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Celebrate Black History Month

Celebrating Black History Month

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postedFebruary 21, 2024
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In February, we honor those who gave their hearts—and for some, their lives—to the cause of racial equality, justice, and change. As we celebrate Black history at NTA, we feature several member destinations with tourism offerings that highlight Black history and heritage.

Illinois Black Hall of Fame
Illinois Black Hall of Fame (Photo courtesy of Visit Chicago Southland)

Chicago Southland, Illinois


Chicago Southland is a collection of suburbs south of the Windy City, where hundreds of thousands of African American families settled during the Great Migration of the early to mid-20th century.

"Our experience in the Chicago Southland with heritage tourism has always paid attention to local and regional African American history," says Dr. Larry A. McClellan, professor emeritus with Governors State University in University Park, Illinois. "Our region and its historic Black communities have many remarkable stories, and we affirm that 'Black history matters' because it serves to enrich, complete, and broaden the understanding of history for everyone."

This significant history can be absorbed through experiences and attractions across Chicago Southland, and here are a few to note:

  • Illinois Black Hall of Fame  Located inside Governors State University, the Illinois Black Hall of Fame launched with the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021. Its mission is to recognize and salute the accomplishments of notable African American achievers who have a connection to Illinois, including Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, a Howard University graduate and longtime pastor, and Emil Jones, former president of the Illinois Senate.
  • Jan and Aagje Ton Farm  This Underground Railroad site, once a farm that served as a respite for escaping slaves, is now Chicago’s Finest Marina, a Black-owned motorboat marina. A memorial garden was established in 2011 on the grounds of the First Reformed Church in South Holland to honor the couple and all those who supported the Underground Railroad effort.
  • Robbins Historical Museum  This museum celebrates the contributions of extraordinary people from Robbins, Illinois. On-site is the first Black airport in U.S. history that was built, owned, and operated by certified African-American aviators. Ten original Tuskegee Airmen were from Robbins.

For more info on attractions and Black-owned businesses, see this list on Visit Chicago Southland's website. Dr. McClellan shares detailed Black history travel inspiration in Chicago Southland in his article here

Chicago Southland CVB
Contact: Tobie Fitzpatrick


First Baptist Church in Palm Springs, California
First Baptist Church in Greater Palms Springs (Photo submitted by blackchamberofcommerce.org)

Greater Palm Springs, California


When visiting the sunny community of Greater Palm Springs, California, visitors can discover Black history and heritage through various avenues. One compelling way is by attending services at local Black churches, where traditional styles of worship and preaching offer an authentic cultural experience. These churches serve as hubs of community and faith, providing insight into the rich traditions and contributions of Black Americans in the area. 

Additionally, visitors can take the Urban Palm Springs Black History Tour that introduces the Black pioneers of the region whose talents and perseverance helped them overcome the prejudices of long ago. The tour begins on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation Section 14, where African Americans settled in the 1940s. Participants will see the works of renowned architect Paul R. Williams and learn about land developer and city planner Lawrence Crossley, who arrived in Greater Palm Springs in the 1920s. The tour continues to the Desert Highland Gateway Estates—Palm Springs’ largest predominantly Black neighborhood—where there are several historical churches. The tour ends at the James O. Jessie Unity Center, the centerpiece of the Desert Highland Gateway Community and the social, cultural, and recreational hub of the area. Click here for more from Greater Palm Springs' Black Chamber of Commerce.

Visit Greater Palm Springs, California
Contact: Joanne Ohanesian


Locust Grove in Louisville
Locust Grove, a location part of the "Unfiltered Truth Collection" (Photo submitted by Louisville Tourism)

Louisville, Kentucky
 

"Louisville would not be the creative, innovative, passionate city that it is without its Black community," says Louisville Tourism's Saundra Robertson. "For so many things that make Louisville unique—from Bourbon and horse racing to food traditions and even the Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali—countless people of color have contributed their gifts to build the city’s vibrant culture. The past can be complex and sometimes hard to imagine through a modern lens. We all benefit from learning a destination’s complete history. We welcome you to discover Bourbon City’s Black Heritage."

