Look Forward, Not Backward
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21 Amazing Places to Visit During Black History Month

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Look Forward, Not Backward
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HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

February is Black History Month, spurring people across the country to visit museums, historical sites, and landmarks dedicated to the sacrifices and contributions of black Americans, from slavery and abolition to war service and cultural influence. These institutions promote education and activism while honoring the lives and legacies of black Americans. Many have free admission, and visitors can enter every site on this list for $15 or less.

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Houston
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BUFFALO SOLDIERS NATIONAL MUSEUM | HOUSTON

African-Americans have fought in every American war, and the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum honors their service and legacy. Created in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the so-called "Buffalo Soldier" regiments were the first peacetime all-black units in the regular U.S. Army. The museum hosts historical artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, and videos about the Buffalo Soldiers and the service of African-Americans in all wars. General admission is $10, or $5 for students, seniors, and service members with military ID. Kids 5 and under enter free.

National Museum Of African American History & Culture, Washington, D.C.
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NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY & CULTURE | WASHINGTON, D.C.

More than 4.5 million visitors have passed through the doors of the Smithsonian Institution's newest museum since it opened in September 2016. The architecturally stunning museum aims to tell "America’s story through the African American lens" with over 85,000 square feet of exhibition space. If features exhibits that explore a variety of topics such as civil rights, slavery, and segregation, as well as community, religion, family and the arts. This is the hottest ticket in town — and it's free (though timed entry passes are required on weekends and during the week before 1 p.m. from March to August). 

NCAAA, Late Autumn
NCAAA, Late Autumn by Tim Sackton (CC BY-SA)

MUSEUM OF THE NATIONAL CENTER OF AFRO-AMERICAN ARTISTS | BOSTON

Visitors here can explore the worldwide African diaspora through the visual arts. Paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, photography, and graphics make up just some of the exhibitions at the museum. Current exhibits include paintings by David Gaither and “Inmate Ingenuity," a collection of intricate containers made completely from folded and woven cigarette cartons and paper by people held in U.S. prisons. There's also a permanent exhibit on "Aspelta — A Nubian King's Burial Chamber." Educational programs are available for children and adults. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children and seniors.

P-51 Mustang in Museum - Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site - Tuskegee - Alabama - USA
P-51 Mustang in Museum - Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site - Tuskegee - Alabama - USA by Adam Jones (CC BY-SA)

TUSKEGEE AIRMEN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE | TUSKEGEE, ALABAMA

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site honors one of the most important challenges to the color barrier in the pre-Civil Rights era. The Tuskegee Airmen were started as an experiment by the Army Air Corps in World War II to determine whether African-Americans could fly in combat, maintain aircraft, and lead troops. Visitors can see memorabilia and hear the stories of the men and women who challenged military segregation. The public can visit the hangar museums free of charge.

Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, Earlimart, California
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COLONEL ALLENSWORTH STATE HISTORIC PARK | EARLIMART, CALIFORNIA

In 1908, Colonel Allen Allensworth led a small group of settlers to the remote San Joaquin Valley in California. Hoping to escape the oppression and lack of opportunity that black Americans faced in most of the country, they created California's only town founded, financed, and governed by African-Americans. The town didn't last, but in 1974, the state bought the land, restored the buildings, and turned it into a historical site. Camping, tours, and bike trails are available at the park.

Jim Crow Museum Of Racist Memorabilia, Big Rapids, Michigan
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JIM CROW MUSEUM OF RACIST MEMORABILIA | BIG RAPIDS, MICHIGAN

The mission statement of the Jim Crow Museum is "using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice." The museum examines the racist stereotypes and caricatures that permeated America for generations after the Civil War. Visitors will encounter videos, imagery, essays, memorabilia, and artifacts — many of them disturbing — that chronicle the attitudes behind decades of racial discrimination and violence. Admission is free.

Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville, Florida
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KINGSLEY PLANTATION | JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA

Florida's 150-year legacy of slavery comes to life at Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, where hundreds of slaves toiled, lived, and died in the service of the Zephaniah Kingsley family. The immersive experience includes audio storytelling, archaeology workshops for teachers, and a heritage celebration. Weekend house tours take visitors through the lavish Kingsley mansion and the cluster of tiny, crude cabins where the slaves lived. Admission is free.

Nicodemus National Historic Site, Nicodemus, Kansas
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NICODEMUS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE | NICODEMUS, KANSAS

After the Civil War, droves of freed slaves fled their former masters in Kentucky for the promise of safety and freedom in Kansas. This organized mass migration led to the establishment of the town of Nicodemus, one of the earliest settlements of the Great Plains by African-Americans during the postwar westward expansion. Visitors to the Nicodemus National Historic Site can examine the town's original five buildings and census records for free — there is no fee to visit the park.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati
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NATIONAL UNDERGROUND RAILROAD FREEDOM CENTER | CINCINNATI

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center pays tribute to the legendary clandestine network that shuttled runaway slaves to the north. Current exhibits include one using storytelling, role-playing and hands-on activities to show how slaves made their way to freedom (called "Escape!") and "Invisible: Slavery Today." A special exhibit on Nelson Mandela, "Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu," ends March 1. Adults can visit the Freedom Center for $15; seniors enter for $13; and children 3 to 12 get in for $10.50.

