How well do YOU think you’ve covered all the special places that talk about the battle for racial equality in America? Sure, you may have seen the museums and monuments dedicated to the movement and we know all about the life and legacy of activists like the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, but there are still places across the country that have some interesting stories to tell. The question is: are we ready to listen? Here are some often unheard of yet totally unique places that are still reverberating with powerful stories about the painful journey of Black America, and which you can visit today to experience firsthand.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
During the harsh years of slavery, abolitionists relied on the “Underground Railroad” — a network of both anti-slavery blacks and whites — to help men, women, and children escape their cruel clutches of slaveholders. The journey was far from easy; the perilous trek for those yearning for freedom took them one location after another, where they could hide and wait in anxious anticipation. This museum is aptly located in downtown Cincinnati, close to the Ohio River that served as a the physical separator between slave states of the South from the free states of the North. It looks at the era of the Underground Railroad up to the more modern race-related challenges in America through engaging exhibits, speeches and sessions, and other educational resources that inspire and educate people from all ages and backgrounds.
Great Blacks in Wax Museum
Black History and wax museum are not two terms that you’d usually put together in the same sentence, but that’s exactly why this Baltimore establishment makes our list. The National Great Blacks in Wax is dedicated to preserving black history by showcasing amazing life-size wax versions of prominent African-American activists and pioneers. Founded in 1983 by Drs. Elmer and Joanne Martin, the museum aims to stimulate young people to understand the stories, struggles, and role models who are very much part of America’s black history. The museum also works with other institutions that promote awareness of African-American history and sees curious visitors and school kids flock through its doors every year.
Corinth Contraband Camp
As the North marched on to victory during the American Civil War, a large number of former slaves found refuge behind the lines of the Union Army. One camp that was a safe haven for slaves who were now free was the Corinth Contraband Camp in Mississippi. Thanks to the opportunities of freedom afforded to the former slaves, the camp flourished, profiting from the agricultural and industrial skills of its African-American denizens. Thanks to classes offered by charitable organizations, more than 1,000 African-American adults and children learned to read and write in the short space of a year. And while it was eventually moved to another location, the camp became a shining glimmer of hope of what African-Americans could achieve if given the same opportunities as other Americans. Today, you can still visit a part of the historic Corinth Contraband Camp (now part of the Shiloh National Military Park), which has a walkway that is highlighted by six life-size bronze sculptures representing the black men, women, and children who once lived in the camp.
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Historic L.B. Brown House
“What’s so special about this Victorian-style structure in Bartow, Florida?” You may ask. Built by the hard, experienced hands of self-taught carpenter Lawrence Bates Brown, this impressive two-story Victorian-style structure has nine rooms and is quite an achievement given Brown’s background: he was a former slave and had only limited education. Despite the obstacles in his past, Brown became a skilled craftsman and one of the most successful and respected businessmen and community leaders in Polk County. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and may be one of the few houses in Florida built and owned by a former slave. And while he may have owned a lot of land and built many houses as a real-estate mogul, this house stands symbolic of triumph over adversity.
Robert Russa Moton Museum
This small building in Farmville may look insignificant. But those who know their black history would say otherwise. Once known as Robert Russa Motown High School and currently a National Historic Landmark and museum, this is where students were first empowered to fight for equality in education in 1951. It all started with a bold move by 16-year-old Barbara Johns, who organized a walk-out with the student body to protest unequal and unfair conditions. The Moton strike went on to contribute to 75% of the plaintiffs in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, which eventually led to the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate U.S. schools. You can walk through the museum to see what conditions and obstacles young African-American students had to face in order to get a proper education, and even take a guided tour for more in-depth insight. The museum is also part of Virginia’s Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail.
The Cotton Museum
The Cotton Museum in downtown Memphis was founded in 2006. Since then, its main aim has been to highlight the historical importance of this cash crop – how it contributed much to building up the vibrant cities of the South and also its role in maintaining the inhumane institution of slavery. Most visitors, especially younger visitors, will be able to gain a whole new perspective on what this industry meant to the story of America, and in particular the story of black America. If you plan to book airline tickets to Memphis anytime soon to enjoy the city’s amazing nightlife, bars, and restaurants, then this museum can be the perfect uncommon detour to dive into the complex story of this cash crop.
Know of any other uncommon places where you can learn up about black history? Share them with us in the comments.