The story of Black History Month begins in 1915. At this time, scholar Carter G. Woodson founded what today is called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He would later become the known as the “Father of Black History.”
Woodson was born to formerly enslaved parents in 1875. His formal academic career began with a bachelor’s degree from Kentucky’s Berea College, followed by his second bachelor’s and a master’s from the University of Chicago. Finally, he earned his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1912, making him only the second Black American after W.E.B. DuBois to achieve this feat.
Throughout his studies, Woodson found that textbooks and teachers alike largely failed to acknowledge the achievements of African Americans.
Fast forward nearly a decade after he formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, the historic figure wanted to do more.
In 1924, with the help of Woodson’s fraternity brothers of Omega Psi Phi, the Negro History and Literature Week was created. It soon evolved to Negro Achievement Week and then, in 1926, became known as Negro History Week. The observance sought to honor and educate the public about the accomplishments of Black people.
Why we celebrate Black History Month in February
Woodson is said to have chosen mid-February because both President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass – two figures who played a huge role in shaping Black history – were born during the same week. The main reason was that Americans were already honoring Lincoln during that week since his assassination in 1865, and as of Douglass’ death in the late 1890s Black communities had begun to pay tribute to him during that same time.
Momentum grew across the country with each passing year, and by the 1960s, a week had turned into a monthlong celebration annually.
In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first president to officially recognize Black History Month, and nearly half a century later, you can observe the occasion all over the U.S. in cities brimming with Black history.
Whether it’s an exhibition, a concert or a tour, there are many ways to recognize Black History Month across the country. U.S. News compiled this list of the top destinations to celebrate the accomplishments in Black history in the month of February – and all year long.
Here’s where to celebrate Black History Month.
(Courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Atlanta is a city rich in Black culture. Its emergence during the civil rights movement solidified its place in history.
The Sweet Auburn Historic District in Atlanta bore witness to much of the city’s civil rights history. During segregation, many wealthy African American businesses and homes moved onto Auburn Avenue, calling it the “richest Negro street in the world.”
It is also here that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was born. Travelers can visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park located in the district. The 35-acre park comprises a visitor center, the birthplace and boyhood home of King, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Freedom Hall, and the King Center.
Run by the National Park Service, the visitor center is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; guests can peruse permanent exhibits “Courage to Lead” and “Children of Courage.” Ranger-led, 30-minute tours of King’s home are free and offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll want to register early in the day at the visitor center and be prepared to wait a few hours. With the same opening hours as the visitor center, Ebenezer Baptist Church is the historical religious site where generations of the King family were pastors. The church is open for self-guided tours.
Though not run by the NPS, Freedom Hall and the King Center are also part of the park. The King Center was established by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, and serves as a resource for nonviolent social change. Travelers can visit the crypt of the Kings and the Eternal Flame, which symbolizes the continuing dream of a world with justice, peace and equality for all. Freedom Hall, located on the King Center’s campus, has a second-floor exhibition space honoring both King and his wife, as well as Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks. The NPS and King Center websites have more information about the park.
Also in the Sweet Auburn district is the APEX Museum. Founded in 1978, it is the oldest Black history museum in Atlanta. APEX, which is an acronym for the African American Panoramic Experience, takes guests through all things Black history from an exhibit on the untold story of Africa to displays highlighting African American women in STEM. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, and you can consult the museum website.
On Feb. 11, 2023, Urban Atlanta and Taste Urban Atlanta will be hosting the Atlanta Black Expo at the Cobb Galleria Centre from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visitors can visit various Black vendors, watch cooking demonstrations and enjoy family activities. Tickets start at $15 on Eventbrite.
For history buffs, Boston is steeped in Black history.
Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood was called home by many free Black people in the 1800s. The area served as a stop along the Underground Railroad and had a thriving abolitionist community.
The 1.6-mile Black Heritage Trail leads you on a self-guided walk through Beacon Hill to learn more about this neighborhood’s significance to Boston’s Black community and its role in the abolition movement. Travelers walking the trail can download the map and audio tour on the NPS app, and find more information on the NPS website.
Along the trail, you can see the Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, which honors the first federally raised regiment of free Black men during Civil War, as well as their white leader. Moviegoers may recognize the regiment as the subject of the 1989 film “Glory.”
The final stops on the trail are part of the Museum of African American History, which consists of two buildings: the Abiel Smith School and the African Meeting House. The Abiel Smith School was a segregated public school built in 1835, making it the country’s oldest public school created solely for Black children, while the African Meeting House is the oldest surviving Black church structure.
