It’s rare that we plan a family vacation without considering the history of our people there—without making a point of tracing our roots and paying homage to those who came before us and made their mark. Paris. New York. North Carolina. Antigua. The coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. Each of them is beautiful on its own, full of wonder and excitement. But when we’re able to see ourselves there? In the neighborhoods and libraries? In the statues and the cemeteries? In the marketplaces and the food and the architecture and the local lore? Whoa. This is the stuff Black family travel is made of.
Now, I know you’re still trying to recover from the holidays and not really thinking about winter break just yet. But if you’re a planner like me and your kids have a few days of winter break in February, a.k.a. Black History Month, like mine do, there’s no better time than now to start planning a meaningful family getaway. Here, I’ve got the drop on three great Black family travel spots perfect for you and yours.
This city is a gift—both figuratively and literally. See, during the Civil War, General Sherman presented it to President Lincoln as a Christmas present after he slashed and burned through much of Georgia, leaving this jewel one of the only cities standing. With its centuries-old homes, galleries, 22 squares (parks), beautiful River St. waterfront, dope art scene and fine low-country dining, Savannah already is a pretty spectacular place to visit. But there’s a lovely history there—our history—permeating all in the sidewalks and the buildings’ walls.
WHERE TO VISIT:
- The First African Baptist Church. It’s home to the country’s oldest Black congregation, built by the hands of slaves. Be sure to see the air holes in the flooring drilled to look like a tribal symbol; they served as a makeshift ventilation system meant to give air to the runaways tucked way in the crawl space.
- The African-American Monument on River St., dedicated to Savannah’s slaves, is exactly where the tunnels released the runaways onto waiting ships.
- The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum, named for a storied Savannah pastor, NAACP president and activist, has three stories of exhibits, including a re-creation of a department store where Blacks could buy clothing but could not eat at the lunch counter, a theater decorated like a church sanctuary, and a video/reading room stocked with an African American children’s book collection.
- Pin Point, the community in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor founded by first-generation freedmen, birth home of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Check out the Pin Point Heritage Museum, which celebrates the life, work and history of the Gullah/Geechee community.
WHERE TO STAY:
- The Residence Inn Savannah Downtown Historic District. Reserve one of the historically designed workers cottages, which comes well-appointed two-bedroom suites, fully-equipped kitchens, complimentary internet and cable and free breakfast.
2. NEW YORK CITY
Strivers Row. Lena Horne’s childhood home, Louis Armstrong‘s family pad and Duke Ellington’s gravesite, Weeksville, the National Black Theater, The Apollo and the Audubon ballroom. Each represents a piece of history that is all-at-once rich and dark and proud and tragic. They are symbols of the indelible imprint African-Americans have left on the fabric of this city—a reminder that Blacks always have been an important piece of its rich tapestry. You can’t go wrong bringing your family to this storied city—my hometown. Here, our history is just a subway ride away.
WHERE TO VISIT:
- The African Burial Ground National Monument, in Lower Manhattan, is possibly the only preserved, urban, eighteenth-century African cemetery in America. When it was discovered in 1992, the site’s excavation and study was called “the most important historic urban archeological project in the United States,” and rightfully so: historians estimate that there may have been up to 20,000 burials there. Today, the remains of more than 400 Africans are there—half of them children under age 12—proof that we’ve long been a part of the fabric of this historic city. Check out the visitor center at the monument, which features a sacred place for contemplation and a permanent exhibit depicting a dual funeral, plus an exploration of the work life of Africans in early New York.
- The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture houses a collection of art, artifacts and manuscripts which won acclaim in 1926 when the personal effects of scholar/bibliophile Arthur A. Schomburg were added to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints of the New York Public Library. Renamed in Schomburg’s honor in 1940, it contains more than five million items about the history and culture of the black African diaspora.
- The Cecil, a hot new restaurant from legendary restauranteur Alexander Smalls, is a hotbed of fusion cooking that speaks not only to the importance, relevancy, courage and influence of African food, but also Mr. Smalls’ adventurous, passionate menu, which features eclectic dishes like lamb shank and grits infused with coconut milk, Kaffir lime and star anise, and gumbo made with dried shrimp and feijoada, a Brazilian black-bean stew with merguez lamb sausage and oxtail. Besides being named Esquire magazine’s “Restaurant Of the Year,” The Cecil also boasts a distinguished location: it is in the building that once served as The Theresa Hotel, the only hotel uptown that served people of color. Everyone from boxing great Joe Louis to the jazz elite of the Harlem Renaissance to Cuban dictator-to-be Fidel Castro hung his hat there and later, it was home to such residents as scholar/activist W. E. B. DuBois, poets Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
- The Apollo: Opened in 1914 as a whites-only theater, the Apollo gave birth to the careers of a host of legendary black artists, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and Aretha Franklin. It remains one of the mainstays of black culture in Harlem, and hosts the popular “Amateur Night” each Wednesday.
- The Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC), is a multidisciplinary museum dedicated to preserving the history of the 19th century African American community of Weeksville, Brooklyn, one of America’s first free black communities. Lena Horne grew up here.
WHERE TO STAY:
- Residence Inn New York Manhattan/Central Park
It has all the trademark amenities the Residence Inn has to offer, plus full glass walls that give you spectacular views of Times Square, the Manhattan skyline, Central Park or the Hudson River. Plus, it’s near Broadway, Rockefeller Center, Fifth Avenue, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, plus subways that can get you to your Black history destinations.
With the opening of “SELMA,” the amazing movie by Ava DuVernay, about the historic march that led to Bloody Sunday and, ultimately, the passage of the Voter Rights Act, hitting up Alabama for a little R&R and history could be quite the experience for your family. Our Civil Rights Movement experience touches practically every town.
WHAT TO VISIT:
- The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an interpretive museum that depicts the struggles of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Just across the street is the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, bombed by Klansmen in 1963, killing four little girls. Kelly Ingram Park is there, too; it features sculptures depict the reality of the police dogs and fire hoses that were turned on demonstrators who gathered here to protest segregation laws.
- Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge is where the civil rights march in support of voter’s rights ended with law enforcement beating marchers on what became known as Bloody Sunday. The marches and other protests around the state eventually led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Visit the Brown Chapel AME Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched the voting rights march, then tour the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute, which houses memorabilia honoring those who sought voting rights.
- The Selma-to-Montgomery Trail highlights the historic march civil rights activists walked as they tried to secure voting rights for Blacks. Also visit the Selma-to-Montgomery Trail Interpretative Center at White Hall to learn more about the marchers and what they encountered on their journey. Once in Montgomery, check out the Rosa Parks Museum, where you can feel what it was like to be arrested for not moving to the back of the bus. Finally, stop by the Dexter Parsonage Museum to tour the house once occupied by Dr. King and his family.
WHERE TO STAY:
- The Residence Inn Suites in Montgomery
It has all the trademark amenities the Residence Inn has to offer, plus fireplaces in most rooms, conveniently situated close to the Rosa Parks Museum and other Black History sites.
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This post was made possible by the Residence Inn Moms program in conjunction with Residence Inn by Marriott. Of course, all opinions are my own.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.