Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 12
Cashing In On Heritage Tourism
By: Michael Bennett
As the Waterford Crystal Ball descended down the flagpole in Times Square I was struck by the finality of it all…2011 is no more, never to be experienced again. While the events of the global New Year’s celebrations are characteristically a time to look ahead, I was thinking to myself, wow another year gone, I’m getting old – just kidding on that one.

What will recorded history tell us about 2011? What will be remembered 10, 20 or even 50 years from now as significant additions to our culture, heritage and the advancement of mankind.

The beauty of living in an age of instant information and massive creativity is the ability to record and share our collective love of history and culture vicariously using heritage tourism as the eyes and ears to our past.

For those destinations with great heritage tourism products the coming years should offer a windfall of opportunity like never before as we reach several important milestones in American history.

Fifty years ago America was in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement. The heroes and heroines of this era have written their last chapter in our history books and will forever be remembered for their contribution to the greater good – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, the Little Rock Nine, Rosa Parks, President John F. Kennedy and others.

Several seminal anniversary events of the Civil Rights era are upon us from Dr. King’s August 1963 ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, to the heart wrenching death of four little girls at an Alabama church, to the passage of both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

The sesquicentennial anniversary (150 years) of the Civil War is upon us as well. On January 27, 1862, President Lincoln issued a war order authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy – a war that would forever alter the lives of the American populace.

But culture and heritage are more than movements, wars and protests. A quick trip to Harlem and the Apollo Theater reminds us all of the cultural and literary contributions of a community.

Our heritage includes the musing, orations and words of authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Frederick Douglas. What about Marian Anderson’s watershed performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 or the inventions of George Washington Carver?

We have music festivals such as Essence, parades, plays, historically Black college football games, business leaders, movies such as the recently released Red Tails inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen. Collectively this is what heritage and heritage tourism is all about.

We celebrate the music of Louis Armstrong, the spectacular skills and the willingness to challenge authority embodied in the persona of Muhammad Ali, whose act of defiance defined a generation. I would have loved to interview all those mentioned here. Last year when I wrote this story I referenced an old African Proverb that seems more appropriate now. “Return to old watering holes for more than water, friends and dreams are there to meet you.” I for one am thankful we have heritage tourism to capture the past and catapult us ahead.

Research has consistently shown African-American’s spend more on heritage tourism than any single group, but the country as a whole has experienced a renaissance in recent years. People from all walks of life are seeking cross-cultural heritage tourism experiences. Even international travelers to our shores want in. As we start to celebrate, commemorate or commiserate on the anniversaries before us, below are several destinations poised to cash in on the opportunities that lie ahead.


The African-American History Monument is the first of its kind tribute to African-Americans that’s actually located on state grounds anywhere in the U.S. Sculptor Ed Dwight modeled the monument after an African village built in the round. A map of the continent mounted in granite shows the original homeland of enslaved Africans.

The monument picks up the story of Africans from the Middle Passage to arrival in nearby Charleston and follows the history, hardship and achievement of African slaves and their descendants – from arrival on these distant lands to plantation life through the Civil War to Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement and the evolution to present day America. An estimated 40 percent of all people of African descent can trace their lineage back to the port of Charleston making this museum unique on the American landscape.

A trip to the Mann-Simons Site is a look back at the plight of Africans. Many believe if you were a slave in the South you were destined to remain a slave for life. While that was certainly true for most, some managed to live at least a portion of their lives in freedom.

Historians believe the Mann-Simons Cottage was probably built as a one-room house around 1825 and evolved over the years to accommodate changing family needs. A native Charlestonian, Celia Mann was born into slavery in 1799. It is unknown how she gained her freedom, but legend has it she walked from Charleston to Columbia (over 100 miles) where she earned a living as a free-black midwife. Evidence places Mann with the cottage around 1844. The house would remain in the family until 1970 and is now a historic site and museum.

These are just two of the many locales throughout the city with deep African roots. For a more cultural experience Benedict College and its famous performing arts program features a gospel choir, concert choir and the Harold Odom Dance Theater Mann-Simons Site all capture the African-American experience as it was truly meant to be.

