Wednesday, February 20, 2019
When it comes to places that remind us of black history, some might think about what it might be like to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where M.L.K. delivered his world-changing speech. In case you haven’t been there already, it’s a pretty powerful place to stand and contemplate how the world has changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
But in case you’re not one for climbing up a mountain of worn-down marbeline steps (especially in the rain), here are a few other places around the U.S. that can provide a thoughtful destination for the cultural traveler bent on understanding the African-American experience.
#1: The National Museum of African-American History and Culture
The National Museum of African-American History and Culture is a bold architectural statement piece on the National Mall. Opened in fall of 2016, this recent addition to the prestigious Smithsonian Institution is the only museum in the nation’s capital exclusively devoted to showcasing the story of African-American life in the United States. A Cadillac belonging to famous rock n’ roller Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”) and a prayer shawl belonging to underground railroad visionary and hero Harriet Tubman are just a few of the items on display. The cafe is not to be missed either. It’s a veritable cultural buffet of dishes from around the Black Diaspora, served against the background of video narratives from the rest of the museum.
#2: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Everybody is familiar with the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but since 1990 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museumin Kansas City, right next to the American Jazz museum, tells the story of the often forgotten chapter in sporting history of black baseball. Though popular figures like Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson are showcased in the interactive exhibits that fill the 10,000 square foot space, museum-goers will enjoy looking at artifacts and pictures from the era of the Negro League, which saw unsung heroes like Josh Gibson, who may have hit over 80 home runs in one season.
The story of slavery in American is but one small chapter of a greater narrative in the African Diaspora, and to that end, the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora educates and enthralls visitors with exhibits about the many cultures of black people spread around the globe, showcasing music, art, dance, and foodways. One noteworthy feature of the museum is that it challenges visitors paradigm of race with an exhibit that covers the “first” Black Diaspora…that is, the idea that Homo Sapiens originated in Africa before spreading out through the rest of the world. The museum challenges visitors of all races with the question: when did you realize your were first African?
#4: Anyplace you find the blues…
The National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri tells the story of America’s quintessential musical genre—you know…the one that evolved into rock n’ roll, R&B, and today’s wide variety of musical scenes. Though the famous blues players are not exclusively black, black history is undeniable entwined with the story of this artistic expression with deep roots in Africa. Educational and musical events bring the story of the museum to life, and exhibits within showcase the black contribution to modern American culture. Other museums in like the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi and the state of the art B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi also showcase the black contribution to American music.
#5: Lifestyles of the (morally) rich and famous
Harriet Tubman was a civil rights activist long before the modern movement. At the risk of her own life she helped over 70 victims of slavery make their way north along the famous Underground Railroad. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland showcases her life and legacy, along with her place of birth…all next to the scenic waterways of the Chesapeake Bay. Lovers of history and biographical travelers will also not want to miss the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in southeast D.C. This home and estate, which boasts sweeping, incredible views of the capital, was the property of a great American author and abolitionist who penned an autobiography that forever changed history.