Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: May/June 2011
African-American Guide To Meeting, Incentives And Traveling In The South
By: Sonya Stinson
The South is well-known for its deeply rooted African-American heritage, civil rights history and influential culinary and musical traditions. Think of Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, Mississippi Delta blues, New Orleans jazz, Memphis barbecue joints and South Carolina Low Country cooking.

Along with their interest in the cultural roots of the South, many visitors to the region are drawn to the land itself, in search of outdoor sightseeing and adventure. Florida’s Everglades, Arkansas’ hot springs and Virginia’s Shenandoah forest are just a few of the outstanding features of the Southern landscape.

Besides accommodating meeting groups of all sizes with a variety of facilities, Southern destinations offer plenty of attractions and amenities for African-American reunion groups — many of which might be seeking to reconnect with their Southern roots. Whatever the reason for your trip down South, here’s a state-by-state sampling of what’s in store.

ALABAMA
From bass fishing on the Tennessee River to snorkeling off the Gulf Coast, Alabama’s outdoor attractions offer plenty of options for pre- and post-convention activities, corporate retreats, incentive travel and family reunion adventures.

For those whose interests expand beyond the outdoors into outer space, the city of Huntsville is home to one of Alabama’s top visitor attractions: the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Another notable local attraction is the Imhotep Art Gallery, which showcases the works of Black artists. In Mobile, Bellingrath Gardens offers a charming outdoor setting for a special event or leisurely stroll, while history buffs might enjoy touring the National African American Archives & Museum.

Montgomery boasts a number of African-American heritage sites, including the Civil Rights Memorial, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.
The Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center is one of the latest attractions in the city best known for its legendary historically Black university. Another major point of interest is the National Tuskegee Airmen Museum.

BIRMINGHAM
A meeting group looking for a leisurely diversion or a family reunion group seeking a fun activity might consider traveling to Alabama’s largest city in August, when the Birmingham Arts & Music Festival and the Stokin’ the Fire Barbecue and Music Festival are on tap.



One of Birmingham’s most popular attractions — and most unique settings for an offsite event — is Barber Motorsports Park and the onsite Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which houses more than 1,000 motorcycles. Many other notable local attractions also double as event venues, including the Sloth Furnaces National Historic Landmark (which hosts the Stokin’ the Fire fest), the McWane Science Center, the Birmingham Museum of Art and the WorkPlay Theater.

A tour of Birmingham’s renowned Civil Rights District will take you to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls; Kelly Ingram Park, where a series of sculptures commemorates the civil rights demonstrations that took place there; 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.

Oak Mountain State Park, located about 20 minutes from downtown Birmingham, would make a great setting for a family reunion picnic or corporate teambuilding sports activities. Other places to play include the entertainment district known as Five Points South; Alabama Adventure, the state’s first amusement park; and the Oxmoor Valley Golf Course, part of the state-wide Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

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.

ARKANSAS
In a place nicknamed “The Nature State,” you’ll naturally find plenty of outdoor adventure, from whitewater rafting on the Ouachita River to hunting for precious gems at the world’s only public diamond mine.



In Pine Bluff, you can book tee time at the Harbor Oaks Golf Course and — if you plan your trip for September — join in the city’s popular Smoke on the Water barbecue and music festival. Hot Springs could be the ideal setting for a spa vacation as an incentive trip, with Bath House Row in Hot Springs National Park as the pampering headquarters. Other area attractions include the Gangster Museum of America, the Mid-American Science Museum and Garvan Woodland Gardens.

Little Rock is home to one of the nation’s most significant historical landmarks: the Central High School National Historic Site, where a pivotal U.S. school desegregation case began. The Little Rock Nine Memorial, dedicated to the students involved in the case, is located on the grounds of the State Capitol.

FLORIDA
Whether it’s relaxing at one of the state’s luxurious resort spas, claiming a sandy play spot among its 825 miles of beaches or hitting the inks at a championship golf course, Florida offers visitors plenty of ways to indulge in their favorite pastimes.



Covering close to 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park makes a nice day trip for meeting groups and other travelers to Fort Lauderdale. The area also is home to the largest butterfly aviary in North America. To explore Fort Lauderdale’s Black heritage, you can tour such attractions as the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, the Old Dillard Museum and the Ashanti Cultural Arts Center.