The 12th Annual Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival held January 12 – 20, 2012, is a celebration of African-American culture and heritage. The theme of this year’s 10-day festival “Keeping the Dream Alive – Something for Everyone” features live jazz, a 5K-walk, heritage movie night, battle of the bands and so much more.

And for some high-energy entertainment the Tampa Bay Caribbean Carnival kicks off its annual celebration on June 9, at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Check out the Black History and Art Museum located inside Paradise Missionary Baptist Church in the heart of Tampa’s Central Avenue District once called “The Scrubs” for photographs, documents and artifacts chronicling the black experience.

Other places of note in Tampa include the North Franklin Street Historic District, The Jackson House and the St. Peter Claver School. The tropical paradise better known as Miami has lured African-American visitors and settlers for decades. Black Americans helped build this city and there are several historical sites of significance for those interested in African-American heritage starting with Virginia Key Beach.

On August 1, 1945 Dade County officials designated this beach for the exclusive use of Negroes. Back then the beach was only accessible by boat from a dock on the Miami River. The beach included a concession stand, bathhouse and an octagon shaped carousel house with three picnic pavilions and a 70-ft. wood tunnel for miniature trains, which still stands today. In 1944, the Navy conducted Negro training here since Blacks could not be trained on other beaches.

Virginia Key Beach, located on one of the many islands around Miami is currently being restored. In 2002, this beach was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Coconut Grove, a small enclave just outside of Miami is an area first settled by Black Bahamians in 1892. E.W.F. Stirrup, a Black pioneer, owned much of what is today Coconut Grove and Coral Gables and his home still stands on Charles Avenue along with the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park cemetery.

D.A. Dorsey is widely recognized as one of Miami’s most famous early Black residents and it’s first Black millionaire. His home stands today in the Overtown section of Miami. Dorsey organized the region’s first Black bank, and served as chairman of the Colored Advisory Committee of the Dade County School Board and as a registrar for Black men during World War I.  The Haitian Heritage Museum in Little Haiti is a must see stop. One of the exhibits is a series of artist renditions of life before and immediately after the 2010 earthquake.

Other places of note in Miami are the Hampton House, Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Lincoln Memorial Park, The Lyric Theater and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park – part of the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves making their way to the Bahamas. Miami has proven a top spot for African-American entertainers. The city plays host to the African Black Film Festival held each June.

To assist travelers looking for the African-American experience, the city has put together the Miami Black Visitor Guide. You can order the guide online at
 or access it by category on the Internet.

The Florida panhandle community of Pensacola is the birth home of Daniel ”Chappie” James, Jr., the first Black four-star general in U.S. military history. Shortly after his retirement in the late 1970s many were recruiting James to run for Lt. Governor of the state of Florida before he died of a heart attack. The private residence where James was born still stands and a marker honoring him is located in the city’s Memorial Garden on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

The Julee Cottage Museum in Pensacola is a simple wood-frame building built around 1804. It’s the city’s only surviving “sidewalk to street” construction. It belonged to Julee Patton a free woman of color who purchased the freedom of fellow enslaved Blacks and now serves as a Black history museum.

Like today, Orlando was home to a group of highly educated people of color who leveraged that education to advance the cause of others. Dr. William Monroe Wells, one of Orlando’s first Black physicians, came to the area in 1917. In 1926, Wells was issued a permit and began construction on the Well’s Built Hotel to lodge patrons during the days of segregation. The adjacent South Street Casino attracted many famous entertainers and the hotel became their destination of choice.

During its heyday the hotel provided logging for such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson.

Today the hotel is the Well’s Built Museum of African American History and Culture. The 6,000-sq. ft. museum has authentic furnishings of the 1930s and features artifacts of hotel documents, an original Negro League baseball jersey and slave records.

The Nicholson-Colyer Building, built in 1911 was named after an African-American tailor J.A. Colyer and J.E. Nicholson a Canadian baker. It was one of the few properties outside of traditional African-American neighborhoods owned and operated by African-Americans.