The museum has a collection of more than 3,000 items, with artifacts that represent key events throughout Boston’s Black history. Visitors can learn about The Desire – the ship on which the first enslaved Africans were brought to Boston – or about the jazz scene that became popular during the 1950s. The Museum of African American History is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday through Sunday. Timed-entry tickets, which are $10 for adults, must be purchased in advance on the museum website.
General Order No. 3 was read in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, announcing the end of slavery there. When that event – now celebrated as Juneteenth – took place, it was the first time Black Americans were thought of as free people. Those newly emancipated by this declaration were then able to branch out and live in other parts of the state and country, with many people flocking to urban areas. The city that saw the largest migration in Texas was Houston.
In Houston’s Fourth Ward, a prosperous Black community called Freedmen’s Town was established beginning in the late 19th century. The neighborhood is the only surviving post-Civil War historic district built by freedmen in the U.S.
Travelers can take a tour of the area through the Freedmen’s Town Museums Houston, part of Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum. The tour features several homes of influential Black people who lived in Freedmen’s Town history. You can visit by appointment only; tours are given Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and children younger than 18. For more information, visit the museum website.
The Houston Museum of African American Culture provides an experience in education about Black history and heritage. Travelers can see exhibits such as “A Black Perspective,” which showcases artwork created by African American artists between 1945 and 2015, or “Souls of Black Folk,” which is named after Dubois’ 1903 book of essays on Black life and race at the turn of the 20th century. The museum is free and open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can find more information on the HMAAC website.
Located less than a mile from the HMAAC is the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, named for the Black soldiers in the Army units formed in peacetime after the Civil War. The museum is dedicated to the history and achievements of the buffalo soldiers and other African American soldiers from all branches of the U.S. military. Military buffs can learn more about the various regiments and cavalries through museum exhibits. “Woman Who Served” spotlights Cathay Williams, a Black woman who served as a Buffalo soldier.
The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Thursdays, the museum stays open until 5 p.m. and offers several hours of free admission in the afternoon; otherwise, general admission is $10. Consult the museum website for further details.
(Courtesy of Visit Mississippi)
The quest for freedom and civil rights made its way through Jackson, Mississippi.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum focuses on the years 1945 to 1976, when the movement in this state reached some of its most turbulent points. The museum has eight galleries dedicated to the past and future of Mississippi’s civil rights. Tourists can learn about Freedom Summer, for example, a voter registration campaign in the 1960s, which contributed to growing Black empowerment. The Civil Rights Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with $15 admission for adults. On Sundays, the facility opens at 11 a.m. and offers free admission. For more information, check out the museum website.
Less than 5 miles away, visitors can see the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument. Medgar Evers was the first field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi; he and his wife, Myrlie, set up an office for the organization in Jackson in the 1950s. In this role, Medgar Evers led investigations into the killings of Black people, including the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Through the NAACP office, he helped organize events like voter registration drives, boycotts and marches to bring awareness to racial violence and improve the lives of Black Americans. White supremacists made death threats against Evers for his segregation work, and on June 11, 1963, he was assassinated by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Evers’ house, acquired by the NPS in 2020, is part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, which highlights historic civil rights sites in the state’s Black history. The site offers limited-capacity guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. by reservation. There will also be events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the civil rights foot soldier’s death in June. For more details, visit the NPS website.
Other sites around Jackson featured on the trail include: Jackson State University, where two students were killed while protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970, and the Mississippi Capitol building, in front of which about 15,000 marchers rallied in 1966 on the final stop of the “March Against Fear.” It was here that Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) made the call for “Black Power.”
The city of Jackson also has a few events going on for Black History Month. This includes “Nothin’ But the Blues,” a tribute to the blues on Feb. 18, 2023, featuring Broadway star and Mississippi native Shayna Steele and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. On Feb. 25, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra will conduct “JAZZ Redefined,” with a performance of Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Nicholas Payton’s “Black American Symphony.” More information about both events can be found on the orchestra’s website.
Kansas City, Missouri
(Courtesy of American Jazz Museum)
Black history is ingrained in the culture of Kansas City, Missouri.
The historic district of 18th and Vine is where Black life once thrived through local businesses and nightlife. Today, visitors can still see glimpse of that past throughout the neighborhood.
One reason the district flourished was that it was known as a main hub for jazz. The great Count Basie and Charlie Parker lived and performed in the area. Music lovers can learn more about the jazz district at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City.
