Significant Sites to Honor African American History

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated on August 28, 2011 Source: NPSFebruary is African American History Month—a time when we all reflect on the achievements of African Americans throughout U.S. history. And what better way to get a full sense of these than to visit sites so meaningful to the course of history. Check out these top parks and historic sites that celebrate African American heritage.

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, Georgia.

Just past noon on January 15, 1929, a son was born to the Reverend and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Sr., in an upstairs bedroom of 501 Auburn Avenue, in Atlanta, Georgia. It was in these surroundings—his home, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood—that “M.L.” grew into a legend. And it’s in the heart of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood that the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site lies—comprising King’s birthplace, gravesite, home and the frequented sites of his youth.
The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site was established in 1980 and includes the following facilities:
•    National Park Service Visitor Center
•    The King Birth Home
•    Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (Heritage Sanctuary)
•    Historic Fire Station No. 6
•    The King Center (Freedom Hall)
•    Dr. King's Tomb
•    Peace Plaza

No special arrangements are needed since most of the park is self-guided; however, visitors looking to tour the Birth Home of Dr. King will need to reserve spots. Reservations for touring the Birth Home are handled on a first-come, first-served basis the day of your tour, in person. No advance reservations can be made.

The NPS visitor center on Auburn Avenue is a great place to start your visit. Their staffed information desk can provide a brief orientation to the site, point you to places of interest and help you register for a Birth Home tour.

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Virginia.

Richmond, Virginia is home to many famous Americans including one of the nation’s great entrepreneurial spirits, Maggie Lena Walker. Through exhibits and guided tours in her former home in the Jackson Ward community, visitors can experience the life of this great African American woman. Walker was born during slavery and achieved remarkable success. Fighting adversity as both an African American and a woman, she rose to become the first woman in the United States to charter and serve as the president of a bank.
The site includes Walker’s residence of thirty years and a visitor center detailing her life and the Jackson Ward community where she lived and worked. The house is restored to its 1930s appearance with original Walker family pieces.

George Washington Carver National Monument, Missouri.

As a young boy George Washington Carver—also known as the “Plant Doctor”—tended his secret garden while observing the day-to-day operations of a successful 19th century farm. Nature and nurture ultimately influenced Carver on his journey to becoming a renowned scientist of agriculture and promoter of alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts and sweet potatoes.
Carver's childhood home was the first national monument honoring an African American. The hills, woodlands and prairies of the 210-acre park feature a 3/4-mile nature trail, museum and an interactive exhibit area for students. The area also features the 1881 Moses Carver house and the Carver cemetery.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, District of Columbia.

The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site is dedicated to preserving the legacy of one of the most prominent 19th century African Americans. Douglass’ life was a testament to the courage and persistence that serves as an inspiration to those who struggle in the cause of liberty and justice. Visitors to the site learn about his efforts to abolish slavery and his struggle for rights for all oppressed people.
Douglas was almost 60 years old when he and his wife, Anna, purchased the 1850s brick house named Cedar Hill, now preserved as a National Historic Site. The site’s visitor center should be the first stop where visitors can watch a 17-minute film on Douglass. To enter the Douglass home, visitors must take a ranger-led tour. Reservations are recommended for small groups and required for groups of 11 or more. They can be made online or over the phone (1-877-444-6777).

Brown v. Board of Education, Kansas.

The story of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in public schools, is one of hope and courage. The people who agreed to be plaintiffs in the case never knew that they would change history. They were what we would call ordinary people—teachers, secretaries, welders, ministers and students—who simply wanted to be treated equally.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that separate educational facilities are "inherently unequal" and, as such, violate the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees all citizens "equal protection under the law." The former Monroe Elementary School comprises an interactive visitor center that renders the complex story of the case and the decades of legal strategy that led to it being accessible to visitors. Park rangers are located right inside the door of the site to answer questions and get visitors started on their self-guided tour which lasts approximately 90 minutes.

