Every February, the United States celebrates Black History Month, a month dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the central role of African Americans throughout the country’s history. In cities across America, you’ll find unique places to immerse yourself in African-American culture, history, music, art, and more, whether it’s during Black History Month or any other time of year. Here are just a few to get you started in some of our favorite cities across the U.S.
New York City, NY
Upper Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, just north of HI New York City hostel, offers no shortage of sites that have played a huge role in African-American history. In the early 20th century, this neighborhood was the seat of the Harlem Renaissance, a hugely influential explosion of Black art, music, and literature.
Today, the neighborhood is still an excellent place to learn more about Black history in the city and beyond. For a deep dive, spend some time at the "Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library that’s become one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences.
For a more interactive experience, check out a show at the National Black Theatre. In operation since 1968, it’s one of the oldest Black theaters in the country, and today its productions still serve its mission of educating, empowering, and informing audiences on current social justice issues. And, of course, there’s the famous Apollo Theater, which has been a cornerstone of the Harlem community since 1934. The list of stars who’ve played its historic stage over the better part of the last century is endless – think Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., Lauryn Hill, and D’Angelo. Today, it still draws big names in music, comedy, and dance, but you can also see the stars of tomorrow at the theater’s legendary weekly Amateur Night, where Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown both got their start.
(Pro tip: for more cultural deep-dives in NYC, check out our neighborhood guide to this global melting pot of a city.)
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is home to the United States’ largest and most comprehensive collection of artifacts chronicling African-American life, history, and culture over hundreds of years. Permanent exhibitions cover the birth and continuation of the modern civil rights movement; African Americans’ countless contributions to music, film, sports, and public policy; and much more. You can see everything here from Harriet Tubman’s eating utensils, to a cape and jumpsuit worn by James Brown.
This free museum is extremely popular, so if you know you’ll be visiting D.C., it’s a good idea to reserve your ticket online in advance.
New Orleans, LA
Not far from HI New Orleans hostel, don’t miss the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a small space overflowing with the colorful costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians, a New Orleans subculture with deep roots in the city. Each year on Carnival day, the Mardi Gras Indians parade in elaborate, hand-sewn costumes inspired by Native American regalia. The tradition traces its roots back to the 18th century, when Native Americans helped to shelter runaway slaves in the area. At the Backstreet Cultural Museum, you’ll find rooms overflowing with colorful feathers and gems, lots of memorabilia, and friendly staff who’ll share their first-hand knowledge of this New Orleans subculture’s history and traditions.
Of course, New Orleans is also synonymous with jazz music, which originated in the city’s African-American communities in the early 20th century. Today, you can hear live jazz spilling out of countless bars, cafes, and concert venues all over town. But to go deeper, set aside some time during your visit to explore the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Here you can see (and hear) everything from instruments once belonging to jazz legend Louis Armstrong, to first-edition sheet music, to early audio and film recordings. For more jazz inspiration, take a short walk to Louis Armstrong Park, which is dedicated to one of the city’s favorite native sons.
Founded in 1961, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago’s Hyde Park is home to thousands of paintings, sculptures, and pieces of historical memorabilia interpreting the history, contributions, and achievements of African Americans. The museum hosts rotating exhibits highlighting the lives and work of African Americans throughout history both locally and nationally, and has works from big names including W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes in its permanent collection.
After you’ve visited the museum, make a day of it by exploring the surrounding Hyde Park neighborhood. It’s one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city and is the future home of the Barack Obama Presidential Library – a great reason to come back in a few years!
The capital of Texas is home to the LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) Presidential Library, which chronicles the time in office and impact of the United States’ 36th president. Two of LBJ’s hallmark achievements were signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” as well as segregation in public schools; and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which aimed to remove existing barriers to African Americans voting. The LBJ library’s permanent Civil Rights exhibit walks visitors through this period in history and houses historic pieces including the desk where the Voting Rights Act was signed.
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