The museum shows a screening of “A People’s Journey,” which introduces visitors to the 18th and Vine district and its role in music history. Afterward, check out artifacts from other jazz musicians, such as Duke Ellington Orchestra member Harold Ashby, whose saxophone is on display, or the shoes of bandleader and clarinetist Benny Goodman.
As an added bonus, located right behind the museum you’ll find the Charlie Parker Memorial, dedicated to the legendary saxophonist. The museum, which charges $10 admission for adults, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the museum website.
Another pastime celebrated in this area is baseball. Visitors to Kansas City can learn more about the sport at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Black Americans began playing baseball in the late 1800s. Due to racism and Jim Crow laws, players had to create their own leagues to play ball, such as the Negro National League in 1920. The Kansas City Monarchs were one of the Negro Leagues’ most famous and successful baseball clubs.
At the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, sport lovers can learn more about the team and its famous players like Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults. Visit the museum’s website to learn more.
When the City of Angels was established in 1781, almost half of its founding settlers were of African or mixed-race ancestry. This foundation has helped Los Angeles become a flourishing metropolis.
The 6th Annual Los Angeles Black History Month Festival will be held on Feb. 19, 2023, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The free festival will feature live music, a panel discussion about African American literature, and health and wellness discussions. For more information, visit the festival website.
The California African American Museum, founded in 1977, was the first African American museum of art, history and culture supported by a state. The museum’s permanent collection has more than 5,000 objects depicting Black history, primarily focused on California and the Western U.S., but the facility features artwork from Africa and the African diaspora as well.
Visit the “Adee Roberson and Azikiwe Mohammed: because i am that” exhibit at the museum, which includes paintings and sculptures depicting Blackness as an abstraction, or see the upcoming “Helen Cammock: I Will Keep My Soul” exhibit at A+P in Leimert Park, which features film and photography of the artist’s first-time visit to New Orleans.
CAAM will also host the pop-up Black History Month Prosperity Market on Feb. 25, featuring yoga, a sound bath experience, farmers market products and a DJ. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Sundays it opens at 11 a.m. Admission to the museum exhibits and events is free. Consult CAAM’s website for more details.
(Courtesy of America’s Black Holocaust Museum)
Milwaukee has a rich tapestry of Black history in the Midwest – which was shown during the city’s fair housing marches from August 1967 to April 1968. Activists marched for 200 consecutive nights to protest segregation in the city’s housing.
America’s Black Holocaust Museum was founded in Milwaukee in 1988 by James Cameron, who was the only known survivor of a lynching. The brick-and-mortar museum was closed for a few years before reopening in 2022. Today ABHM takes visitors on a journey of Black history beginning from 1619 to the present. Learn about the victims of lynching at the exhibit dedicated to memorializing those who died at the hands of lynch mobs or about the free Black communities formed after the Civil War at the museum’s Reconstruction gallery.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults. For more information, visit the museum website.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has about 30,000 works of art in its facility, with one of the most significant collections of Haitian art outside of Haiti. The collection is made up of paintings and sculptures, from artwork representing the country’s belief system of Vodun to steel drum sculptures created in Haiti’s northern Port-au-Prince suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets.
The art facility also has an ongoing exhibit called “On Site: Derrick Adams,” which depicts everyday Black life and leisure. Artwork for Adams’ exhibit was inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” The Milwaukee Art Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays until 8 p.m. Adults pay $22 for admission. You’ll find more details on the museum website.
(Courtesy of Paisley Park)
At the start of the Great Migration in 1900, only around 5,000 Black people lived in Minnesota – a population that had ballooned to almost 35,000 in 1970 by the end of this historic demographic shift. Communities began to grow in the Minneapolis-St. Paul areas.
In 2023, the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community is hosting a concert called “Change is Gonna Come, Celebrating Black History Month” on Feb. 19. The concert will feature music and storytelling about the history of the city’s south side area as well as the history of the parish during the 1960s and ’70s. Tickets range from $10 to $30, and more information can be found on the church website.
Travelers wanting to immerse themselves further in Black history can visit the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery located in Minneapolis. You’ll get to learn more about the Black pioneers who came to Minnesota and the obstacles Black Americans had to face throughout the Great Migration to the civil rights era. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission and parking are free, and you can check out the museum website.
