Travel Destinations Where You Can Learn More About Black History

These U.S. cities were home to iconic figures and pivotal moments in Black history and culture.

We can learn a great deal about Black history through books, films, classes and countless educational resources online. But a particularly powerful way to take in this history is by physically immersing yourself in it.

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve rounded up 14 U.S. cities that were home to iconic figures and pivotal moments in Black history and culture. From Montgomery to Memphis to the Motor City, there are plenty of significant sites to explore.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it can inspire your Black history travels ― both in February and throughout the year.

Memphis, Tennessee
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Memphis is filled with iconic sites and experiences that honor Black history and culture. The National Civil Rights Museum is an essential stop to learn about the history of the movement and see the Lorraine Motel balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Other notable sites include the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, the Ernest Withers Collection and Beale Street Baptist Church. Be sure to stop for a bite at the Four Way or the Bar-B-Q Shop. And if you're interested in music history, Memphis is home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Sun Studio, where legendary artists like B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Rosco Gordon and James Cotton recorded their work.
Washington, D.C.
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Our nation's capital is home to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016 and features a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits. Visitors to D.C. might also consider heading over to the African American Civil War Museum for more Black history education, or the National Portrait Gallery to see the famous portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama by Black artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. And don't forget to visit the Anacostia neighborhood to see the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site and the Anacostia Community Museum.
New York City
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New York City has countless monuments, museums and other cultural sites celebrating Black history. In fact, all five boroughs feature meaningful spots, including the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, the Hunts Point Slave Burial Ground in the Bronx, the Sandy Ground Historical Society on Staten Island, and African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. Up in Harlem, you'll find the famous Apollo Theater, as well as the Studio Museum, Langston Hughes House, Harlem Stage and Frederick Douglass Memorial. Grab a drink or a bite at the historic Minton's Playhouse or one of the many other Black-owned restaurants in the area, like Melba's or Fieldtrip.
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Memphis is the city where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, but Atlanta is where he was born and rose to prominence. Today, visitors can go to the civil rights leader's birthplace on Auburn Avenue, the original Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached, and his burial site at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Nearby is the African American Panoramic Experience Museum, which presents history through the lens of the Black perspective. A block away from the museum, you'll find a large mural honoring the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis. Take a tour of historically Black schools like Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University and learn about the role of Black students in the Atlanta sit-ins. And when you start to feel hungry, head over to the historic Paschal’s or the Busy Bee Cafe.
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Detroit is one of the most important sites for Black music history in the U.S. It's the city that gave us Motown music, and tourists can visit the Motown Museum at the record label's original headquarters, also known as "Hitsville U.S.A." When you're finished taking in the sights and sounds of the Motown era, branch out to other historic sites in the Motor City like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History or the many stops along the Underground Railroad tour. Support Black-owned restaurants like Flood's Bar & Grille, Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles and SavannahBlue.
Charleston, South Carolina
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If you ever travel to South Carolina, take the time to explore the unique history and culture of the Gullah Geechee people. Although members of this community tend to live in the Lowcountry areas outside major cities, Charleston is a good starting point for your education, as you can purchase Gullah art and a sweetgrass basket at the Charleston City Market. Visitors can also take a guided tour between Charleston and Hilton Head Island, where there's a Gullah museum. Back in Charleston, you can learn about the history and experiences of enslaved people in the area by visiting the Old Slave Mart Museum, Fort Moultrie, the Old Charleston Jail and any of several plantation homes. For more recent history, go to Mother Emanuel AME Church, one of the oldest Black churches in the country.
San Francisco
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The San Francisco Bay Area boasts many destinations for learning about Black history and culture. The Museum of the African Diaspora is a contemporary art museum in the heart of S.F.'s Yerba Buena neighborhood, near the Martin Luther King Memorial Waterfall. The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (named for the pioneering playwright of "A Raisin in the Sun") presents works by established and emerging Black and multicultural playwrights. Across the bay in Oakland, travelers can learn about the Black Panther Party by visiting the group's former headquarters and other important sites -- as well as the Oakland Museum of California's Black Power exhibition.
Montgomery, Alabama
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Some of Alabama's most important civil rights sites are in the capital city of Montgomery. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is located near the stop where the activist boarded a bus in 1955 and made history by refusing to give up her seat. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church when he helped organize the famous Montgomery bus boycott. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice honors Black victims of lynching in the U.S., and the nearby Legacy Museum details the history of slavery, mass incarceration and racism in America. Montgomery is also situated between two other significant cities in Black history, Selma to the west and Tuskegee to the east.
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The historically rich city of Boston is home to many notable sites in Black history. The Black Heritage Trail walks visitors through the lives of Black Americans in the Beacon Hill neighborhood in the 19th century and leads to the Museum of African American History. The Boston house where Malcolm X spent his formative teenage years is now on the National Register of Historic Places. And the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists highlights old and new work by Black artists from around the world. Don't miss the statue of poet Phillis Wheatley at the Boston Women's Memorial and the art in Harriet Tubman Park. For good food with a side of live music, check out Darryl's Corner Bar & Kitchen.
Kansas City, Missouri
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Kansas City might not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of Black history in America, but the K.C. community has put together a robust tour that highlights the history and contributions of its Black citizens. The city's African American Heritage Trail covers a wide range of landmarks, including the historic Gem Theater and the American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine District. In the same building as the Jazz Museum, you'll find the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which chronicles the history of these segregated leagues from their post-Civil War origins to their 1960s end. Of course, no visit to K.C. is complete without some world-famous BBQ, so if you're inclined, stop by Gates or Arthur Bryant's for ribs and pulled pork.
Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson's Civil Rights Trail includes the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the historically Black Tougaloo College, and the former home of NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers, who became a martyr of the movement when he was assassinated in his driveway in 1963. The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center is located in the first public school building for African Americans in Jackson and focuses on the history and contributions of Black Mississippians. And Johnny T's Bistro & Blues is in the Farish Street Historic District building that once housed the legendary Crystal Palace Ballroom, where Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton performed.
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From Frederick Douglass to Thurgood Marshall to Billie Holiday, many Black icons have called Baltimore home at one time or another, so it's no surprise the city is brimming with sites that honor and educate about Black history. On the museum front, there's the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum and the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum, among others. One of the most interesting is the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, which features more than 150 life-sized wax figures of prominent Black figures in history. When you're finished with the museum portion of your visit, nourish yourself with food from Magdalena, Blacksauce Kitchen, Fishnet or one of the many other Black-owned eateries in Charm City.
Birmingham, Alabama
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Birmingham is another place that comes up a lot when you study civil rights history. The Alabama city is home to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum with artifacts like the door of the cell where Martin Luther King Jr. penned his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Across the street is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a horrific 1963 bombing by the KKK killed four little girls. The victims are commemorated in a powerful sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park, which also contains Ronald McDowell's famous "Foot Soldier" statue. Check out the historic Carver Theatre, which houses the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and grab a bite at Green Acres Cafe or Eagle's Restaurant.
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Located just outside the slave state of Kentucky, Cincinnati was a key stop along the Underground Railroad. As such, the city now hosts the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a museum about the history of the network and the abolitionist movement. The Black Brigade Monument along Smale Riverfront Park pays homage to a unit of African American soldiers who played a major role in defending the city from Confederate attack. The house where writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe spent many formative years is now a museum and historic site as well. While you're in Cincy, don't forget to support Black-owned eateries like Island Frydays, Goodies, Rasheedah's Cafe and Ollie's Trolley.