Black American History For Dummies
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February is Black History Month, a celebration of African American achievements and civil rights pioneers, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr. The month also celebrates the history of Black American leaders in politics, industry, science, culture, and more.

Photo of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama ©Ryan / Adobe Stock
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

Hundreds of sites around the country have important stories to tell about the history of Black people in America. If February is a good time for you to travel, you might consider visiting one or more of these places as a way to celebrate Black History Month. Reading or watching a documentary is a great way to learn about history, but actually being in a place where an event happened or a historic figure once walked can lend an even deeper significance to your experience.

See the list of 10 Black American history sites below. Of course, there are many more, but these, hopefully, will give you some ideas, and spark your interest in exploring further.

The origins of Black History Month

Black History Month began in 1915, when thousands of African Americans traveled to Chicago to participate in a national 50th anniversary celebration of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

That year, Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson — known as the “Father of Black History” — led the effort to form the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, today called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.

In February 1926, that organization established Negro History Week — to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. During the following decades, mayors across the nation began issuing proclamations recognizing the special week, and by the 1960s, it had evolved into Black History Month.

Woodson’s home in Washington, D.C., is a National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service. It’s scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2023 after a full renovation project. Another Woodson-related site in Washington is the Carter G. Woodson Memorial Park.

Important sites in Black American history

  • Frederick Douglass House National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.: This site preserves the last residence of Douglass (1818-1895), who escaped slavery and became a prominent activist, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. The house is expected to reopen in 2023 after being closed to the public in March 2022 for renovations.
Photo of the Frederick Douglass House National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. ©Spiritofamerica / Adobe Stock
The Frederick Douglass House National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.
  • Harriet Tubman Byway and Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland: You can go on a self-guided driving tour of more than 30 sites that tell the story of this amazing woman who, from 1849 to 1860, operated the Underground Railroad – a secret network of routes, places, and people who provided shelter and assistance to escaping slaves.
  • Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama: The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American fighter pilots in the U.S. armed forces, and they earned three Distinguished Unit Citations During World War II for successful air strikes in Italy and Berlin.
  • National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.: Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum is dedicated to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It opened in 2016 and has more than 40,000 artifacts and close to 100,000 members.
Photo of the National Museum of African American History and Culture building ©Ryan / Adobe Stock
National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
  • Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana: The plantation opened to the public as a museum in 2014 and is dedicated to educating the public about slavery in America. Guided and self-guided tours cover the generations of Africans and their descendants who were enslaved there, the plantation owners, the buildings, and how the plantation operated.
  • The King Center in Atlanta: Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King Jr., established the nonprofit Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center) in 1968. The organization provides resources and education about the life, legacy, and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. The campus includes the Kings’s burial site and the Freedom Hall exhibition building.
  • Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta: This National Historic Site is where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor between 1933 and 1975. Go to the church’s website to learn about visiting the church and other King-related sites in Atlanta.
Photo of the Freedom Riders Museum in Montgomery, Alabama ©Jackienix / Adobe Stock
Freedom Riders Museum in Montgomery, Alabama
  • Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery, Alabama: This museum tells the story of the Freedom Riders, groups of courageous Black and white college students who rode Greyhound buses through the segregated south in 1961. Their mission was to compel the U.S. government to enforce Supreme Court decisions outlawing segregated transportation seating and facilities. A group of these Freedom Riders was attacked by an angry White mob in the spring of 1961 in Montgomery.
  • Selma, Alabama: There are several places to visit in Selma, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of a brutal attack by law enforcement on a group of civil rights marchers on March 7, 1965. Famous civil rights leader John Lewis (later, a congressman) led the march for voting rights. He suffered a skull fracture in the attack, an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
  • Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri: The museum preserves and tells the story of African American baseball and how it impacted social advancement.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Ronda Racha Penrice attended the M.A. program in Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. A veteran freelance writer, the Columbia University alum has covered Black history and culture for publications including Zora, Essence, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ebony, theGrio, The Root, and NBC THINK.

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