Booker T. Washington National Monument, Virginia.

On April 5, 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave on the 207-acre farm of James Burroughs. The realities of life as a slave in Piedmont Virginia, the quest by African Americans for education and equality, and the post-war struggle over political participation all shaped his choices and his future. After the Civil War, Washington became the founder and first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School. Later as an adviser, author and orator, his philosophies and leadership would make him the most influential African American of his era.
Visitors are invited to reflect on the life and environment of people who lived during these times. Ranger guided tours are offered daily in the summer and on weekends in other seasons. Reservations are not required for small groups. The visitor center provides the best opportunity to start your visit where park employees and volunteers can help make the most of your visit. The site also offers two trails for visitors to traverse and see park sites: the Plantation Trail and the Jack-O-Lantern Branch Heritage Trail.

African Burial Ground National Monument, New York.

From the 1690s until the 1790s, both free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre burial ground in Lower Manhattan, outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, later known as New York. Buried under centuries of development and landfill, this resting ground for approximately 15,000 Africans was discovered by construction workers in 1991 as they worked on a federal office building. The remains of 419 men, women and children were unearthed, providing unprecedented insights into how some of the earliest African settlers in America lived.
Today, these individuals, their heritage and their contributions to the city of New York are honored with a National Monument. The visitor center educational opportunities to visitors. Guided tours are available Monday, Wednesday and Friday. No reservations are required for small groups.

Nicodemus National Historic Site, Kansas.

Nicodemus, Kansas, is the only remaining all Black Town west of the Mississippi settled by former slaves fleeing the south in 1877 after Civil War Reconstruction had ended.It is located in the Northwest corner of Kansas. The community comprises five historic buildings, which can be seen on a self-guided walking tours. The visitor center is located in the Township Hall and is the only fully accessible historic building of the five located on site. Visitors are invited into the foyer of the African Methodist-Episcopal Church. Though the other four buildings—AME Church, First Baptist Church, District No. 1 School and the St. Francis Hotel—are not fully accessible, they offer a view of important pieces of African American history. They represent some of the earliest opportunities for African Americans to own and operate educational facilities, churches and businesses.

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, Alabama.

Since the foundation of America, education has always been considered one of the keys to social, political and economical acceptance for African Americans.
Tuskegee Normal School was established by the state of Alabama, influenced by a former slave and a former slave owner to educate newly freed people and their children. The Normal school, later Institute, became a beacon of hope for African Americans to reach their goal of acceptance.
At age 26, Booker T. Washington became the first principal of the school. He later hired leaders, including George W. Carver and Robert Taylor to help the institute attain world-renowned status.
Today, the legacy of Washington, Carver and many others has been preserved in the Historic Campus District of Tuskegee University where original buildings constructed by the students, from bricks made in the Institute brickyard still stand. The Site, located on the campus of present day Tuskegee University, became a part of the National Park System in 1974. Visitors can take advantage of the George Washington Carver museum and “The Oaks,” former home of Booker T. Washington.

Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail, Alabama.

The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail was established by Congress in 1996 to commemorate the events, people and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March in Alabama. The route is also designated as a National Scenic Byway/All-American Road.
On March 21, 1965, thousands of people of many races and nationalities, moved in demonstration to gain and guarantee the right to vote for all citizens. The five-day/four-night event witnessed travelers moving through cold, wind and rain along a 54-mile route paralleling state Highway 80.
The result was a triumph for participants as the Voting Rights Act was signed in on August 6, 1965. Today, the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail symbolizes the long journey and sacrifices people made to guarantee suffrage—a monumental contribution to American democracy.

Boston African American National Historic Site, Massachusetts.

