February is Black History Month, which means it’s the perfect time to visit some of the most important U.S. destinations for African-Americans.
In truth, there are dozens of destinations that fit this bill—Preservation Hall in New Orleans, and the (currently under construction) Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia are two that definitely make the cut. Selma, Alabama, the setting for the 2015 movie, Selma, is another great spot to visit for a dose of Black history (Selma was one of the epicenters of the civil rights movement).
For the purposes of this post, we have chosen three other spots: the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site in Atlanta; the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago; and the Apollo Theater in New York. Here’s a short rundown on each.
Atlanta: Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site
Martin Luther King, Jr., had a profound impact on the civil rights movement in America. As such, every destination-oriented celebration of Black History Month must include Atlanta, the city of his birth. The best spots in the city to remember Dr. King comprise the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. Among the highlights: King’s birth home, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he sermonized before becoming a national figure, and the tomb of Dr. and Mrs. King, which in the middle of a reflecting pool.
Of these options, only the birth home offers a guided tour (the rest are all self-guided). King was born in this house and lived here until he was 12.
The ranger led tour is free and lasts approximately 30 minutes. The home is open for tours on a daily basis (except major holidays), with the first tour at 10:00 am and the last tour at 4:00 p.m. Tours are limited to 15 people, and are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.
During the tour, you’ll learn about the life of a young Dr. King, and get a sense of the sorts of experiences that shaped him as a young man. While you make the rounds, be sure to check out all the photographs of King as a child; these images help paint a picture of the icon as an ordinary guy, a man who loved spending time with family.
Chicago: The DuSable Museum of African-American History
The museum, established in 1961 by teacher and art historian, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, houses more than 15,000 photos, documents, and artifacts that tell the story of the history of African-Americans in the Midwest and around the world. Permanent exhibits include photos of Black men and women in the U.S. Armed forces over time; an interactive timeline of Harold Washington, former mayor of Chicago; and more than 2,000 traditional and contemporary artifacts collected from Africa.
In 2015, temporary exhibits at the museum include a detailed look at the history of 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery; and a photo-heavy look at the history of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a music-industry organization that particularly has appealed to African-American performers. In 2016, the museum is expected to open an exhibit about Negro League Baseball.
Throughout the year, the museum also holds a number of special events, including lectures, concerts, movie screenings, book-signings by prominent African-American authors, and a variety of programs for children and teenagers. It’s a great spot to spend a few hours (or longer) learning more about the African-American experience.
Viewfinder Tip: Admission to Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African-American History is free every Sunday.
New York City: The Apollo Theater
Perhaps no single place in America ever has been a more important cultural institution for African-Americans than the Apollo Theater in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. Dozens of Black performers got their start here, and hundreds more came to perform here after they had established a following.
To put this history into perspective, when the theater’s famous “Amateur Hour” became the “Amateur Night” in 1934, one of the performers who debuted was a crooner named Ella Fitzgerald. She was 15.
Since then, the venue has launched the careers of icons such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Lauryn Hill (to name a select few). It continues to maintain its position as the nation’s most popular arena for emerging and established African-American and Latino performers. That means visitors to New York can purchase tickets to go and see shows there year-round.
Amateur Night still is one of the hottest tickets in town, and it has evolved into an American Idol-style contest. In 2015, the shows are hosted by the comedian, Capone, and begins with video and music from DJ Jess. In a nod to tradition (that dates back all the way to the 1930s), the show employs an “Executioner” to usher bad acts off the stage. Currently the person who serves this role is impressionist, C.P. Lacey.
The theater also hosts concerts throughout the year; jazz crooner, Cassandra Wilson, was slated to perform April 10.
How do you like to celebrate historic commemorative events?