Shawn is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing Legal Compliance and Chair of the Diversity Council at Holiday Inn Club Vacations. Born in Chicago with ties to the Pacific Northwest (Go Ducks!), she loves vacations filled with sandy beaches, great music, delicious food and lots of relaxation. When she’s not working, Shawn treasures spending time with her family and exploring her family’s genealogy. From Spain to Cameroon to New Orleans, her travel goals are to visit each place where her ancestors lived. To date, her favorite vacation was a trip to Jamaica in 2017 with her mom, dad and sister.
Black History Month is a designated time to intentionally focus on learning from the past to build a brighter future full of promise, understanding and humanity for everyone.
As a Black woman in America, I celebrate and honor the resilience and strength of Black people across the globe throughout the year.
With these 9 impactful places to learn about Black history, I hope you’ll be able to do the same whether you want to visit during Black History Month in February or any time of the year.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC
I personally celebrate Black history by taking the opportunity to amplify and uplift our accomplishments and history of commitment to innovation, achievement and excellence in the face of extreme adversity.
It’s very important to me to remember and pay respect to my ancestors who made life-altering sacrifices and suffered unspeakable horror in their lives in this country.
I, along with countless other people of African descent in America, represent the result of their unshakable spirit and courageous determination through centuries of struggle and inequality.
When I think about describing the importance of Black History Month, the term that comes to mind for me is Sankofa.
The word is derived from the Akan people of West Africa and is symbolized by a mythical bird with its feet planted forward, but head turned backward to retrieve an egg.
The loose translation of the word and symbol is, “It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.”
With that lens, here’s my list of the most impactful places for you to experience Black history in the United States.
9. Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Photo courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
I couldn’t compile a list of destinations showcasing various aspects of Black culture without including the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey.
While it’s not exactly a “place,” the experience will transport you in beautiful ways, full of color and light.
Attending an Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performance has been an annual tradition in my family. As a little girl, I’ll never forget watching PBS and being mesmerized by the Company’s performance for the first time.
And as an adult, I love the new works, but the highlight of any performance is Revelations, Ailey’s masterpiece that explores spirituality, grief and hope.
It expresses the cultural heritage of the Black experience in an incredibly moving and unforgettable way.
The Company typically tours throughout the U.S. in February and March of each year.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check your local venues for dates and times when Revelations is on the program.
Fun Fact: Since its premiere in 1960, Revelations has been seen by more audiences around the world than any other modern work! It has been enjoyed by over 23 million people in 71 countries across six continents.
8. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri
Photo courtesy of Stadium Journey
I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I have fond memories of going to my first baseball game with my grandfather at Comiskey Park when I was a kid. (It will always be called Comiskey Park for me.)
He loved the Chicago White Sox and rarely missed a televised game on Saturday afternoons. I’m sure that my grandfather attended the Negro League games that traveled to Chicago during the height of their popularity.
The Negro Leagues were established in 1920, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, celebrates Jackie Robinson and other trailblazing Black players.
While they were passionate about the game and demonstrated outstanding talent, they were denied the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.
One must-see museum exhibit is “Beauty of the Game,” which celebrates Black women in the Negro Leagues and highlights their contributions both on and off the field.
Also, look out for the traveling exhibition called “Barrier Breakers,” designed to honor many of the unsung Black players in the Negro Leagues.
Historic Fact: 2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the breaking of the color barrier in the Major Leagues, beginning with Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
If you’re planning a visit to this area and need a place to stay, check out our Holiday Hills Resort in Branson, Missouri, about three hours from the museum.
It’s a great place to get outside and explore, take a day trip to Kansas City and enjoy the pools at the resort.
7. National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee
Photo courtesy of The National Museum of African American Music
Legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard and Etta James spent much of the early part of their careers in Nashville, performing at venues along the famed Jefferson Street in one of the city’s most bustling Black neighborhoods.
Opened in 2020, The National Museum of African American Music pays homage to these groundbreaking Black artists and others who played a pivotal role in shaping all genres of music.
It highlights their tremendous, yet often under-appreciated, contributions, a legacy spanning more than 400 years and upwards of 50 genres and subgenres.
I’m a huge music fan, and I look forward to experiencing many of the interactive exhibits at this museum.
For anyone who loves music the way I do, this is really a “can’t miss” experience.
If you’re staying at our Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg, you can take a day trip or road trip over to Nashville, which is about 4 hours away.
6. St. Augustine, Florida
Photo courtesy of Fort Mose Historical Society.
Did you know that St. Augustine is considered by scholars as the birthplace of African American history? According to historians, Africans were among the first explorers in Florida during the 15th century.
You can experience St. Augustine’s rich history by visiting Fort Mose, the location of the first legally sanctioned free Black settlement in 1738.
In the Lincolnville neighborhood, you can also take a self-guided audio tour developed by The ACCORD Freedom Trail Project, which consists of 31 historic markers located at various sites significant to the St. Augustine civil rights movement.
Historic Fact: Ray Charles got his start in the music business playing piano in Lincolnville clubs while he was attending St. Augustine’s School for the Blind and Deaf.
St. Augustine makes a nice day trip from Orlando, located about an hour and 45 minutes away from our Orange Lake Resort.
5. Sandy Island, South Carolina
Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy. Photo by © John Moore.
Take an opportunity to be transported back in time by visiting Sandy Island, just an hour from our South Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach.
Sandy Island, and other low country destinations in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, proudly preserve and protect Gullah culture.
Due to their geographic isolation and strong community life, the Gullah have purposefully preserved more of their African cultural heritage than any other group of Black Americans.
