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America’s Black history has long been tangled in slavery, segregation, and systemic racism. Despite the civil rights movement and the ongoing struggle for justice, the U.S. still has a long way to go. As February honors the stories that have come out of this challenging, often tragic history, landmarks across the country pay homage to the leaders, heroes, and places that have played a crucial role in the fight for justice. Here are 20 highlights from the many enlightening sites around the country to visit during Black History Month and beyond.20
Edmund Pettus Bridge (Selma, Alabama)
Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 granting the equal right to vote, local practices still prevented Black Americans from registering. In protest, activists organized a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, which began by crossing the bridge that spans the Alabama River. Immediately, protestors were met by Alabama State Troopers in a violent confrontation that turned March 7, 1965, into Bloody Sunday. Leading the 600 marchers was then 25-year-old activist John Lewis.
Later that month, the group did eventually make it to Montgomery, thanks to the protection of the National Guard. Lewis returned to the bridge — which has become a symbol of the movement — every year to cross it again. After his death in March 2020, his body was brought across the bridge one last time. Now efforts are underway to put Lewis’ name on the bridge, which currently bears the name of a Confederate general.19
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (Washington, D.C.)
Washington, DC, didn’t have a memorial dedicated to any Black American until 2011, when Baptist minister-turned-civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was honored with a 30-foot granite stone sculpture. Symbolically located at 1964 Independence Avenue, the monument honors the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also marked the first D.C. monument not dedicated to a president or a war.
Prominently located at the Tidal Basin opposite from the Jefferson Memorial, the landmark is packed with symbolism, stemming from King’s famous quote, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” Upon arrival, visitors first pass through two halves of the Mountain of Despair before reaching the Stone of Hope, where King’s statue is located.18
George Washington Carver National Monument (Diamond, Missouri)
During the congressional hearings that established this national monument in 1943, George Washington Carver was described as a “a historic figure, a creative teacher, a profound thinker, a humble servant, or an inspiring teacher.” But above all, he was known as the “Peanut Man” not just for inventing more than 100 uses for the crop, but also because he also spoke in front of the House Means and Ways Committee about the need for a peanut tariff in 1921.
The site that honors Carver, who also served as the head of the Tuskegee Institute’s agriculture department, is located where he was born enslaved on a farm owned by Moses and Susan Carver. The park includes the mile-long Carver Trail through the woods where he first discovered his love for plants, as well a visitors center, a commemorative bust, and a statue of him as a boy.17
National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, Tennessee)
The National Civil Rights Museum is located at the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. spent his final hours in Room 306 before he was assassinated in 1968. Visitors to the museum can walk through centuries of Black American history, from exhibits on slavery resistance from 1619 through 1861, sit-ins during the 1960s, the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rosa Parks from 1955 to 1956, and the freedom rides in 1961.
Opened in 1991, the museum has 260 artifacts, along with 40 films and interactive displays in its permanent exhibitions. The tunnel leading into the Legacy Building, where the assassin’s shots were allegedly fired, is now a timeline tracing the American civil rights movement over the course of four centuries, up to King’s final day.16
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park (Church Creek, Maryland)
The Harriet Tubman Byway winds through 125 miles of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and 98 miles of Delaware before ending in Philadelphia. But it’s the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek that serves as the gateway to the 36 sites along the route. The 10,000-square-foot space features exhibits following her early years as an enslaved person in the area, as well as the secret network she developed to help guide fellow enslaved peoples to freedom.
While the area may seem to lack physical monuments, the site notes that Tubman “is memorialized in the land, water, and sky of the Eastern Shore where she was born and where she returned again and again to free others.”15
Tuskegee Airmen Monument (Walterboro, South Carolina)
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen began with the Army Air Corps program, created to train Black Americans to work on and fly combat aircrafts in the 1940s. Their jobs ranged from mechanics and control tower operators to radio repairman; 994 of them trained at the Walterboro Army Airfield and became the nation’s first Black military airmen.
In their honor, the Tuskegee Memorial Highway runs through Colleton County to the Walterboro Army Airfield Memorial Park, where a monument now stands in honor of those pilots who broke barriers and fought in World War II.14
National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.)
Established by an act of Congress in 2003, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 as the country’s “only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture,” according to its website.