The site contains 15 pre-Civil-War structures related to the history of 19th century African Americans in Boston. The oldest standing African American church in the United States, the African Meeting House, is one of the highlights of the site. The Black Heritage trail connects the sites attractions. Memorials to Robert Gould Shaw and the African American Massachusetts 54th Regiment are located along the trail.
The Museum of African American History's Abiel Smith School is open to the public Monday-Saturday, year round. Maps and site brochures are available at the Abiel Smith school as supplements to visitor self-guided tours. Ranger led tours are available and require a reservation by phone 24 hours in advance.

Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas.

Fort Davis, one of America's best surviving examples of an Indian Wars' frontier military post in the Southwest, is vital to understanding the presence of African Americans in the frontier military and the West. The 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry were all-black regiments stationed at the post after the conclusion of the Civil War.
Fort Davis features 24 building and over 100 ruins and foundations. Five of the historic buildings have been refurnished to appear as they did in the 1880s, making it easy for visitors to envision themselves being at the fort at the height of its development. The visitor center offers trail maps from which visitors can see spectacular views of the fort.

Harpers Ferry National Historic Site, West Virginia.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, John Brown, "Stonewall" Jackson, and Frederick Douglass are just a few of the prominent individuals who left their mark on Harpers Ferry. The history of Harpers Ferry is a collection of events and people that have greatly influenced the history of the United States.
Harpers Ferry has a collection of trails available to visitors. Guided tours are offered at the site and the information center should be contacted about upcoming options. 3,000 volumes with information about the park's six themes, John Brown, Civil War, African American History, industry, transportation, and natural heritage, are contained in the library of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Within the library is the Research Room, where visitors can see a collection of historic photographs, historic maps, architectural drawings, archeological reports, historic building reports, armory records, Storer College records, John Brown records, and much more.

New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, Louisiana.

Established to celebrate the origins of evolution of America’s most widely recognized indigenous musical art form, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park offers an ideal setting to share the cultural history of the people and places that helped shape the development and progression of jazz in New Orleans. Contained in the city recognized as its birthplace, the park seeks to preserve resources containing information about the origins and early development of jazz. Visitors are offered a perspective of the history by watching and engaging in various musical techniques.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial, California.

Dedicated in 1994, the memorial at Port Chicago Naval Magazine is in honor of the largest homeland disaster during World War II and the courage displayed by the Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Mariners, and working civilians killed and injured in the crisis. A loaded munition ship exploded on July 17, 1944, killing 320 men. Of the 320, 200 of the lives lost were African Americans. The Memorial recognizes the critical role they and the survivors of the explosion played in winning the war in the Pacific. The explosion served as vital piece to help persuade the U.S. Navy and the military establishment to begin working toward racial justice and equality following WWII.
In order to enter the memorial, visitors must make a reservation two weeks in advance. Reservations can be made over the phone.

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Alabama.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the participants of a “military experiment” in Tuskegee, Alabama to train the first African-American military pilots. The site offers visitors an opportunity to learn the history of political pressure that challenged the government to expand the role of African Americans in the military.
The visitor center features exhibits and a 26-seat auditorium where historic films that tell different aspects of the Tuskegee Airmen story are shown. In close proximity to the v isitor center, visitors can access a Scenic Overlook of historic Moton Field, the site of basic and primary flight training for the airmen.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, District of Columbia.

Located in Washington D.C. on the National Mall, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated on the 48th anniversary of the march on Washington for freedom and equality, August 28, 2011. In solid granite, the memorial is located at Independence Ave. and West Basin Drive SW.The memorial was sculpted by Master Lei Yixin and is the forward element of the Stone of Hope. It sits in sight of the Lincoln Memorial, the place where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

These sites offer visitors the opportunity to celebrate a significant portion of our nation’s history year round. They are, however, just a small list of the opportunities provided by the National Park Service to honor and engage in African American history. Museums, memorials and various other sites are located throughout the nation. The Oh, Ranger! website and free Oh,Ranger! ParkFinder app can be utilized to locate parks near you.

Image: The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was dedicated on August 28, 2011. Source: NPS