Top Ten Parks Illuminating Black History

January 30, 2009, 1:33 pm

This month marks a time when we all reflect on the achievements of African Americans throughout US history. And what better way to get a full sense of these than to visit sites so meaningful to the course of Black history. Check out these top ten parks dedicated to Black history.

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

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

Winter hours (mid August through mid June):  9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.  The first tour of Dr. King's Birth Home starts at 10:00 a.m. and the last tour for the day is 5:00 p.m.  The Birth Home tour lasts 30 minutes and is conducted every hour.

Summer hours (mid June through mid August): 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily.  The first tour of Dr. King's Birth Home begins at 9:30 a.m. and the last tour is 5:30 p.m.  The Birth Home tour lasts 30 minutes and is conducted every half hour.

CLOSED:  Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Admission and parking are FREE.

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

There are only 15 persons permitted per tour, which fill up quickly, so arrive early in the day. Groups can reserve up to three spaces (45 persons) the day of their tour.

Register at the Visitor Center Information Desk:
450 Auburn Avenue, NE
Atlanta, GA 30312-1525

Headquarters/Visitor Center
Visitor Information (Recorded Message)

2. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

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 home in the Jackson Ward community you will experience the life of this great African American woman, who was born during slavery and achieved remarkable success. From humble beginnings. Walker rose to become the first woman in the United States to charter and serve as the president of a bank—despite segregation and the limited opportunities available to women, not to mention African American ones.

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.

Winter hours (December 1 through February 28): Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Summer hours (March 1 through November 30): Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Closed: Sundays, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
3215 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23223

Visitor Information

3. George Washington Carver National Monument

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 George 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 is 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.

Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Closed:  New Years Day, Thanksgiving & Christmas.

Address: George Washington Carver National Monument
5646 Carver Road, Diamond, MO 64840

Call:  417-325-4151

E-mail: [email protected]

4. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

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.

Summer Hours (April 16 through October 15): 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Winter Hours (October 16 through April 15): 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

During these times the visitor is welcome to tour the home*, visit the grounds of the site and explore all the offerings in the park visitor center. Remember to make reservations to tour the home.

Closed: January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25.

*Visitors may not enter the home unless they are part of a ranger-led tour.  Click here to learn more about our tours.

Address: Cedar Hill 1411 W Street, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20020-4813

Write: Site Manager: FRDO
1900 Anacostia Dr., SE
Washington, DC 20020

Call: (202) 426-5961

5. Brown V Board of Education

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 up to it accessible to visitors.

Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Closed: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Address: 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, KS 66612

Call: (785) 354-4273

6. Booker T. Washington National Monument

On April 5, 1856, Booker T. Washington was born a slave on the 207-arce 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 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.

Open seven days a week, year-round, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Closed: Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1.

Address: Booker T. Washington National Monument, 12130 Booker T. Washington Highway, Hardy, Virginia 24101

Call: 540-721-2094

7. African Burial Ground National Monument

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 the how some of the earliest African settlers in America lived.

Today, these individuals are honored with a National Monument their heritage and contributions to the city of New York.

The Visitor Center hours are Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. However, during the winter, the memorial closes at 4:00 p.m.

Address: 290 Broadway, First Floor, New York, New York 10007

Call: (212) 637-2019

8. Nicodemus National Historic Site

Nicodemus, Kansas, an all Black Town settled by former slaves fleeing the south in 1877 after post- Civil War Reconstruction had ended, is located in the Northwest corner of Kansas. This living community is the only remaining town west of the Mississippi River established in the 1800’s by former slaves. The community comprises five historic buildings, which can be seen on a self-guided walking tours.

Park hours are daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm CST

Closed: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Address: 304 Washington Avenue, Bogue, KS 67625

Call: 785-839-4233

There are rare occasions where the site may close unexpectedly due to severe weather or because of its limited staff. You may want to call ahead to confirm that the visitor center will be open the day you plan to visit. 

9. Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site – An Introduction

Since the America’s foundation, 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 [hyperlink] became the first principal the school. He later hired leaders, including George W. Carver  [hyperlink] 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.

Park Hours are daily, 9:00am to 4:30pm.

Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site
1212 West Montgomery Rd.
Tuskegee Institute, AL 36088

Visitor Information
334 727 3200
Park Administration
334 727 6390

10. Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail

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.

The Lowndes County Interpretive Center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CST.

Closed: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day.  The Trail is open year-round.

Address:1212 Old Montgomery Road, Tuskegee, AL 36088

Call: (334) 877-1984