The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and located on the National Mall, not far from the Washington Monument. Its striking exterior features three tiers to resemble crowns from West African art and a bronze lattice that likens ironwork made by enslaved peoples in the South. Inside, displays are split into the History Galleries, with exhibits on slavery and segregation (including a segregated railcar and lunch counter), and the Culture and Community Galleries, tracing the highlights of in the impact of African Americans on music, movies, and sports.13
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Wilberforce, Ohio)
Despite being born into slavery and facing injustice as a Black American in the military, Charles Young rose through the ranks to become a U.S. Army distinguished officer and the first Black West Point graduate to reach the rank of colonel. He later became the first Black national park superintendent.
So it’s fitting that the Ohio National Monument honors his legacy, as well as those of the Buffalo Soldiers — the name given to the African American regiments that formed in 1866 and served for five decades. The monument is located in Wilberforce, where Young taught military sciences and tactics at Wilberforce University; the city is also home to the National Afro-African Museum and Cultural Center.12
African Meeting House (Boston, Massachusetts)
Built in 1806, the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill now stands as the oldest existing Black church in the country, as well as the first African American Baptist Church north of the Mason-Dixon line. But it became so much more than that — also serving as the central meeting place of Boston’s Black community, and even holding classes for the African School before that.
It later became a Jewish synagogue for a period, but the building was acquired by the Museum of African History in 1972 and underwent a $9.2 million renovation to restore it to its 1855 appearance.11
Booker T. Washington National Monument (Hardy, Virginia)
Growing up as an enslaved person on a 207-acre tobacco farm owned by James and Elizabeth Burroughs, Booker T. Washington spent his early years yearning for freedom. Now the site serves as a monument to the first president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (which later became Tuskegee University), who reformed education and became a spokesperson for Black Americans at the turn of the 20th century.
The visitor center follows Washington’s life, both in and beyond the former plantation, which also has recreations of 19th-century farm buildings, a garden representing the planting techniques used in the 1850s, and a farm area with sheep, pigs, chickens, and horses.10
Jackie Robinson Statue (Los Angeles, California)
While there are many tributes to the first Black American Major League Baseball player — including a statue in Jersey City, one with Pee Wee Reese in Brooklyn, and a new one being built in Youngstown, Ohio — the statue unveiled in 2017 at Dodger Stadium perhaps best captures the athlete’s legacy.
The eight-foot-tall, 800-pound bronze statue by sculptor Branly Cadet shows Robinson stealing home plate during his rookie season. At the dedication ceremony held in April 2017 — exactly 70 years to the day he made his MLB debut — Robinson’s son said the sculpture served as a good reminder “for all of us to think back on where we’ve come, where we have to go.” Seven months later, another tribute to Robinson was unveiled at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in honor of his football days.9
African Burial Ground National Monument (New York City, New York)
When construction began in 1991 on a federal office high-rise tower at 290 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, human skeletal remains were found 30 feet below ground. As the construction zone transformed into an archaeological one, more than 15,000 intact remains were eventually discovered on a six-acre site, revealing the largest and earliest African burial ground in the U.S., used from the 1630s to 1795.
Now the site serves as a memorial, with an Ancestral Libation Chamber honoring those who were buried here through seven distinct elements, including a Wall of Remembrance, Circle of Diaspora (with symbols from Caribbean, African, and Latin American cultures), and a Spiral Procession Ramp that descends four feet below street level (representing the bridge between the living and the spiritual realms).8
Freedom Riders National Monument (Anniston, Alabama)
A group of 13 Freedom Riders — both Black and white — set out in the spring of 1961 with one mission: To end segregation on buses and at bus facilities. They were met by violent opposition from white supremacists, resulting in incidents like a firebombed bus just outside of Anniston.
The two parts of this National Monument include the Greyhound Bus Station on Gurnee Avenue — where the group boarded the bus to Birmingham, but were met with rocks being hurled at them and the bus tires behind slashed — and the Bus Burning Site on Old Birmingham Highway six miles away, where the tires gave out and the mob threw a burning rag, causing the explosion.7
Texas African American History Memorial (Austin, Texas)
Located on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, this landmark traces the history of African Americans in the state from the 1500s to present day. The 27-foot-high and 32-foot-wide monument was the brainchild of sculptor Ed Dwight, who sought to create a memorial that was striking and impactful, but also historically accurate.
