During February, the United States and Canada celebrate Black History Month. Officially adopted in 1976, this month of observance is a time to pay tribute to the contributions made by African-Americans, reflect on past struggles, and encourage equality today and into the future.
For Americans, black history is everyone’s history — we all have something to learn by looking back and moving forward.
Here are seven meaningful trips to help you celebrate Black History Month.
National Civil Rights Museum — Memphis
The site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Walking into the National Civil Rights Museum is like taking a time machine back to the 1960s. With every step, every exhibit, you are transported to a time when the fight for equality was literally life or death. The museum is centered around the actual Lorraine Motel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in 1968. It also includes the boarding house from which his assassin, James Earl Ray, fired the shot. Visitors can explore exhibits on slavery in America, the sit-in movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and more.
Harlem, New York City
The Harlem Renaissance was a pivotal time for black artists and musicians.(Photo: Thinkstock)
During the 1920s and ’30s, Harlem became a cultural meeting place for black artists, writers, musicians, and photographers. The movement was called the Harlem Renaissance, and today there are many historical remnants from that time. You can stroll by the home of Langston Hughes, or visit the New York Amsterdam News — a black newspaper popular during that era. If you want to listen to jazz, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk all played at Minton’s Playhouse on 118th Street.
While you’re in Harlem, there are many locations to celebrate Black History Month. The Studio Museum displays works created by black artists, the famous Apollo theater puts on weekly shows for amateur performers, and Sylvia’s still serves up some of the best soul food in town.
If you take the 2/3 train to 116th Street or 125th Street, be sure to check out the mosaics on the walls created by Faith Ringgold, which depict influential African-Americans throughout history.
Boone Hall Plantation — Charleston, S.C.
Slave quarters still stand at Boone Hall Plantation. (Photo: Boone Hall Plantation)
Located in Charleston, S.C., Boone Hall Plantation gives visitors a look at what life was like for slaves before the Civil War. Among the most startling attractions are the eight original slave quarters built between 1790 and 1810. Life-size figures, prerecorded narratives, and photos are displayed to share the hardships facing slaves. Although slavery is an ugly scar on America’s history, it’s important to educate our children about why the fight for freedom was so important.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — Kansas City, Mo.
The Chicago American Giants. (Photo: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum)
Baseball is America’s pastime, but for decades, black players were restricted from playing on major-league teams. As a way to fight racism, African-American players formed their own league and traveled around the U.S. playing games against one another. One player, Jackie Robinson, broke the barrier when he was recruited from the Kansas City Monarchs to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His story and that of dozens of other players are on display at this unforgettable museum.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center — Cincinnati
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center overlooking the Ohio River. (Photo: NURFC)
During slavery, thousands of slaves followed the Underground Railroad and crossed the Ohio River in search of freedom in the North. Today the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center sits on the banks of the river, overlooking the same waters that once signified impeding freedom. The center tells the story of slavery and also has resources to educate the public about modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Motown Historical Museum — Detroit
See the place where some of your favorite musicians got their start. (Photo: AP)
Founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959, Motown records provided the soundtrack for America during the civil rights movement and beyond. The black-owned label churned out stars like Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, and Marvin Gaye. Today you can visit the label’s first headquarters, Hitsville U.S.A, to see iconic items like Michael Jackson’s studded white right-hand glove.
Rosa Parks Museum — Montgomery, Ala.
Rosa Parks is fingerprinted after refusing to give up her seat on a bus. (Photo: AP)
During the civil rights movement, Montgomery consistently made headlines for its activism. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give her up seat on a bus, starting the Montgomery bus boycott, which garnered national attention. Visit the Rosa Parks Museum to learn how her bravery helped desegregate buses.
The march from Selma to Montgomery was a pivotal moment in voting rights for African-Americans; visit the Alabama State Capitol, where the march ended with protesters giving a petition to Gov. George Wallace’s secretary.
While in Montgomery, be sure to visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum, where Martin Luther King Jr. once lived and shared his message of freedom and equality. And before you leave, stop by the Freedom Rides Museum, a historic Greyhound bus station where 21 “Freedom Riders” stepped off the bus, determined to have their voices heard.
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