The all-Black Massachusetts 54th regiment fought for the Union in a key Civil War battle at the site of Jacksonville’s Olustee Battlefield Monument. Florida’s largest city also is home to the historically Black Edward Waters College, where you can browse the African art collection at Centennial Hall on a campus tour.

DAYTONA BEACH

Getting around to some of the best attractions in Daytona Beach is easy now that the city’s trolley service has extended to link the historic downtown area to the beach. The city is home to Bethune-Cookman University, founded by the acclaimed educational and political leader Mary McCloud Bethune, whose historic home on the campus is open to tours.



Other local points of interest include the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and the Daytona 500 Experience IMAX Theater, located at one of America’s most famous auto racing venues. Daytona’s Ocean Center convention, entertainment and sports complex offers 205,536 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space.

GREATER MIAMI
While Greater Miami is well known for its upscale lodging, dining and entertainment spots, some of the area’s most interesting attractions cost little or nothing to experience. For 25 cents, you can take a shuttle tour of South Beach, including the Art Deco Historic District, the Holocaust Memorial and City Hall. Tours of the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables are free.



Outdoor adventurers can enjoy snorkeling, fishing and exploring the mangrove forest at Biscayne National Park. Another great place to get outdoors and experience nature is Jungle Island, where the Lemur Nursery offers small groups an opportunity for close-up encounters with the rare primate species.

Those planning a February trip to the area might want to catch the SoBay Festival of the Arts or take advantage of the seasonal three-hour Black history tour operated by Miami-Dade Transit. Notable African-American cultural and historical attractions include the Lyric Theater, the Chapman House and the D.A. Dorsey House — home of the city’s first Black millionaire — in Overtown and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City.

Among the area’s newest attractions are the Frank Gehry-designed performance hall for the New World Symphony and the Coral Gables Museum, where exhibits focus on architecture, urban design, planning and historic and environmental preservation.  A new car rental center completes the first phase of the $1.7 billion Miami Intermodal Center is now complete. The transportation hub will eventually link Miami International Airport, Amtrak, Metrorail, rental car companies and other transportation providers.

The Miami Beach Convention Center, located in the historic 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.

ORLANDO

According to Metropoll XIII, both corporate and association meeting planners said that out of 40 cities, Orlando is their top choice for a major convention, trade show, conference or seminar based on factors including quality of hotel and meeting facilities and overall value, amongst others.  Both planners and attendees won’t find any unpleasant surprises on their final bill: a recent study by the National Business Travel Association ranks Orlando as the sixth cheapest destination when it comes to discriminatory travel taxes and fees imposed on visitors, which include taxes charged on rental cars, hotels, meals and other travel-related services.



Orlando’s Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks also make it one of the nation’s top destinations for family travel, but there are also plenty of adult diversions. Walt Disney World Resort announced in 2010 the transformation of Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney into “Hyperion Wharf,” a modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier. The port district will feature stylish boutiques, innovative restaurants, a relaxing lakeside park with enhanced pedestrian walkways, and thousands of lights illuminating the night. The project is expected to take three years. The grownups can even indulge their racecar driving fantasies via the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World Speedway.

Orlando’s top theme parks also contain major meeting venues. Disney World offers a combined 600,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and there is 133,000 sq. ft. of space available at the Universal Orlando Resort. The 7 million-sq. ft. Orange County Convention Center is the second largest convention center in the United States, with.1 million sq. ft. of exhibit space, two 92,000-sq. ft. general assembly areas, 74 meeting rooms, a 160-seat lecture hall and a 62,000-sq. ft. multi-purpose room.

The Convention Center District surrounding the Orange County Convention Center has become more pedestrian friendly with the debut of a new covered, raised walkway extending from the 1,334-room Rosen Centre hotel to the OCCC’s west building. The bridge crosses over busy Convention Way and was completed in February 2011. Plans to add another skywalk directly connecting the Peabody Orlando to the OCCC’s west building are also currently underway.

Area conference hotels offer another 3.1 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space. Nearly 450 area hotels provide a combined total of nearly 116,000 guestrooms, with more than 7,600 of them within walking distance of the convention center.  One of the city’s most notable Black heritage attractions is the Wells’ Built Museum of African-American History, at the site of a hotel that lodged many famous African-American musicians during the 1920s. The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, named for the Harlem Renaissance writer and folklorist, is located in her nearby hometown of Eatonville, the nation’s oldest African-American municipality.

