Explore Chicago

Places To Honor Black History in the U.S. (Central)

Black history is American history and you can visit these historical locations all year long

Chicago

The first Black community in Chicago was established in the 1840s. By the end of that century, the first Black individual was elected to public office in the Second City. Experience Black history throughout Chicago this year. Here are a few places to start.

Pullman District

George Pullman, the famous train car magnate, set out to design a utopian community for his workers. The Pullman District was designed to attract skilled workers and provide them with a high standard of living. The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum chronicles the contributions of the African American porters who attended to the sleeping cars as they traveled throughout the United States. Perhaps the largest contribution these porters made to society was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African American labor union to win a collective bargaining agreement. It was a victory for both labor unions and civil rights. The Pullman District was designated a National Monumen in 2015 by President Obama.

The Pullman District became a National Monument in 2015 | WhereTraveler
The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum (Courtesy the APRPP Museum)

DuSable Museum of African American History

The DuSable Museum of African American History is the nation's first museum dedicated to the preservation and collection of African American culture and history. The museum is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, but several exhibits can be viewed online via Google Arts & Culture. Currently, the "Freedom, Resistance, and the Journey to Equality" exhibit is available online, a chronicle of the Black American experience from slavery to today.

Black history goes virtual at the DuSable Museum of African American History | WhereTraveler
The DuSable Museum of African American History (Courtesy The Chicago Tribune/Antonio Perez)

Memphis

Few places are as intoxicating as Memphis, Tennessee. The music, the culture, the art, and the food make this unique city a mecca for tourism. The city wouldn't be what it is today without the contributions of Black Americans.

Beale Street Historic District

Beale Street, arguably the most iconic street in America, is the home of the blues. The Beale Street Historic District is a must-visit locale for anyone visiting Memphis. Visit the Withers Collection Museum and look through the nearly 1.8 million images taken by photojournalist Ernest Withers. The eclectic photo collection has everything from the Civil Rights Movement to legendary blues musicians in stunning black and white photos. Or, celebrate the father of blues W.C. Handy at a museum dedicated to him. Between museums, take a break at one of the several Black-owned restaurants, especially those specializing in soul food.

Music pours out of every door on Beale Street | WhereTraveler
Beale Street is the place to be in Memphis any time of day (©Joe Spake)

Mason Temple, Church of God in Christ

The Mason Temple in Memphis was built in the early 1940s and only a decade later became a centralized meeting place for Civil Rights Movement activities in the area. The church can hold 7,500 people on two levels for regular church services and the annual national convention of church representatives. Why else is it notable? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "Mountaintop" speech here the evening before he was assassinated. Though it is a tourist attraction for history buffs, it is still an operating place of worship and visitors can attend services if they wish.

Dr. King delivered his "Mountaintop" speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis, TN | WhereTraveler
Mason Temple, the site where Dr. King delivered the "Mountaintop" speech (Courtesy NPS/Jim Roberts)

Detroit

Detroit was a symbol of hope to enslaved people throughout the south. It was the last stop on the Underground Railroad before reaching the freedom of Canada just across the river.

Hermitage Slave Quarters at Greenfield Village

Henry McAlpine's Savannah plantation had 52 brick buildings where his 200 slaves lived. Today, two of the brick structures have been recreated in Greenfield Village in Detroit, Michigan. Visitors can wander through the Hermitage Slave Quarters today to get a sense of what life was like for the enslaved workers in the 1820s (the approximate date the structures would have been built). Mostly, the workers cultivated rice or made bricks, rice barrels, and cast iron products. The Emancipation Proclamation declared slavery illegal on January 1, 1863, but freedom did not come to the Hermitage Slave Quarters until December 21, 1864, when Savannah finally surrendered to Sherman's army.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History holds the largest permanent exhibition of African American culture in the world. The museum is open to the public or the galleries can be viewed from home using the Wright's mobile app. On the app, users can choose between a rich image gallery, an audio-only overview, or short annotated descriptions of select artifacts. The "And Still We Rise" exhibit showcases African American resilience in the face of hardship from the Middle Passage to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond. Until May 2021, visitors can experience the interactive, multimedia exhibit "Voting Matters." It follows the work of African Americans on the development of principles and values that helped define what "the right to vote" means in democratic societies around the globe.

The Charles H. Wright Museum is an educational experience for the whole family | WhereTraveler
Honoring Black history for the future generations at the Charles H. Wright Museum (Courtesy The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History)