Just north of Orlando is the town of Eatonville one of the first Black towns incorporated in the United States and the birthplace of esteemed author and scholar of anthropology Zora Neale Hurston. Each January the city holds The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

The African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Ft. Lauderdale contains over 75,000 documents and artifacts about people of African descent, a community cultural center and a 300-seat auditorium with meetings rooms and exhibit area that might prove useful to meeting planners looking for an offsite venue. This library contains the papers of W.E.B. Dubois, the Langston Hughes Collection, the Bethune-Cookman College Collection, the Alex Haley Collection and the papers of Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

To learn more about Black heritage the state has published the Florida Black Heritage Trail. A 65-page digital version of the guide is available at or you can get a hard copy of the book by calling Visit Florida at (888) 735-2872.


Toronto’s geographic proximity to the U.S. made the city one of many Canadian destinations for Blacks escaping bondage and became the final destination of choice during the days of the Underground Railroad and beyond.

Toronto is a rich African-American heritage tourism destination that should not be underestimated. Several sites within the city played a prominent role in this northward migration of enslaved blacks. St. Lawrence Hall National Historic Site of Canada held several abolitionist meetings during the days of slavery attended by prominent Canadians and Black Americans like Frederick Douglass.

The story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn is one that speaks to the bond between our two countries. The Blackburn’s were escaped slaves from Kentucky, who settled in Detroit. After settling in Detroit bounty hunters discovered the couple and they were jailed awaiting transport back to Kentucky. Local Black residents of Detroit helped Lucie escape to Canada. Her husband eventually joined Lucie after 400 men stormed the jail in Detroit, freed Thornton and got him to Canada.

Thornton started Toronto’s first cab company. In 1999, the Canadian government designated the Blackburns “Persons of National Historic Significance” and plaques in their honor were erected in Louisville, KY and Toronto. Escaped Blacks often attended services at the African American Methodist Episcopal Church or the First Baptist Church in Toronto.

Like the United States, Canada celebrates Black History Month. While many of the events held during the month of February look American, this celebration is distinctly Canadian. It’s a great way to experience the commonalities that bind our two countries yet honor and celebrate a people many of us don’t know.

There are several destinations in Toronto and the surrounding community that celebrate African-American and African Canadian achievement.

The city of Virginia Beach is home to 18 sites on the National Register of Historic Places many of them featuring tributes to African-Americans.

The Virginia Legends Walk honors Virginians who have made significant contributions to the nation and the world including Arthur Ashe, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey and Booker T. Washington.

You can’t say the words “Spring Break” without thinking about Virginia Beach. It’s been the destination of choice for Black college students for decades, with many returning years latter with their families. It’s one of the most popular destinations in the country for family reunions.

The city has several cultural events that should be on your radar starting with the Virginia Beach GospelFest, slated for May 4-5, 2012. Experience Southern gospel, gospel hip-hop and praise music. In August (24th & 25th) its FunkFest celebrating the music made famous by James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, George Clinton and The Ohio Players. And the weekend of September 7 & 8, it’s Blues at the Beach.

For the historical experience there’s no place better than Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads area, which includes Norfolk and Newport News. As the birthplace of American slavery, this region of the country lays claim to some wonderfully preserved heritage tourism sites – more than we could possibly list here, so log on to for more.

As one might expect not only was slavery and plantation life a staple of early Virginia, maritime activities played a huge role in the area’s development and many of the museums in the area chronicle that achievement, including the contributions of Blacks.

Attractions include the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia and The Adam Thoroughgood House, thought to be the oldest known house in North America. If you want a look at plantation life take a short day trip to Colonial Williamsburg, where visitors can explore the 18th-century African American community at Great Hopes Plantation.

The Attucks Theatre, named after Crispus Attucks the first African-American to lose his life during the Boston Massacre is the oldest remaining legitimate theatre in the nation. It was completely financed, designed, constructed and operated by African Americans.

Built in 1919, the theatre is still very much active with live musical performances, plays and dramatic readings. Once known as the “Apollo of the South” this theatre is on the state and national register of historic places.

The Chrysler Museum of Art has over 30,000 pieces of art spanning 5,000 years, including African and African-American art work. At the corner of Brambleton Avenue and Church Street is an 83-ft. granite monument honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., and other slain Civil Rights leaders.

Another Norfolk site worth a visit is the West Point Monument at Elmwood Cemetery. It’s recognized by many as the South’s only known tribute to African-American veterans of the Civil and Spanish American Wars. A statute of Sergeant Carney, the first Black solider to be killed during the war, marks the Virginia Civil War Trail site.