Here are some of Saundra's recommendations for discovering Black history and heritage in Louisville:

  • The "Unfiltered Truth Collection" features eight immersive reenactments that take visitors back in time at attractions that honor the impact and influence of African Americans.
  • Louisville-based Black-owned restaurants include Keke's Southern Cooking & BBQ, Shirley Mae's Café, and The Seafood Lady.
  • The self-guided "Civil Rights History Tour" is a 22-stop tour created by the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research in the Ekstrom Library at University of Louisville.
  • The city's "The Journey: Unsung Stories of the Underground Railroad" is a walkable or drivable audio tour through significant locations and landmarks along both sides of the Ohio River that reveal local connections to the Underground Railroad.
  • The Muhammad Ali’s Louisville experience celebrates the life and legacy of the world-class boxer and global humanitarian at the Muhammad Ali Center. Visitors can trace Ali’s footsteps to see the city that helped shape his life and career.

Learn more about Bourbon City’s Black Heritage at gotolouisville.com/things-to-do/history/black-heritage/ and in the new Louisville visitors guide at gotolouisville.com/travel-tools/visitor-guide/ under “Discover Louisville’s Black Heritage."

Louisville Tourism
Contact: Saundra Robertson


 

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Black rights timeline at Black Archives Museum (Photo submitted by the Black Archives Museum)
Black rights timeline at Black Archives Museum (Photo submitted by the Black Archives Museum)

St. Joseph, Missouri


This riverside city in northern Missouri is full of history and heritage, including notable African American history. For Black History Month—or any time throughout the year—plan to visit St. Joseph, Missouri, and explore the Black Archives Museum.

The Black Archives Museum, located at 3406 Frederick Ave., tells the stories of the Black community in St. Joseph, from slavery to Civil Rights, detailing the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in St. Joseph and the surrounding area. Visitors can learn about Jeffrey Deroine, a former enslaved man who spoke at least two languages and 10 American Indian dialects. They'll discover the history of the Bartlett School and its ties to Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee. The St. Joseph School District was the first to desegregate after Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, and museum-goers can learn more about this as well as the impact made on the community by inventor Charles Baker, civic leader John Lucas, and Civil Rights activist Kelsy Beshears.

The museum also offers incredible programming options like "Jeffery DeRoine: from Slave to Legend," "The Kenneth Clark Doll Experiment," and "Choices of a Missouri Slave," as well as guided tours for groups of 10 or more. Contact Kami Jones to set up your tour at 816-232-8471 or kami@stjosephmuseum.org.

St. Joseph CVB
Contact: Gracia Pinzino


 

Stained glass at First African Baptist Church
Stained glass at First African Baptist Church (Photos submitted by Visit Savannah)

Savannah, Georgia


Savannah, Georgia, one of the oldest U.S. cities, is unique as its background. A multitude of attractions in Savannah commemorate more than two centuries of Black history, from the Gullah Geechee heritage experience to tours and museums highlighting African American contributions.

"Savannah visitors can learn about Black history and heritage through experiences at the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, First African Baptist Church, Beach Institute, Pin Point Heritage Museum, Laurel Grove Cemetery, and more. These attractions honor the contributions of African Americans and provide a more inclusive understanding of Savannah's history," says Visit Savannah's Anjuli King. "Offering these experiences is important to foster empathy, challenge traditional narratives, and work towards a more equitable future. As Maya Angelou said, '"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."'

King offers more details on the unique historical and cultural experiences that highlight the lives of Savannah's Black community at these links: Savannah Black Heritage & Cultural Experiences and Savannah's Gullah Geechee Heritage.

Visit Savannah
Contact: Anjuli King


Top photo: ©tiagozr/Adobe Stock