With cultural travel proving a trend in 2024, these museums across the United States are worth visiting to learn about Black history.
History museums are integral in conveying the complex stories of those who call this nation home by documenting eras, prominent leaders, and movements that have shaped America.
For Black Americans, that includes remembering enslavement, the Jim Crow years, and decades of racially-motivated injustices. However, our story extends far beyond the barriers of racism into triumphant feats in sports, music, politics, arts, and the many ways Black Americans have shaped–and continue to shape–culture. With cultural travel on track to be a 2024 travel trend, it’s the perfect time to plan a trip around visiting one of these Black History museums.
Top Picks for You
Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum
WHERE: Orangeburg, South Carolina
A former staffer for Jet, Time, and Life magazines, Cecil Williams was a photographer during the Civil Rights Era in South Carolina. During his career, he captured movements, speeches, protests, and pivotal moments over several decades. He opened the first and only museum in the state dedicated to civil rights in his former home. There are over 500 photographs displayed throughout the museum, all taken by Williams.
Like many places in the South, the Palmetto State’s notable Civil Rights Movements brought about change. Cecil Williams’ collections of exclusive photography, documents, and artifacts bring awareness and conversation to those movements, events, and leaders. One infamous event is the Orangeburg Massacre–bullet casings fired by the state police are on display at the museum. Another jarring artifact is a whites-only water fountain, a replica of the very fountain where Williams bravely drank.
The Friendship 9 Jail, No Bail Exhibit
WHERE: Rock Hill, South Carolina
During the ’60s, young people were active in the fight for equality. Across the nation, college students led sit-ins at lunch counters to challenge segregation laws. In Rock Hill, students from Friendship Junior College chose the McCrory and Woolworth lunch counters as protest sites. On January 31, 1961, the students, dubbed The Friendship Nine, were arrested for trespassing. Today, a historical marker stands outside of McCrory to pay homage to the nine students who chose 30 days in jail over paying $100 in bail. The exhibit is in the hallway, but adjacent to it is Kounter. The restaurant holds the original lunch counter and seats from their protests.
The Ritz Theater and Museum
WHERE: Jacksonville, Florida
One of Jacksonville’s Black communities, La Villa, was often referred to as “The Harlem of The South.” Nestled in the center of the neighborhood is The Ritz Theater. In 1999, the Theater added the museum component to tell the stories of natives, such as James Weldon Johnson and his brother John Rosamond Johnson, the writers of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing. Keeping the traditions of yesteryear alive, visitors can immerse themselves in art and music and become more dedicated to Black history and culture.
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
WHERE: Niagara Falls, New York
The journey from enslavement to freedom was a treacherous multi-state route connecting abolitionists and freedom seekers on a system known as the Underground Railroad that often stretched from the southern to northern states. Niagara Falls was one of the stops for many of those enslaved men, women, and children.
The museum uniquely brings to the forefront the stories of men and women who journeyed from enslavement to freedom and those who supported it. It also brings awareness to one of the most famed spots of the Underground Railroad in Niagara Falls, The Cataract House. Operating as a hotel and restaurant, head waiter John Morrison was credited with helping many escape slavery.
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel
WHERE: Memphis, Tennessee
The fight for equality has been widespread throughout the United States. Through oral narration, tangible exhibits, mini-films, and visually engaging graphics, visitors to the National Civil Right Museums will have an interactive walk through American history to learn about Civil Rights Movement and activists dating back to the 17th century. It is one of the top attractions in Memphis.
An extension of the museum is the Lorraine Motel, which was an entry in the Negro Motorist Green Book during the Jim Crow era. Celebrities like Ray Charles, Jackie Robinson, and Aretha Franklin were among the guests during its operation because it was one of the only places Black people could stay. However, the Lorraine Motel may be most famously known for being the location where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. Room 306 is where he spent his final hours, and the museum preserves what it looked like at that time. From the outside, the room can be identified by the white wreath hanging on the door.
Northwest African American Museum
WHERE: Seattle, Washington
The Northwest African American Museum excels at showcasing the often underrepresented Black History of the West Coast. Exhibits and artifacts take visitors through the history of Seattle, starting with the first African-American settlers to the influence of talented Black musicians who created the city’s bustling jazz scene. The museum also features art from local artists with curated themes and collections.
The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
The DuSable is the oldest independent African-American museum in the United States. It was opened in 1961 by a husband and wife team, Dr. Margaret Taylor Burroughs and Charles Burroughs, on the first floor of their home. Their mission was to create public awareness of Black history and art. The original name of DuSable was the Ebony Museum of Negro Art History and Art. Today, it holds over 15,000 pieces of art and artifacts that tell the history of African Americans through creative expression.
Black Archives of Mid-America
WHERE: Kansas City, Missouri
African Americans are multifaceted people with a complex history within this country. Located in a historic area of Kansas City, 18th and Vine, The Black Archives of Mid-America delicately showcases the many facets of Black history and culture in the Midwest. Within six galleries, the lives and influence of Black people are shared in the areas of medicine, sports, entertainment, art, community impact, and more. In partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, one of the galleries is dedicated to remembering the lives of African Americans lynched in Missouri and parts of the Midwest.
WHERE: Freetown, Indiana
Erected as a living history museum, Freetown Village realistically narrates the plight and life of African Americans in Indiana post-slavery through theater, storytelling, music, and curated events. Other engaging elements include workshops in which guests can indulge in tasks of yesteryear, like candle-making or churning butter. While the community is fictitious, Freetown Village symbolizes the dozens of Black settlements created throughout the state and their daily lives navigating a newfound freedom.