The arts are also the focus at attractions like the Pointe Performing Arts Center, the Mennello Museum of American Art and the Orlando Arts Fest in February, which showcases 220 events at 81 area venues. Kids will enjoy an outing at the Orlando Science Center, Busch Gardens Africa, Gatorland or SeaWorld, where a new simulation ride called Manta will give them a taste of how it feels to be a stingray.

PENSACOLA

Springtime is festival time in this Gulf Coast city, with March bringing the celebration known as Smokin’ in the Square to Seville Square and the Reggae Festival coming to the Seville Quarter in April. In the fall, the city hosts the Jamaican Fest in September and the Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival in November.



No matter what time of year you visit Pensacola, a trolley tour is a great way to take in some of its historical and cultural attractions. Historic Pensacola Village is home to two notable Black heritage sites: the Kate Coulson House, where the African-American Heritage Society operates a small art gallery and museum, and the Julee Panton Cottage, the early 19th century home of a free woman of color. Other stops on the trolley tour include Seville Square, the Port of Pensacola and NAS Pensacola, the first U.S. naval air station.

Two other sites with links to U.S. military history are 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. The Pensacola Civic Center offers more than 20,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and more than 13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

TALLAHASSEE
Meeting groups gathering in Tallahassee have a new venue option with the opening of Florida State University’s Turnbull Conference Center, which contains more than 47,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Between conference sessions they might want to explore some of the city’s African-American heritage attractions, such as the John G. Riley Center & Museum of African American History & Culture and the museum at Union Bank, Florida’s, oldest building, which formerly served newly freed slaves as the National Freedman’s Bank.

Outdoor enthusiasts might enjoy snorkeling and cave exploring in Wakulia Springs Stage Park or viewing pre-Columbian artifacts at Lake Jackson Mounds Archeological State Park.

TAMPA
Family reunion groups and meeting delegates traveling with kids will appreciate the variety of family-friendly attractions in Tampa. The new Glazer Children’s Museum expands a list that already included Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Florida Aquarium, which arranges dolphin ecotours. Nearby is Plant City’s Dinosaur World.



The city puts on a Black Heritage Festival in February, while year-round cultural attractions include the Tampa Bay History Center, the David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts 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. Along the artworks inside, the Tampa Museum of Art at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park displays an impressive work of contemporary architecture on its campus: the 66.000-sq. ft. Cornelia Corbett Center sporting pierced aluminum siding and a translucent ceiling.

One of Tampa’s most unique cultural sites is Ybor City, the Latin American neighborhood that is home to a 210,000-sq. ft. shopping and entertainment complex called Centro Ybor.  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. Area guestrooms total approximately 24,000.

GEORGIA

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta is Georgia’s best-known Black heritage attraction, and the Tubman Museum in Macon is its largest African-American museum, but even some of the state’s smaller destinations offer interesting places to explore the history of its Black people.

Georgia’s mountainous region is home to the Beulah Rucker Museum in Gainesville, honoring the efforts of a local African-American leader to start a school for Black children. The northwestern town of Calhoun is the site of the Harris Art Center, which also houses the Roland Hayes Museum and the Roland Hayes Music Guild, named for the pioneering African-American classical tenor who hailed from Curryville, GA.

Calhoun has the Chattahoochee National Forest as its backdrop, offering outdoor lovers a variety of recreational choices. Other places to see in Georgia’s great outdoors include Okefenokee Swamp Park, Desoto Falls and the Chattooga River, a popular course for whitewater rafting.

ATLANTA
Georgia’s newest convention facility is now open for business in Greater Atlanta. Sporting a contemporary design, the 400,000-sq. ft. Georgia International Convention Center in College Park encompasses 150,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 94,009-sq. ft. lobby and registration concourse, 16,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, a 42,000-sq. ft. pre-function area and a 40,000-sq. ft. ballroom, the largest in the state.



Connected to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport via the ATL SkyTrain, the building’s design was inspired by flight, with angled walls and silver and glass surfaces. It is the first U.S convention center to be directly linked to a major airport. The center holds a collection of commissioned art valued at more than $1 million. You can download an audio art tour from the website at (u)http://www.gicc.com/art.asp(eu). Other special features include a Green Room and a 9,800-sq. ft. Culinary Arts Center. There are more than 8,000 total guestrooms near the convention center, and a new 403-room Marriott Hotel a 147-room SpringHill Suites hotel was added to the area in mid-2010.

