6 Places to Visit to Learn More About Black History in The US

Black history is American history! Visit these six places to learn more about this history and accomplishments of African American people in the US

Black history is American history. Yet there are still so many aspects of black history that aren’t common knowledge – including the interesting, fun and sometimes heartbreaking places to visit that have born witness to this important, yet often overlooked part of our collective history.

Here are six places to go for anyone wanting to learn more about this history and the accomplishments of Black people in this country.

Atlanta, Georgia: The Birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo: Explore Georgia/Ralph Daniel

The city of Atlanta continues to be an important one for the African American community. Atlanta is home to several historically black colleges, including Morehouse and Spellman Colleges, and played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s particularly noted for its connection with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born here in 1929 and served as pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Visitors to the city interested in MLK and his legacy can visit his childhood home, as well as the King Center. Here, visitors can pay respects to the graves of Dr. and Mrs. King, and learn more about their legacy and the work that the organization is doing to further it.

Those interested in learning more about the Civil Rights Movement more broadly should make sure to stop at National Center for Civil and Human Rights. For a delicious meal to go along with your history, have dinner at Paschales, which serves delicious soul food alongside a helping of history.

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Where to Stay in Atlanta

For a place to stay with ties to the history of the Civil Rights Movement, try the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Though it may seem like fully modern space, this hotel was actually built in 1967 and played a pivotal role in the movement. It was one of the first major hotels in the city to allow African Americans to stay there and even played host to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the final Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Hyatt Regency Atlanta

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Memphis, Tennessee: The Place For Music lovers

Photo: Tennessee Tourism / Zoe Rain

Memphis has seen some of the best and worst moments in African American history. Music makes up a large part of the history of this beautiful city – it was here where many Delta blues musicians first recorded and played their work to a larger audience and where, decades later, soul music was first broadcast out to the world.

Music lovers can stroll the main strip of Beale street to hear live blues, jazz and rock music in the many clubs and bars that line this downtown area. Those more interested in music history should be sure to stop at the legendary soul music recording company, Staxx, which is now a museum that immortalizes the musicians that made soul music and R&B famous.

There’s a more somber side to Memphis as well – it was here, at the Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assassinated in 1968. The building itself is now a landmark and home to the National Civil Rights Museum, which tracks the most important moments in the fight for Civil Rights and hosts collections of artifacts of particular importance to Civil Rights history and African American history and culture.

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Where to Stay in Memphis

A trip to Memphis must? A stay at the Peabody Hotel, or a least a turn through the lobby. This grand historic hotel, built in 1869, is an icon – both within the city and throughout the south. It’s known both for it’s luxurious accommodations, and for the ducks that parade through the lobby at 11am and 5pm every day.

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New Orleans, Louisiana: Home of The Museum of the Free People of Color

New Orleans is known for its party atmosphere and the unique blend of communities that make up its culture. The city’s singular history has birthed traditions and artistic expression that can be found nowhere else.

The Backstreet Cultural Museum, located in the historic Treme neighborhood, gives an overview of some of the unique traditions found here. In another part of town, Le Musée de f.p.c. (the Museum of the Free People of Color) details the lives and histories of free people of color in the city since the 1700s.

Of course, no trip to New Orleans would be complete without taking the time to both listen to and learn more about the city’s musical roots. Stop by the New Orleans Jazz Museum during the day and stroll down nearby Frenchman street at night to get a taste of the music for yourself. For an experience that blends the two, catch a show at Preservation Hall, whose live band plays traditional jazz in an intimate historic setting.

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Where to Stay in New Orleans

If you’re looking for something a little more modern for your hotel stay, try the Hotel Indigo in the beautiful Garden District. The boutique hotel offers modern amenities and sits right on St. Charles street, offering beautiful views of the oak lined street and passing streetcar. Though part of the InterContinental Hotels Group, each Hotel Indigo is individually owned, so you can still support black-owned businesses in New Orleans while staying here.

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Montgomery, Alabama: A Place To Learn About Civil Rights History

Photo: Art Meripol

This small Alabama city is a must-see for anyone interested in Civil Rights history. It was here in 1955 that Rosa Parks started the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to give up her seat at the front of a segregated bus. It was here that young activists, who called themselves the Freedom Riders, were attacked by an angry mob at a Greyhound station in 1961. And of course, this is the ending point for the famous Selma to Montgomery march, led by MLK in 1965 to protest the unfair restrictions aimed at keeping African Americans from voting.

All of these iconic moments of social justice are commemorated here by various museums in the downtown area that educate visitors about the people, places and moments in Montgomery’s history that ultimately changed both the country and the world.

Montgomery is also home to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both of which are dedicated to those who lost their lives to racial violence and to the continued fight for civil rights in the African American community that continues even today.

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Where to Stay in Montgomery

Many of the main attractions in Montgomery are located within the downtown area and the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel will put you within walking distance. Located just steps from the Legacy Museum, the Rosa Parks Museum and historic Dexter Avenue, the hotel features a full service spa and multiple dining options – including their in-house pub, The Exchange, which offers live music on the weekends.

Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center

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Chicago, Illinois: Home of a Large African American Community

Photo: Illinois Officce of Tourism/Dice Sales

From 1916 to 1970, thousands of African Americans moved from rural areas in the South to the cities of the north, fleeing racial violence and inequality. Known as the Great Migration, this era brought a wave of southern music, food and culture to cities like Chicago, which quickly became known for its African American community and the culture they brought along with them.

Chicago is home to institutions like the DuSable Museum of African American History, which was the first of its kind to be dedicated to exploring the history and culture of this community.

It’s also home to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. Located in the former Chess Records recording studio, this museum and nonprofit organization explores the impact that cities in the north had on blues music, and how that unique sound ultimately transformed into rock and roll.

Several of the clubs where this transformation took place are still Chicago staples, such as Kingston Miles and Buddy Guy’s Legends, where visitors can still go to hear rock and blues, both modern and traditional.

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Where to Stay in Chicago

Located in the historic Bronzeville District of Chicago, the black-owned Chicago South Loop Hotel offers modern amenities and friendly service. The rooms in this boutique hotel are decorated in shades of white and bronze, a nod to the name of its famous neighborhood, and feature deep soaking tubs to help ensure an extra relaxing stay.

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Mississippi Delta: The Birthplace of American Music

It’s been said that the Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of American music. It was here that the gospel music and works songs of formerly enslaved African Americans morphed into the distinctly American sound of the blues.

Music lovers and history buffs can learn more about this history and the musicians that birthed this music by taking a road trip along the “Blues Highway,” or Highway 61. The route, which runs more or less parallel with the Mississippi river, is the easiest way to find the dozens of plaques which mark the businesses, museums and other locations of significance in both music history and African American history.

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Hero Image credit: Tennessee Tourism /  James Richardson