Learning about the civil rights movement in school, on TV, or in movies is one thing, but it’s a much more profound experience to explore its important settings firsthand.
As Black History Month is underway, I thought it would be worthwhile to share a list of important stops (identified with the help of Best Life) our RV Lifestyle Fellow Travelers might want to add to their list of destinations.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center; Cincinnati
The center commemorates the history of the Underground Railroad, which are, of course, the hidden routes of safe houses 19th-century slaves used to reach free states and Canada. the museum is located in downtown Cincinnati right along the banks of the Ohio River — the natural barrier that separated the southern slave states from the norther free states. Among other things, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center features historic artifacts and important exhibits, such as the Rosa Parks Experience.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park; Atlanta
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park explores the life and influence of one of America’s greatest leaders. Consisting of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s boyhood home, and grave site. It also features the original Ebenezer Baptist Church where King was baptized and his father, maternal grandfather, and he were pastors.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument; Dorchester County, Maryland
Established as a national monument in 2013, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument preserves the landscape and stops Tubman used to carry herself and nearly 70 other enslaved people to freedom. Among other things, the park includes the home of Jacob Jackson, a free African American man, who helped Tubman secretly communicate with her family, as well as Stewart’s Canal, the hand-dug canal where Tubman learned many of the skills that helped her become one of the “conductors” on the Underground Railroad.
National Civil Rights Museum; Memphis
The one was built around the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum guides visitors through 500 years of African American history, up through the the fight for equality in the late 20th century. Expanded in 2014, the museum now features 260 artifacts, as well as tons of films, oral histories, and interactive media.
Motown Historical Museum; Detroit
We’re lucky to have this one right in our own backyard — the place where The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and dozens of other groundbreaking African American artists recorded their hits. It’s Motown Records Studio A, which is part of the Motown Historical Museum that displays the history and influence of the record label, as well as founder Berry Gordy’s restored upper flat, where he lived with his young family as he was first building what would become a culture-changing company.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Birmingham, Alabama
An interpretative, self-directed museum that takes visitors through the challenges and perseverance of the American civil rights movement and the city’s contribution to it. If you’re going, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is located right where much of the historic struggle took place, in the heart of the city’s Civil Rights District, near the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the Carver Theater.
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House; Washington, D.C.
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and civil rights activist who established a school for girls in Florida that would go on to become Bethune-Cookman University. When Bethune was offered a position with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration in 1935, she relocated to Washington, D.C. In the townhouse where she lived, she founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). Mary McLeod Bethune Council House has been transformed into a national historic site that offers details about her remarkable accomplishments.
Malcolm X Birthsite; Omaha
On May 19, 1925, Malcolm X was born in University Hospital Omaha before he was taken home to 3448 Pinkney Street. Although the actual house no longer exists, the site of the civil rights leader’s first childhood home has been transformed into a 14-acre memorial named Malcolm X Birthsite.
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; Washington, D.C.
Most people know that Frederick Douglass was a leading voice in the abolitionist movement. After escaping slavery at a young age, he dedicated his life to the fight for justice and equality. The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site commemorates his contributions and accomplishments at Cedar Hill, the beautiful colonial mansion where he lived until his death in 1895.
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument; Wilberforce, Ohio
Charles Young was born into slavery, but he went on to become the third African-American graduate of West Point and the highest-ranking black officer in the U.S. Army. The large home he purchased in 1907, which he christened “Youngsholm,” was once used as a stop on the Underground Railroad before it became the social hub of the notable figures in Young’s circle. Today, Youngsholm is the base of Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, which honors Young and the Buffalo Soldiers he commanded.