The Center is located 10 minutes from downtown Atlanta, making local attractions like the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia Aquarium easily accessible to meeting groups.

MACON/BIBB

The Tubman African American Museum is a must-see attraction in Macon, which has an impressive list of African-American heritage sites. It’s the largest African-American museum in the state, with a 63-ft. mural titled “From Africa to America” by Macon artist Wilfred Stroud as its most striking exhibit.



Macon also is home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, where exhibits include artifacts from Little Richard, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, gospel music pioneer the Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Dorsey and other African-Americans with connections to the state. The Pleasant Hill Historic District is the site of the Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center and the Booker T. Washington Community Center, which houses the Otis Redding Memorial Library. The Otis Redding Statue in Gateway Park serves as another tribute to the late R&B singer who hailed from Macon, as does the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge over the Ocmulgee River, which connects the Macon Coliseum & Convention Centre to downtown Macon.

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.

SAVANNAH

In a city with more than 1,600 buildings in its historic district, a number of landmarks have a connection to the area’s African-American history and culture.  Founded in 1773, First African Baptist Church is thought to be the oldest continuously operating Black congregation in North America. The Beach Institute African-American Cultural Center was initially established in 1865 as the city’s first school built for African-Americans. Visitors can also tour the historic King-Tisdell Cottage, which serves as a museum showcasing African-American history and culture, 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.



KENTUCKY
Visitors enjoying zip line tours, horseback riding and other outdoor activities at Mammoth Cave National Park might be surprised to learn that the first tour guides and some of the most important early explorers of the caves were African-American.

Two other notable visitor sites of historical interest are the National Underground Railroad Museum in northeastern town of Maysville and the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg in central Kentucky. For a different taste of the Bluegrass State’s heritage, there are six distilleries open for tours on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

In the heart of the Bluegrass Region, Lexington is home to the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, named for the artist who created commemorative U.S. coins honoring Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. Another notable Black heritage site is New Zion, neighborhood founded by former slaves. The city recently began offering tours aboard Double-decker buses and pedicabs called Sprocket Jockeys.



LOUISVILLE

Make room on your Louisville itinerary for a tour of the Muhammad Ali Center, whose interactive exhibits chronicle the life of the hometown hero in themed sections reflecting his values. The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, which recently underwent a $5.5 million renovation and expansion, houses a permanent exhibit on the contribution of Black jockeys and trainers. The city’s list of historical and cultural attractions also includes the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft and the downtown dining and entertainment district known as Fourth Street Live! Louisville’s largest meeting venue is the 300,000-sq. ft. Kentucky International Convention Center.

LOUISIANA

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 — located in a former plantation that originally sat at the site of a major Civil War battle between Black Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers — are just some of the designated sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

The trail courses through each of the state’s culturally and geographically diverse regions: the Greater New Orleans area; Plantation Country, the area surrounding the Mississippi River from New Orleans into Baton Rouge; Cajun Country in southwest Louisiana; the Crossroads Region of central Louisiana, home to the state’s oldest permanent settlement; and Sportsman’s Paradise, the north Louisiana section that is popular for its hunting and fishing spots.
One of Louisiana’s top recreational sites for fishing and other water sports is the Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Texas border.

BATON ROUGE
Visitors seeking some outdoor adventure in and around Louisiana’s capital can head to the 14-acre Hilltop Arboretum at Louisiana State University, BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo or the swamps at Alligator Bayou — each of which offers space for meetings and receptions.



Several of the city’s notable cultural and historical attractions also offer event space, including the Old State Capitol, the Old Governor’s Mansion, Louisiana State University Museum of Art, the Louisiana State Museum-Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Art & Science Museum and the USS Kidd, which is docked on the banks of the Mississippi River. 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.

Baton Rouge is home to the main campus of the nation’s largest historically Black university, where a must-see attraction is the Southern University Museum of Art. A bust of P.B.S. Pinchback, who became the nation’s first Black governor during the Reconstruction, sits in the front lobby of the State Capitol. The 34-story, 450-ft.-high Art Deco-style structure is the nation’s tallest state capitol, and its observation deck provides a panoramic view of the river and city below.