Their island is home to about 50 descendants of enslaved Africans, who expertly worked the rice plantations that once thrived on the island.
These heirs now own the land of their ancestors and proudly carry on the Gullah way of life handed down to them by exemplifying hard work and simple living.
The only way to get to the island is by boat. My sister and I were able to see some of Sandy Island during a boat tour in 2017.
We were struck by the beauty and preservation of history. Feelings of pride and awe swelled within us knowing that this community has retained so many African cultural traditions.
Although they carefully guard their privacy, some islanders offer private tours for those interested in the Gullah culture and local history.
4. Richmond, Virginia
Slavery Reconciliation Statue. Photo courtesy of the Visit Richmond VA.
Like so many cities across the south, Richmond works to embrace and understand its painful past for Black Americans.
There are several opportunities in this historic city to learn about the richness and poignancy of Black culture.
Visitors can walk the self-guided Richmond Slave Trail, which includes 17 markers along the path that display somber and illuminating information on the history of slavery in Richmond.
Or, you can travel to the Jackson Ward District, known as the nation’s first historically registered Black urban neighborhood.
Once known as the “Black Wall Street of the South” and “Birthplace of Black Entrepreneurship,” the district was a center for Black enterprise and entertainment from the early 1920s to the late 1940s.
Historic Fact: Maggie Lena Walker, a resident of Jackson Ward, was the first Black female bank president in the U.S.
She founded Consolidated Bank & Trust, the oldest surviving, Black-operated bank in America. Its main branch is still located in Jackson Ward at 1st and Marshall Streets.
Richmond is just an hour away from our Williamsburg Resort, which is right near the historic town of Colonial Williamsburg.
3. The DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, Illinois
Photo courtesy of the DuSable Museum of African American History
Located in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood, The DuSable Museum of African American History and Culture is our nation’s oldest independent museum honoring Black culture.
Having started the museum from their home on the south side of Chicago, Dr. Margaret Burroughs and Charles Taylor Burroughs were visionaries and pioneers who collected, curated and celebrated the accomplishments of Blacks in America.
This Chicago museum contains 15,000 diverse holdings, including paintings, sculptures, print works and historic memorabilia.
As a child growing up in Chicago, I was so excited when my 3rd grade teacher informed the class that we were going on a field trip to the museum.
And as a young lawyer, I remember feeling similar excitement when I had the chance to sit and talk with Dr. Margaret Burroughs and thank her for creating such a lasting tribute to Black history and culture.
Historic Fact: In addition to being co-founder of the DuSable Museum, Charles Burroughs established the Associated Negro Press.
The organization, modeled on the Associated Press, played an important role in coordinating African American newspapers throughout the U.S.
This impactful museum is located about 90 minutes from our Fox River Resort in Sheridan.
It’s a quiet, outdoor retreat where you can explore Chicago and then head back to the resort for mini golf and horseback riding.
2. The National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington D.C.
Photo courtesy of National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo by Alan Karchmer.
Has a singular experience ever left you feeling so much joy that you were buoyant for days after?
If not, I urge you to visit the National Museum of African American History & Culture (or the NMAAHC).
There’s no way that I can aptly express the stunning display of literally all aspects of Black history and culture. The incredible depth and scope of this national treasure cannot be overstated.
The most impactful way to begin the journey is to start at the bottom of the massive building.
While an elevator slowly takes you 70 feet below ground, the exhibits are arranged to reflect the journey upward: starting from Africa and the darkness of the Middle Passage and slavery, to present day.
No topic is neglected — from food, art, literature, music and politics to business, the military, science, sports, religion and more.
Sitting adjacent to the National Monument, the 400,000-square-foot museum fills the last open spot along the National Mall, keenly and beautifully representing the best and worst of our shared history in this country.
My sister and I toured the museum in 2019 and continue to swell with pride and awe when we share the experience with friends and family who have yet to visit.
Photo courtesy of National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo by Alan Karchmer.
Historic Fact: The NMAAHC has more than 40,000 objects in its collection, but roughly 3,500 items are on display.
Pro Tip: It’s impossible to fully experience the museum in one day. If you can, make it a two-day visit instead.
Necessary Detour: During our trip to Washington D.C., we also went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
Serene, yet powerful, the inscription wall is a collection of 14 of Dr. King’s quotes from his speeches, sermons and other writings.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly encourage you to make this a key part of any Washington D.C. trip.
1. New Orleans Jazz Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Jazz Museum
What better way to explore the history of jazz than to visit the city of its birthplace, the African American communities of New Orleans.
With its roots in African rhythms, blues and ragtime, jazz is a distinctly American genre of music, and New Orleans is home to some of the most iconic jazz artists in history.
Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis and Sweet Emma Barrett all created a path for jazz to be recognized across the world.
Just bordering the French Quarter and a 10-minute drive from our New Orleans Resort is the New Orleans Jazz Museum.
My mom is from NOLA and my dad, who loved music as much as I do, introduced me to jazz at an early age.
I’m on a mission to visit not only the New Orleans Jazz Museum, but also many other historic sites in NOLA, to better understand the city that means so much to my family history.
Pro Tip: One of the best times to visit the museum is on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. Every week at this time, there’s a live performance held on the third floor.
Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum. Paintings by James Michalopoulos.
Remember, you don’t have to wait for Black History Month each year to explore these destinations.
Let the month of February be a catalyst for practicing the concept of Sankofa — remembering and honoring our past (filled with a mix of immense struggle and enormous achievement) as we envision the creation of a future that unites us all.
All information is subject to change. This article is a curated guide and is neither sponsored nor considered an official endorsement. Please be sure to check information directly with any/all tours, guides or companies for the most up-to-date and direct details.
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