18th & Vine, Kansas City, MO
18th & Vine, Kansas City, MO by Jazz Guy (CC BY-NC-ND)

NEGRO LEAGUES BASEBALL MUSEUM | KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

The creation of baseball's Negro Leagues was one of the most famous examples of segregation in the history of American sports. Visitors to the museum can explore that history through hundreds of photographs and memorabilia dating from the late 1800s to the 1960s, along with multimedia displays and tours of the 10,000-square-foot facility, which shares space with the American Jazz Museum. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $6 for kids 5 to 12.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama
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BIRMINGHAM CIVIL RIGHTS INSTITUTE | BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

In the modern Civil Rights movement, few cities carry more symbolic weight than Birmingham. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was among the first in the nation to preserve the history and narratives of the people who fought on both sides. It offers numerous exhibits on the heroes, tragedies, and milestones of the civil rights era. Visitors can see the cell that held the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote the historic Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963. Tickets are $15; $6 for college students; $5 for seniors and children 4 to 12; and free for children who are residents of Jefferson County, AL.

Museum Of African-American History, Boston
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MUSEUM OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY | BOSTON

Visitors to the Museum of African-American History's twin campuses in Boston and Nantucket can feel the power of standing where Frederick Douglass once stood as the most visible abolitionist in the world. The museum's Freedom Rising education programs celebrate (now available online as well) the efforts of 19th-century African-Americans to achieve freedom through education. The "Picturing Frederick Douglass" exhibit is a massive collection of images of one of the 19th century's most-photographed men. A walking tour of the Black Heritage Trail chronicles the Boston community that was the epicenter of the abolition movement. Entry is $10 for adults and $8 for youth and seniors.

Motown Museum, Detroit
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MOTOWN MUSEUM | DETROIT

Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1959 and forever changed American music. The Motown Museum greets visitors with artifacts, photos, and memorabilia dedicated to the genre and the era. Guests can stand in Studio A, where some of the greatest music in Motown history was created, including hits by Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and youth. Children under 5 are free. Tickets are first come, first served, and it's common for the museum to sell out, especially on Saturdays.

Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas
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LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL | LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS

School desegregation began in earnest in 1957, when nine brave students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School. They were initially refused entry by the governor of the state, but walked through the doors under the protection of the National Guard on the orders of President Dwight Eisenhower. A permanent exhibition commemorates the events. Short walking tours are also available. Tours are free but must be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance for a maximum of 50 guests (no minimum required).

National Voting Rights Museum, Selma, Alabama
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NATIONAL VOTING RIGHTS MUSEUM | SELMA, ALABAMA

Located at the foot of the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge is a testament to one of the greatest prizes in the struggle for civil rights: the right to vote. The National Voting Rights Museum is home to exhibits on Martin Luther King Jr., nonviolence, and the Ku Klux Klan, along with other educational displays chronicling the long, bloody battle for voting rights. Admission is $6.50 for adults and $4.50 for senior citizens and students.

National Great Blacks In Wax Museum (18)
National Great Blacks In Wax Museum (18) by Sherrine Thompson (CC BY-NC-ND)

NATIONAL GREAT BLACKS IN WAX MUSEUM | BALTIMORE

One of the most unique museums in the country, the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum greets visitors with lifelike wax replicas of some of history's most important black figures, including American icons W.E.B. DuBois, Bessie Coleman, and Malcolm X. There are also representations of the Middle Passage, the Underground Railroad, entrepreneurialism in America, and more — but it also has unforgettably graphic and violent tableau known to give children nightmares, all in pursuit of ensuring visitors come away understanding the costs of the struggle for equality and freedom in America. Admission is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and students, $12 for children, and free for children under 3.

MLK National Historic Park
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Boyhood home by Jeff Clemmons (CC BY 3.0)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK | ATLANTA

There are many historic sites that pay tribute to civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but none more comprehensively than a preserved district in Atlanta, the center of black life in early 20th century Atlanta, that includes his birthplace, childhood church, and final resting place, as well as a rose garden and a bronze monument built in his honor.

16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama
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16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH | BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

A galvanizing moment for the Civil Rights struggle came Sept. 15, 1963, when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Church in a black neighborhood of Birmingham, killing four girls. King gave a funeral speech, and grief surrounding the incident helped ensure passage of the next year's Civil Rights Act. The church is a National Historic Landmark within the Birmingham Civil Rights District and sees more than 200,000 visitors annually.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Museum, Montgomery, Alabama
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DEXTER AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH MUSEUM | MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

The historical significance of the Dexter Parsonage Baptist Church dates back to the 1950s as part of the Montgomery bus boycott, but deserves inclusion here for helping thrust King into the national spotlight. Now a National Historic Landmark, the church runs tours from 10 to 4 p.m. on weekdays; the adjacent parsonage where King and his family lived is now a museum.

National Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee
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NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM/LORRAINE MOTEL | MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE

King was planning a national occupation of Washington, D.C., when he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, sparking race riots in major cities nationwide. The motel is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which was renovated in 2014 to include more interactive, multimedia, and short film exhibits, in addition to the preserved rooms and vehicles relating to the assassination and broader civil rights struggle.

Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame, Birmingham, Alabama
Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame, Birmingham, Alabama by David Brossard (CC BY)

ALABAMA JAZZ HALL OF FAME | BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

Visitors can marvel at the accomplishments of jazz greats and travel from the age of boogie-woogie to the jazz space age of Sun Ra at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Even the area surrounding the museum is steeped in history — it's located in the Civil Rights District along with the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park, where many demonstrations took place during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.