NEW ORLEANS

The Big Easy is a favorite destination for adult fun, but it also has several notable kid-friendly attractions. The choices include the Audubon Aquarium, the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Insectarium, the Louisiana Children’s Museum and Mardi Gras World.




New Orleans is home to the nation’s oldest African-American neighborhood, Faubourg Treme, now made famous as the inspiration for the HBO television series. St. Augustine Catholic Church and the New Orleans African American Museum are two of the area’s major landmarks. The city’s premier meeting venue, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, contains more than 1.1 million sq. ft. of contiguous exhibit space.

SHREVEPORT/BOSSIER
Shreveport and its neighbor across the Red River, Bossier City, offer visitors a wide range of attractions. Shreveport is home to a branch of the Southern University Museum of Art that boasts an extensive collection of African art and artifacts. Other points of interest include the Stephens African American Museum, the Multicultural Center of the South and RiverView Park.

Among the top attractions in Bossier City are the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale AFB and the Louisiana Boardwalk. The area’s largest meeting facility, the Shreveport-Bossier City Convention Center, contains more than 350,000 sq. ft. of space.

MISSISSIPPI
The menu of recreational options in the Magnolia State includes canoeing on Bear Creek in Tishomingo State Park, hiking along the Black Creek in the DeSoto National Forest and fishing and dolphin watching on Ship Island, just south of Gulfport. Gulfport’s top site for meetings and entertainment is the Island View Casino Resort, which includes a 562-room hotel. 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.

There are notable African-American heritage sites throughout the state. Along with visiting stops on a growing list of destinations along the Mississippi Blues Trail, you can retrace the steps of civil rights workers along the Freedom Summer Trail in Hattiesburg and tour a museum honoring journalist, civil rights and women’s rights advocate Ida B. Wells in Holly Springs.



JACKSON

Lovers of music and history will find plenty to grab their interests in Mississippi’s capital and largest city. Visitors flying into Jackson can check out the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in Jackson/Evers International Airport. 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, Farish Street Baptist Church, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center 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.

Jackson’s Old Capitol Museum houses the nation’s first permanent civil rights exhibit. The city’s long list of African-American heritage attractions continues with sites like Medgar Evers Home Museum, the Margaret Walker Alexander National African-American Research Center, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College, where the Boddie Mansion stands as one of the few homes in Jackson to survive the Civil War.

Two other notable attractions showcase Jackson’s cultural diversity: Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience and the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. Several of the city’s main attractions offer space for events, including the Dupree House & Mamie’s Cottage, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the Mississippi Fairgrounds Complex and Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

The largest meeting venue is the Jackson Convention Complex, which encompasses the 246,000-sq. ft. Convention Center containing a 30,000-sq. ft. banquet hall, 60,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall and 33,000-sq. ft. registration lobby, as well as 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
A tour of historic homes in Natchez during one of the city’s spring and fall pilgrimages might include a stop at the Evans Bontura House, built by a free African-American businessman named Robert Smith and later operated as an inn by a Portuguese merchant.



A Mississippi Blues Trail marker in Jack Waite Park honors the African-American harmonica player Alexander “Papa George” Lightfoot. Natchez is home to the state’s oldest Black Baptist congregation, Rose Hill Baptist Church, as well as 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. For a more comprehensive view of local Black history and culture, you can tour the NAPAC Museum, operated by the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture.

One of several attractions focusing on the area’s Native American heritage is the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, which provides free admission to a reconstructed Natchez Indian house, three ceremonial mounds, a nature trail and a gift shop that sells 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.

NORTH CAROLINA

With the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, North Carolina offers a wide array of outdoor recreational activities, from rafting on the Nantahala River to strolling on the beach at Nags Head.

In Charlotte, one of the favorite hangouts for gallery hopping and listening to live music is the NoDa arts district (the name is short for North Davidson). Charlotte’s Afro-American Cultural Center showcases a variety of art programs and hosts events on its rooftop terrace.  There’s an art museum on the campus of North Carolina Central University in Durham, while a series of bronze sculptures along Parrish Street chronicles the history of the area that was dubbed “Black Wall Street” in the early 20th century.

In Winston-Salem, where African-American heritage attractions include Winston-Salem State University and the Delta Arts Center, you can explore local Moravian history at the Old Salem Museums & Gardens.