Unveiled in 2016, the center of the monument shows Juneteenth, the date when Union troops arrived to tell Texas-based enslaved peoples that they were free on June 19, 1865. Also represented: Estevanico de Dorantes, an enslaved person who was the first African to set foot in Texas; Black soldiers fighting in the Texas Revolution; and Black cowboys working the cattle industry.6
The Shabazz Center (New York City, New York)
In February 1965, civil rights leader Malcolm X was assassinated while speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Washington Heights at the Audubon Ballroom. Afterward, the venue closed and the entire block faced demolition by the 1990s. So his widow Dr. Betty Shabazz sprang into action to preserve the building — with a section of the ballroom to be designated as a memorial to her late husband.
After Shabazz passed in 1997, the space was transformed into the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center (also known as The Shabazz Center) and opened in 2005. The lobby now has touch screen exhibits about 20th-century social leaders, plus a sculpture of Malcolm X. Inside the ballroom is a mural featuring his timeline, which was curated by Shabazz. While the center describes itself as a “living memorial” and “space for education” more than simply a museum, the site honors the legacies of the trailblazing couple.5
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (Kansas City, Missouri)
Just two blocks from where Andrew “Rube” Foster established the Negro National League in 1920 is now a museum acknowledging the Black influence on American baseball through the generations. The museum started as a one-room office in 1991, but it now occupies a 10,000-square-foot space that opened in 1997 as part of Kansas City’sMuseums at 18th and Vine, alongside the American Jazz Museum.
The self-guided tour follows a timeline with photos, videos, and artifacts weaving together the sport and African American history, while preserving the often overshadowed legacy of the Negro Leagues.4
African American Civil War Memorial (Washington, D.C.)
While it’s officially part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, the African American Civil War Memorial is located in the capital’s U Street neighborhood, about two miles north. Honoring the more than 209,145 Black soldiers and sailors who fought in the Army and Navy during the Civil War, the monument serves as a reminder of how their actions helped free 4 million enslaved peoples. The engraving below reads, “Civil War to Civil Rights and Beyond,” and surrounding the statue is a wall bearing the name of the service men.
The memorial is located next to the African American Civil War Museum, whose mission is to bring light to the ignored United States Colored Troops (USCT), as well as to help revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, which has long been the center of D.C.’s Black history and culture, but was devastated by riots in 1968.3
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (Birmingham, Alabama)
Established in 2017, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument isn’t one particular landmark, but rather four downtown blocks. It includes the A.G. Gaston Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. stayed while strategizing the Birmingham campaign in 1963. Also in the area are the Bethel Baptist Church, the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights that was bombed three times; Kelly Ingram Park, where protesters were brutally disrupted by police dogs and water canons; and the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a bomb killed four Sunday school girls — an incident that helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As part of the Monument, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is a Smithsonian affiliate, captures the city’s significance in the human rights movement through its exhibits, while also educating and inspiring a more united future.2
Black American West Museum and Heritage Center (Denver, Colorado)
When Paul Stewart played “Cowboys and Indians” as a child, he found himself always playing the role of the latter, since he wasn’t aware of any Black cowboys. As he got older, he grew more curious about African Americans in the West and started collecting their stories. In 1971, he founded the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center to capture this seldom-told history.
Housed in the former home of the first Black female physician in Colorado, Justina Ford, the museum doesn’t just focus on cowboy culture, but also documents Black Americans who made a greater impact on Western culture and development.1
Motown Museum (Detroit, Michigan)
In 1959, Black American songwriter Berry Gordy started his Motown music label — a contraction for Detroit’s moniker of Motor Town — in a modest home using a $800 loan from his family. Little did he know how the business he started would change the face of music. The building with the iconic Hitsville U.S.A. signage was responsible for an entire generation of greats, from the Temptations to the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, the Supremes, and Glady Knights and the Pips. Now visitors can relieve the Motown heyday by standing in Studio A, where many of these hits were recorded. They can also see the apartment where Gordy’s family lived in the early days of the label, plus travel through Motown history through artifacts, memorabilia, and photographs.