Travelers don’t have to look far to find Black culture.
In big cities from coast to coast, Black history, music, food and heritage are integral parts of the local landscape. Groups that visit these destinations can discover places where African Americans have made their mark on local and national culture.
Check out the following cities to learn how your travelers can discover rich Black experiences in each one.
New York City
In the early 20th century, thousands of Black Americans relocated from the South to the North in the Great Migration. As many as 175,000 of them landed in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. By the end of World War I, the Harlem Renaissance was underway, launching a rush of creative expression, writing, poetry, performance, painting, philosophy and more. Much of the work was defined by thoughtful examination of the Black American experience that still resonates today.
Legendary writers, thinkers, artists and performers like W.E.B. Du Bois, Walter Frances White, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, Zora Neale Hurston and more flocked to Harlem as a source of inspiration. Musicians such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday brought their work to life in the neighborhood.
Today, Harlem is still proudly centered on Black heritage.
“Although Harlem is going through a gentrification transition today, the Black culture remains dominant,” said Yuien Chin, executive director of Harlem One Stop. “There is nothing like Black joy, especially during the summer when the streets come alive with street festivals, music concerts, block parties and parades not easily found elsewhere.”
Chin suggests visitors retrace the steps of the creative geniuses of Harlem’s past.
“The neighborhood is like a living museum with literary and social references,” she said. “My favorite and best way to explore Harlem is through a neighborhood walking tour that will provide the social and cultural history and context for present Harlem.”
Explore the legendary Apollo Theater; the home of poet Langston Hughes; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and streets like Strivers Row, where composers including Eubie Blake, Bill “Bojangle” Robinson and W.C. Handy lived. Harlem One Stop offers custom group activities, including trips to enriching locations like the Jazz Museum of Harlem, ultra-local neighborhood walking tours and even gospel tours.
In the days of the Underground Railroad, Detroit was considered one of the last stops on the road to freedom. Detroit’s First Congregational Church played an especially important role, hiding formerly enslaved people who’d escaped until they could safely cross the Detroit River to Canada. Groups can learn more about the story on an Underground Railroad Walking Tour, which serves as a guide through some of Detroit’s important stops on the road to freedom.
In the decades that followed, Detroit grew into a thriving hub of Black culture and heritage. It served as the birthplace of Motown, with Barry Gordy producing hits from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Aretha Franklin and more from Hitsville USA in the heart of the city. Today, that studio is now the Motown Museum, which welcomes visitors.
Groups visiting Detroit should also consider a trip to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The museum offers a journey through history, including a stop at a replica slave ship and a series of stories of African American success and creativity.
In the nearby city of Dearborn, groups will enjoy a visit to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, which houses the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white passenger and sparked a new chapter in the Civil Rights Movement.
“Atlanta is the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Logan Doctson, public relations specialist for Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. King, former U.S. Representative John Lewis and other key Civil Rights leaders grew the movement nationwide with Georgia as their inspiration and backdrop.
Unexpected Atlanta’s King Historic District Tour takes travelers on an in-depth exploration of the places that inspired King and his peers. Another tour operator, Civil Rights Tours Atlanta, which was created by a former aide to King, offers bus tours of famous locations in the Civil Rights Movement.
Groups should also consider a visit to the city’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which follows the American Civil Rights Movement from its beginnings to the present day.
“The center has three main exhibits: Civil Rights, human rights and the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection from Morehouse College,” said Doctson.
Today, neighborhoods like Southwest Atlanta, Atlanta’s Eastside, Cascade Heights and Sweet Auburn are home to thriving Black-owned businesses, restaurants and shops that are powering the city forward.
Baltimore is the birthplace of timeless Black creative masterpieces, including jazz hits, memorable poems and unforgettable pieces of art. It also served as home to Black leaders like Frederick Douglas, Thurgood Marshall and Elijah Cummings.
Baltimore’s music scene has been integral to the fabric of modern jazz, R&B and hip-hop, as well as an early incubator of house music.
“Each year, Baltimore hosts the AFRAM Festival,” said Al Hutchinson, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore. “It’s one of the largest African American festivals on the East Coast.” The event boasts more than 100,000 attendees annually and features entertainment, eats and shopping.
For groups that want to delve deeper into the city’s history, the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum offers an interactive journey through the history of Douglass and Isaac Myers, the founder of the first Black-owned shipyard. Other great sites to visit include the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, the Maryland Center for History and Culture, and the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum features wax representations of legendary Black figures. Visitors can dive deeper with the city’s recently created Black-Owned Business Directory, which covers local restaurants, shops and attractions that play a role in Baltimore’s Black culture.
St. Louis served as the backdrop for the famous trial in which Dred and Harriet Scott, who were enslaved, sued for their freedom in 1847. It was also the site of many determined escapes from slavery, including one led by the legendary Mary Meachum, a free Black St. Louisan.
The city also played host to the beginnings of an electrifying blues scene, with musicians from across the U.S. gathering to play their tunes. During the Great Migration, many top-notch blues musicians flocked to St. Louis and crafted a distinct St. Louis sound that’s unlike anywhere else in the country. Music-loving groups will enjoy the National Blues Museum, which dives into the history of blues and its impact on all other forms of American music. The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site is another great avenue for music fans. The house explores Joplin’s finest hits and the history of his work.
Catherine Neville, vice president of communications for Explore St. Louis, pointed to the many historic sites and museums that dot the St. Louis landscape. Many connect St. Louis’ past with its vibrant present, with Black-owned restaurants, museums and shops shaping the city’s current culture.
One important site to visit includes the Field House Museum, which explores the court case of Dred and Harriet Scott, and the Old Courthouse, where the case was first heard before heading to the Supreme Court.
Another site, Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, honors Meachum’s journey with nine enslaved people on an attempted escape. Four escaped and five were caught; the story remains Missouri’s most well-documented escape. The site of the crossing is host to a reenactment every year.
The Griot Museum of Black History, in St. Louis’ historic Old North, highlights the depth and significance of Black history and culture throughout the country. The museum aims to share and interpret Black stories. The museum’s artifacts and wax figures examine Black influence, and exhibits include a special focus on important leaders in St. Louis history.
Wrap up your trip with a visit to the St. Louis Walk of Fame on the city’s famed Delmar Loop, which honors St. Louis legends like Tina Turner, Josephine Baker, Chuck Berry and more.
Black heritage is interwoven into the fabric of New Orleans’ music scene, food and cultural traditions. Many New Orleanians who arrived in the city while enslaved continued to speak their native languages from Africa, and many who were born in Louisiana spoke French Creole. Others still spoke English, creating a melting pot of different languages and cultural rituals that remain today.
Many African traditions stayed in place through the years and are still practiced today. Congo Square is a great example of this — this space where Treme meets the French Quarter is one of the most important sites in the history of jazz music. In centuries past, enslaved people and laborers alike gathered to play music, trade and dance. It led to the beginnings of many crucial aspects of American music as we know it today. Jazz, funk, hip-hop, gospel, brass, rock ’n’ roll and more all owe much to the early gathering and jam sessions that happened in New Orleans. Groups can stop by Congo Square to see music history up close.
Travelers who want to get to know more of New Orleans’ past can also visit the New Orleans African American Museum (NOAAM). Located in Treme, the oldest surviving Black neighborhood in the U.S., the museum celebrates the contributions of Black residents to local and national culture. This year also saw the opening of the brand-new Louisiana Civil Rights Museum. Another important site to visit is St. Augustine Church, believed to be the oldest Black Catholic parish in the country. The church was established in 1841 and long included pews for enslaved parishioners. It is one of the first spots noted on Louisiana’s African American Heritage Trail.