And if your travels take you to Norfolk on July 20-21, 2012, checkout the 30th Annual Norfolk Jazz Festival at Town Point Park.

Birmingham is Civil Rights and Civil Rights is Birmingham. The two are inextricably linked and will forever define an era of what is the greatest single advancement of human rights in American history. It would be easy to ignore the pain and suffering associated with Civil Rights – leave it in the past, ignore it, don’t talk about it, banish it from history books as a simple hiccup on the way to the 21st Century.

Thankfully, Birmingham chose a different route. In an era when it’s far too easy to overlook or completely ignore the tremendous sacrifices made for equality, Birmingham embraces their heritage and promotes it for the world to see what’s possible when good triumphs over evil. It serves as a reminder we must remain ever vigilant against those who would have us take a step back.

Birmingham has arguably the richest African-American heritage tourism product in the world. The Birmingham Civil Rights District is a six-block tribute to the monumental fight for human rights in this country. This district includes; Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, site of the infamous bombing in 1963 that killed four little girls.

Kelly Ingram Park became the focal point of the grassroots resistance for the humanities and injustices of racism and discrimination. Sculptures created for the park show attacks on demonstrators, the arrest of children, and a tribute to the contributions of clergy in the struggle.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute chronicles the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. Visitors experience for themselves the courage of those who fought so hard for freedom and equality. The Human Rights Gallery takes visitors beyond Birmingham to look at issues around the world.

The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame makes its home in the historic Carver Theater for the Performing Arts. Exhibits honor great jazz artists with ties to the state such as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Erskine Hawkins. The theater has numerous live events throughout the year featuring Grammy Award Winning artists.

Other places of note to visit in Birmingham – the Fourth Avenue Business District, Alabama Penny Savings Bank, A.G. Gaston Gardens and Tuxedo Junction. Birmingham is also one of the premiere family reunion destinations in the United States.

It’s a town best known for two magnificent additions to American culture – jazz and barbecue. The two go hand-in-hand. Experiencing one without the other should be considered a crime. And the best way to capture mouth-watering barbecue and the best from the world of jazz is by attending the Rhythm & Ribs 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival. Last year’s festival was held in early October on the grounds of The American Jazz Museum.

If you happen to miss this festival The American Jazz Museum puts on numerous events throughout the year. In February comes the Valentine and Black History Month Salute to Jazz Poetry and in April it’s the 18th & Vine Jazz Festival Concert.

The American Jazz Museum, located in the area of the city known as the Museums on 18th & Vine is open year round showcasing the sights and sounds of jazz through interactive exhibits and films. It is the only museum of its kind in the United States solely dedicated to the preservation of this quintessential American art form.

Nearby is the Negro League Baseball Museum (NLBM). This museum recreates the look, sounds and feel of the game’s storied past from the 1860s to the 1950s. The museum is laid out as a timeline of the Negro Leagues and American history.

As the centerpiece of the NLBM, the Coors Field of Legends features 10 life-sized bronze sculptures of Negro League greats positioned on a mock baseball diamond as if they were playing a game. A documentary film narrated by James Earl Jones tells the story of the league with vintage footage.

If you’re a Civil War buff, Kansas City was the crossroads of pro and anti-slavery forces. A number of observances are already planned over the next few years.

I started this section talking about barbecue and it’s a good place to end. You can figure out the importance of something when a community forms an organization to preserve and advance its cause and here it’s the Kansas City Barbecue Society. There are over 100 barbecue joints in Kansas City to enjoy, enough said.

Milwaukee has one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the nation. Slated for June 19, 2012, this event commemorates the end of slavery with a parade and festival featuring food and entertainment. And in July it’s the Garfield Avenues Blues, Jazz, Gospel and Arts Festival.

The Ko-Thi Dance Company is an ensemble dedicated to the preservation and performance of traditional African-American and Caribbean dance and features a children’s performing ensemble. They have a national and international touring history in addition to performances in Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum documents and preserves the historical heritage of people of African descent in the state. Exhibits include “Work’N in the Promised Land: The African American Labor Experience in Wisconsin” and the NAACP Tribute Bus. There are several online exhibits including “African American Firefighters: Our Brothers Under Fire.” And given the city’s close proximity to Canada there are numerous homes in the area that were part of the Underground Railroad.

