and is truly a can’t-miss attraction.

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