GREENSBORO
One of Greensboro’s newest attractions, the 11-acre Gateway Gardens, has completed its first phase of development, with a children’s garden, rain garden, heritage garden and public artworks ready for tours.



The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is 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 is located at the site of the preparatory school for African-Americans that Brown founded in 1902. The newly renovated Kimball Hall on the site, which formerly served as a student dining hall, now offers space for family reunions, meetings and other events. Other local African-American historical and cultural sites include the African-American Atelier — one of four art galleries at the Greensboro Cultural Center at Festival Park — and Guilford College, the former location of a shelter for escaped slaves.  Many of Greensboro’s downtown’s art galleries, studios and museums are open for evening tours during the monthly First Friday Art Walk.

The Sheraton Greensboro Hotel & Koury Convention Center is the city’s largest meeting venue, providing 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a business center along with its 1,106 guestrooms.

SOUTH CAROLINA
From relaxing at the beach to taking a wild ride on an alligator swamp tour, South Carolina’s waterways and coastal setting offer all kinds outdoor recreation. The coastal area is also home to one of America’s most interesting cultural communities, the African-American Gullah and Geechee people who make their home in the Low Country.

Myrtle Beach, at the northern end of the Atlantic Coast, is the center of a 60-mile stretch known as the Grand Strand. Visitors can hit the links at one of many area golf courses, enjoy a walk along the Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade or head to Broadway at the Beach for shopping, dining and entertainment.

A horse-drawn carriage tour is a charming way to see the sights of historic downtown Charleston. You can buy sweet grass baskets from Gullah artisans at Charleston’s City Market and enter the sanctuary where the slave rebel Denmark Vesey preached at Emanuel AME Church.

COLUMBIA
One of the top entertainment spots in Columbia is the Vista, the city’s warehouse district, where you’ll find a host of restaurants, galleries and nightclubs. One of the most unique places for evening entertainment is the Big Apple, a synagogue-turned-dance club.



Families as well as travelers on business on incentive trips or corporate teambuilding retreats might enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and canoeing at Three Rivers Greenway or camping at Congaree National Park.

An interesting local Black heritage attraction is the Mann-Simons Cottage, the home of Celia Mann, a slave who walked from Charleston to Columbia after gaining her freedom.

TENNESSEE
Between Memphis’ famous Graceland mansion in western Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the eastern side are a wide range of visitor attractions in the Volunteer State. In Chattanooga, you can view Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls from the world’s steepest passenger railway, as well as tour the Chattanooga African-American Museum.



Visitors to Knoxville can browse Black history exhibits at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and view a 13-ft. bronze statue of Roots author Alex Haley in Morningside Park.  The Beale Street Music Festival is part of the month-long Memphis in May International Festival, but you should make a point to visit the historic entertainment district no matter when you go.  This spring Nashville is reopening one of its top attractions, the Opry Mills shopping center, which had been closed since the 2010 flood. Still in the works is the $17 million African American Museum of Music, Art and Culture on the Bicentennial Capitol Mall.

VIRGINIA

Well known for its outstanding historical attractions like Colonial Williamsburg and the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy, in 2011 Virginia is celebrating its natural attractions in a special way as it marks the 75th anniversary of Shenandoah National Park and the state park system.

Shenandoah National Park is one of the state’s largest recreational sites, extending more than 197,000 acres over eight counties and featuring the 105-mile scenic Skyline Drive, hiking trails, waterfalls and other attractions. Travelers to Virginia can pursue a variety of outdoor adventure throughout the state, from whitewater rafting on the James River and skiing in one of four mountain resorts to horseback riding, hiking and biking along the 343-mile Virginia Creeper Trail.

Another major sightseeing destination is home to one of Virginia’s newest visitor attractions: the Luray Valley Museum, a recreated 19th century farming community at Luray Caverns, where 3.5 acres of stalactites form the pipes that make music for the massive Stalacpipe Organ.

HAMPTON

In May Hampton celebrates its Black heritage during the annual Afrikan American Festival at Mill Point Park. Year-round African-American cultural and historical attractions include Hampton University — whose campus includes the state’s oldest museum as well as the Booker T. Washington Memorial Garden & Statue and other landmarks — and the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit at the Virginia Air & Space Center.



