Museum of African-American History
National Parks Service

23 Amazing Places to Learn About Black History

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Museum of African-American History
National Parks Service

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 although many are closed temporarily due to the pandemic, when they reopen, visitors can enter every site on this list for $15 or less.

Related: Black-Owned Stores to Support in (Almost) Every State

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. While closed temporarily because of the pandemic, general admission is $10, or $5 for students, seniors, and service members with military ID. Kids 5 and under enter free.

Related: 15 Awe-Inspiring Memorials and Other Places to Honor Our Vets

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 6 million visitors have passed through the doors of the Smithsonian Institution's newest museum since it opened in 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. Currently closed because of the pandemic, the museum urges the public to explore its virtual exhibits and online collections. When the museum is open, admission is free, though timed entry passes are required on certain days and times.  

Related: Where to Donate for Racial Justice in Your State

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. According to the National Park Service, the site is temporarily closed due the pandemic. When open, 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.

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Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, Earlimart, California
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, Earlimart, California by Bobak Ha'Eri (CC BY)

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. The park's day-use areas and hiking trails are currently open, but other facilities are closed due to a regional stay-at-home order. 

Jim Crow Museum
Jim Crow Museum by Jim Crow Museum (None)

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. The museum is also currently closed, but does offer virtual tours.  

Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville, Florida
Elizabeth M./Yelp

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 park is going through a phased reopening and its grounds are open. Normally, the immersive experience includes audio storytelling, archaeology workshops for teachers, and a heritage celebration, and 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
National Park Service

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 Nicodemus National Historic Site can examine the town's original five buildings and census records, and participate in archaeological digs. There is no fee to visit the park. The National Park Service notes that the site's visitor center is closed.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati by MamaGeek (CC BY-SA)

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. The center has reopened with modified hours, enhanced cleaning protocols, and timed ticketing to keep capacity at or under 25 percent. The center also offers online exhibits. 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 egregious 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. Visitors are urged to note the museum's safety guidelines.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
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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; $13 for college students and military with ID; $13 for seniors and children 4th to 12th grades; and free for children who are residents of Jefferson County, Alabama. Advanced online timed ticketing and face masks are required.

Related: 29 Destinations That Defined the 1960s

Museum of African-American History
National Parks Service

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. Currently on display is an exhibit exploring Boston's contribution to the jazz scene. Entry is $10 for adults and $8 for youth and seniors, and visitors are expected to adhere to social-distancing protocols.

Motown Museum
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Motown Museum

Detroit
Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1959 and forever changed American music. The Motown Museum is home to 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. The museum has been closed until Jan. 31 and visitors are urged to check its website for updates. Its website outlines the museum's health and safety protocols.

Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas by Adam Jones (CC BY-SA)

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, but tours currently do not include access inside the school.  

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, $14 for children, and free for children 3 and under. According to its website, the museum is currently open with appointment-only hours.

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. The park buildings, however, are currently closed, according to the National Park Service.

Related: 12 Things You Didn't Know About Martin Luther King Jr. 

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, though tours are currently suspended, according to the church's website.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Chris Pruitt (CC BY)

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 currently has suspended tours and other services; 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. The museum is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but a virtual panel discussion is slated for Feb. 5.

Related: 2020 Was Awful, But Was It the Worst Year in History?

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. The museum is currently under renovation and closed for tours.

African American Firefighter Museum, Los Angeles
Cheri A./Yelp

African American Firefighter Museum

Los Angeles
Built in 1913, Fire Station No. 30, Engine Company No. 30, was the first of two all-Black Los Angeles Fire Department stations. Remaining segregated until 1956, the Prairie School-style fire station and engine company closed in 1980 and is now the African American Firefighter Museum, the only free-standing museum dedicated to Black firefighters in the United States. In addition to housing vintage equipment and apparatus, the museum has exhibits providing insight into a history going back to Sam Haskins — hired as the first L.A. firefighter of African descent in 1892 and killed battling a blaze three years later — as well as the social and racial climate of the fire service in the early days, showing how much the profession has evolved. Admission is free for individuals and groups fewer than 10, though California's indoor museums may be under lockdown restrictions. 

Related: The Best of California For Budget Vacations

Africatown Cemetery
Africatown Cemetery by Leigh T Harrell (CC BY-SA)

Africatown

Mobile, Alabama
Africatown represents a unique chapter in African-American history. The last slave ship arrived in America in 1860, more than 50 years after the African slave trade was outlawed. It was intercepted by authorities, and the 32 people brought over as slaves from Ghana were given land in Alabama. They created a self-governing society, living off the land and transplanting their culture and language to the settlement. Africatown flourished as emancipated slaves joined the community, and paper mills and other industry provided employment to residents. But the pollution also made Africatown less desirable. As the original settlers died and the following generations assimilated, it largely disappeared. Today, much of the area is part of Mobile, and the original homes and cemetery make up the Africatown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. In recent years, interest in the area has increased following the discovery of the remnants of a slave ship and the publication of the best-selling book "Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo'."

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. 

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. 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.