African-American Heritage Spots

Here is a list of five attractions worth visiting that will provide a great insight into the African-American experience and history in the United States.

1.) The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial-Washington D.C.
Although the memorial to the most famous individual from the Civil Rights era took more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction, it opened to the public on August 22, 2011. Located in Washington D.C.’s West Potomac Park at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the memorial to Dr. King marked the first time that an African-American had been honored with a memorial on or near the National Mall. Moreover Dr. King was only the fourth non-president to be memorialized in such a way. The street address for the memorial is 1964 Independence Avenue, with 1964 chosen as a direct reference to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a pivotal milestone in the Civil Rights movement in which King played a significant role. King is memorialized in the form of a 30 foot high relief named the “Stone of Hope” and which stands past two other pieces of granite that symbolize the “Mountain of Despair.” It was designed in such a way that visitors pass through the “Mountain of Despair” on the way to the “Stone of Hope” to symbolize the immense struggles that Dr. King went through during his life. Also featured at the memorial is a 450 foot-long inscription wall containing excerpts from many of King’s speeches and sermons, including one he gave shortly after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama, and his final sermon in 1968 which he gave only days before he was assassinated.

2.) Birmingham Civil Rights District-Birmingham, Alabama
During the Civil Rights era, Birmingham was a hotbed of activity with some of the time’s most bloody and significant events taking place there. Almost 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, today visitors can tour the Birmingham Civil Rights District, which is an area of the city’s downtown where several important events from the 1950s and 1960s took place. The district covers a six block radius and was designated in 1992.  Important areas include the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four young African-American girls were killed and many more wounded after a bombing there in 1963; Kelly Ingram Park, where protests by African-Americans were held, often resulting in violent altercations between protesters and police; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is a museum that documents the struggle for civil rights in the United States; and the Carver Theater, which today is home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of of Fame but during segregation was a popular movie theater where African-Americans could attend.

3.) Old Slave Mart-Charleston, South Carolina
The Old Slave Mart is the only known existing building of a slave auction gallery in South Carolina. The Old Slave Mart was originally part of a large slave market  known as Ryan’s Mart, which was established in 1856 after a citywide ban on public slave auctions prompted the creation of private ones. Slave auctions were held here until the Union Army occupied Charleston, thus closing Ryan’s Mart in 1865. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers visitors a glimpse into the darkest days of African-American history.

4.) Harlem-New York City
Originally founded as a Dutch village in the 17th century (it was named after the Dutch village of Haarlam), today it is best known as one of the United States’ most famous and historic African-American neighborhoods. Blacks began pouring into Harlem from southern states during the Great Migration of the early 20th century and by the 1920s and 1930s, had became the center of a cultural resurgence by African-Americans known as the Harlem Renaissance. Although the neighborhood’s population peaked during the 1950s with violence and crime following in later decades, today Harlem is still a vibrant a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Historic buildings one can visit include the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater, and the Langston Hughes House.

5.) The African-American Experience at Colonial Williamsburg-Williamsburg, Virginia
While visitors will surely want to learn about important historical figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, they can also learn about the slave population, since during the 18th century, half of Williamsburg’s population was black. There are a variety of reenactments and programs depicting the life of both slaves and free blacks at Colonial Williamsburg, including a traditional African wedding ceremony, “jumping the broom.”

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