The Hampton History Museum, the Mariners’ Museum, the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe and the new Boo Williams Sportsplex and Peninsula Town Center help round out the list of places to see. The city’s largest meeting facility is the 344,000-sq. ft. Hampton Roads Convention Center.

NORFOLK

Norfolk’s new light rail system, called The Tide, links visitors to Harbor Park, the shops at MacArthur Center, the Norfolk Scope arena and area hotels, shops and restaurants. The Scope, which contains 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, is one of several participants in the city’s Waterside Convention Connection, a local hospitality industry alliance that facilitates access to more than 1,200 hotel rooms, 55 meeting rooms and 216,000 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 5,200 guestrooms.



One of Norfolk’s most interesting offsite venues is the Attucks Theatre, whose namesake was the African-American Revolutionary War hero Crispus Attucks. The Chrysler Museum of Art, which contains one of America’s largest collections of Tiffany-blown glass as well as a major collection of photography chronicling the Civil Rights Movement, also offers event space.

Other local points of interest include the maritime museum Nauticus — where the Wisconsin, the largest U.S. battleship, is docked next door — the Virginia Zoological Park and the West Point Monument in Elmwood Cemetery, a tribute to African-Americans who fought in the Civil and Spanish-American wars.

RICHMOND
If you go on one of the Gallery Walks at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, you can see exhibits on the Civil Rights Movement and the role of African Americans in the Civil War. Another place to explore the African-American heritage of Virginia’s capital is Jackson Ward, home to the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and a statue of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson that stands next to city’s first traffic light, which Robinson provided as a gift. The city’s premier meeting venue is the Greater Richmond Convention Center, offering 178,159 sq. ft. of exhibit space.

VIRGINIA BEACH

Lined with tributes to Ella Fitzgerald, Arthur Ashe, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allen Poe and other famous Virginians, the Virginia Legends Walk is one of the top historical attractions in Virginia Beach. History buffs might also enjoy a visit to the Cape Henry Lighthouse or the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, which is housed in the last remaining cottage on the Virginia Boardwalk.



Along with the three-mile boardwalk, other outdoor attractions include First Landing State Park, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape. The LEED® Gold-certified Virginia Beach Convention Center offers a total of 516,000 sq. ft. of meeting, exhibit and function space.

WEST VIRGINIA
West Virginia’s mountainous landscape make it a prime location for skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports, while recreational sites like the Monongahela National Forest and the Greenbrier Rivers Trail are popular spots for whitewater rafting, fishing, biking and horseback riding. There also are more than 100 golf courses throughout the state.



Visitors who are more into art than adventure will enjoy seeing the quilting, pottery and glassworks for which West Virginia artisans are famous. Charleston’s Capitol City Arts & Crafts Show in November provides a great opportunity to see a large sampling in one place.

A number of Charleston attractions highlight the city’s African-American culture and history, including Garnet High School; the Mattie V. Lee Home, the residence of the first Black female physician in the state; and the Samuel Starks House, home of the nation’s first Black state librarian. The Booker T. Washington Memorial is located in nearby Malden. If the history, the culture and the landscape of the South sound intriguing enough to start planning a trip in that direction, you can get more information and ideas through the state tourism offices listed with this article.

GETTING IN TOUCH
Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel
(800) ALABAMA
www.800alabama.com
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
(800) NATURAL
www.arkansas.com
Visit Florida/Florida Tourism and Marketing Corp.
(888) 7-FLAUSA
www.visitflorida.com
Georgia Department of Economic Development
(800) 847-4842
www.exploregeorgia.org
Kentucky Department of Tourism
(800) 225-8747
www.kentuckytourism.com
Louisiana Office of Tourism
(800) 677-4082
www.louisianatravel.com
Mississippi Division of Tourism Development
(866) SEE MISS
www.visitmississippi.org
North Carolina Division of Tourism
(800) VISIT NC
www.visitnc.com
South Carolina Department of parks, Recreation & Tourism
(888) SC SMILE
www.discoversouthcarolina.com
Tennessee Department of Tourism Development
(800) GO2TENN
www.tnvacation.com
Virginia Tourism Corp.
(800) VISITVA
www.virginia.org
West Virginia Division of Tourism
(800) CALL-WVA
www.wvtourism.com
Advertisement

A Globl Destination