The influence of African-Americans to Natchez is immeasurable. And there is no better place to begin that journey of understanding than the Natchez Museum of African Art and Heritage. The museum contains exhibits from a number of African-American related historical sites, important citizens and events as well as a collection of African art. Among the exhibits are the works of literary giant Richard Wright, a Natchez native.

The Rhythm Night Club Fire of April 23, 1940, killed 209 African-American partygoers and severely injured several others. At the time, it was the worst fire in U.S. history. The fire inspired songs from music greats such as Cab Calloway and Howlin Wolf. A memorial marker stands in Natchez’s Bluff Park.

In addition to its prominent role in the Southern slave trade, of which you’ll see markers all over town, the region is also known for music and great food.


The Caribbean island of Martinique, like many U.S. mainland Southern states suffered through the indignity associated with slavery for 150 years until it was abolished in 1848. The influx of African slaves combined with the native Arawak Indians and French colonial influences give this nation a unique identity in the Caribbean.

And like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration, Carnival is celebrated with great fervor and excitement. This four-day holiday is a great way to absorb the local culture.

La Maison Du Be`le` (The House of Bele) is a temple of drums and Caribbean music. This house’s aim is the preservation of cultural values related to African inheritance. It’s a product of West African patterns and European influences. For slaves there was a rhythm to everything from work to worship. Each step and drumbeat had a meaning. There are guided and self-guided tours and of course you’ll want to stick around and try a few dance steps afterwards.

And of course almost any cuisine you encounter on the island will incorporate some form of West African influence. Typical appetizers such as Accras, a golden codfish fritter were originally eaten in Chad and Senegal. And visitors should never leave the island without trying Martinique’s world famous rums.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) and the Apollo Theater are two iconic symbols of African-American heritage. Taken together they are a contradiction of sorts – one a painful, often deadly reminder of the struggles of a people, the other a reminder of what’s possible given the chance to succeed without the artificial specter of race to stifle creativity and ingenuity.

Back in 1992, an article appeared in the Birmingham Business Journal entitled “The Healing of a City by Design” about the then newly revised Civil Rights District of which, the BCRI is a huge part. Many opposed the museum for fear those old wounds would never heal, but through the perseverance of many, today the BRCI is that symbol of healing by design.

In the words of Odessa Woolfolk, founding president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, “The Institute recognizes the redemptive importance of memory. It is both a time capsule, and a modern day think-tank focused on seeking equitable solutions to common problems…It is the place where yesterday’s struggles inspire a brighter tomorrow.”

The BCRI chronicles the barriers, confrontation, movement, progress and struggles of an era. There is oral history, interactive exhibits, video, great artwork and numerous events throughout the year to capture a series of defining moments in American history.
But the museum doesn’t just examine Civil Rights it looks at human rights worldwide such as the uprising in Tiananmen Square.

From now through March 11, 2012 is a 36-piece “Vision” exhibit highlighting the work of eight Alabamians. Permanent exhibits include the 16th Street Baptist Church in the Milestone exhibition gallery. The Oral History Project is one of the museum’s multimedia exhibits documenting Birmingham’s role in the Civil Rights Movement through the voice of movement participants.

The Apollo Theater is arguably the defining symbol of African-American achievement. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and attracts over one million visitors annually from around the global extending its reach far beyond the borders of Harlem.

While the Apollo Theater has been around since the mid-19th Century, it gained prominence during the Harlem Renaissance between the two World Wars. For years it was the only theater in New York City to hire Blacks.

The “Amateur Night” we’ve all become so fond of with “the executioner” sweeping less talented performers off the stage originated back in the 1930s. The Apollo is credited with launching careers of legendary artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder and Mariah Carey to name a few.This highly sought-after performance venue is packed throughout the year with Jazz, R & B and Hip-Hop. The Apollo features several continuing programs – “Amateur Night,” Cross Cultural Exchange, where national and international performers from diverse cultures entertain in front of a packed house and Harlem Jazz Shrine.

2011 brought great performances from Freddie Jackson to Smokey Robinson. And 2012 looks like another stellar year as Jennifer Holiday rings in the new season of “Amateur Night at the Apollo.”
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