No trip to the area would be complete without a visit to Paisley Park, once the home of musician Prince. Music lovers can learn all things Prince at his former estate, located about 20 miles outside of Minneapolis. See exhibit on his custom shoes or take a tour of the estate to learn about the life of Prince. Guided tours run between 90 minutes and three hours, depending on which experience you purchase. Paisley Park is open Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). Timed-entry tour tickets range from $48 to $160 and must be purchased before visiting on Paisley Park’s website.
Travelers can walk around Congo Square, where enslaved and free people once met for meetings, sold goods, and celebrated with dance and drumming circles. Be sure to visit Black-owned restaurants such as Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, which was listed on “The Negro Motorist Green Book” as a safe haven eatery for Black travelers as early as the 1940s.
Know NOLA Tours and 2nd Line Tours are both Black-owned touring companies that take travelers around several iconic areas of New Orleans. Know NOLA offers tours of the French Quarter, the Treme neighborhood and Studio BE, just to name a few. 2nd Line’s offerings span a tour of the Whitney Plantation to the “Spirits-N-Spirits” crawl, which takes travelers on a haunted tour of New Orleans to learn about past burial customs and practices. The Know Nola and 2nd Line websites have more information.
For those looking to learn more about New Orleans’ Black history, the city has plenty of museums you can visit. Le Musée de f.p.c. (the Free People of Color Museum) is located in the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood of New Orleans, the main avenue of which was once known as the Creole “Millionaire’s Row.”
The museum is dedicated to preserving the history and culture of free people of color in New Orleans and beyond. Tours are guided by the Black-led community theater company No Dream Deferred. Performers take on the roles of actual free people of color from history who lived in New Orleans during Colonial times. During the tour, visitors learn about the impact of free people of color in the city, whether through cuisine, architecture or music.
Museum tours are by appointment only on Fridays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 11 a.m. Regular tours are $25 per person, while private options run from $100 to $150 per person. For more information, visit Le Musée de f.p.c.’s website.
New York City
New York was one of the last Northern states to abolish slavery. Despite the anti-abolition fervor in New York City leading up to the Civil War, the city became a crucial stop along the Underground Railroad.
Travelers can learn more about the city and its connection to the freedom network on the “NYC Slavery and the Underground Railroad Walking Tour” run by Inside Out Tours. The 2.5-hour tour highlights stops along the way such as the African Burial Ground, where the remains of an estimated 15,000 free and enslaved people were buried in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The tour runs on Saturdays year-round, as well as on Wednesdays from April to October. The cost is $39 for adults and $32 for kids younger than 12. For more information, visit the Inside Out Tours website.
NYC is also an iconic spot for nightlife and jazz music. Visitors can take a tour of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, which is famous for its Amateur Night performances. Jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey both made their Apollo debuts at Amateur Night.
Tours are available by advance reservation only for groups of 20 or more, but individuals and smaller groups can join an existing tour, if it’s not at capacity. Tours run between an hour and 75 minutes at 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; there’s also a 1 p.m. slot (except on Wednesdays). The cost ranges from $15 to $17 per person. Find more details on the theater website.
While in Harlem, check out the Harlem Chamber Players’ 15th Annual Black History Month Celebration at The Schomburg Center on Feb. 16, 2023. The concert is free and open to the public, but you’ll need to RSVP on the Harlem Chamber Players’ website.
(Courtesy of Oakland Museum of California)
Black activism is interwoven in the history of Oakland, California.
Currently on display at the Oakland Museum of California is the “Angela Davis – Seize the Time” exhibit examining Davis’ influence and activism. The retrospective features manuscripts of her writings as well as artwork and media about the celebrated activist.
The museum also hosts a “Black Power” exhibit, curated in response to its 2016 “All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50” exhibit. This display focuses on ways Black anti-racist activists have uplifted their communities and challenged the U.S. government, with the Black Panther Party as an example.
OMCA is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 9 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is $19 for adults, but access to special exhibits costs an additional fee. For more information, check out the Oakland Museum of California’s website.
Looking to get out and explore Oakland more? The sixth annual Black Joy Parade will be held on Feb. 26, 2023. In 2022, more than 30,000 people attended the free festivities. You can admire floats, dance troupes and bands as they make their way from the start of the parade at 14th and Franklin streets up to 20th and Franklin streets, where the festival will take place after the procession. At the festival, enjoy live music, food and Black-owned businesses. Find more details on the Black Joy Parade’s website.
Richmond, Virginia, was once the largest slave-trading hub in the Upper South. Today, the city thrives with Black culture and history. The Richmond Region Tourism and more than 20 community leaders created BLK RVA to showcase what the city’s Black community has to offer. This can be seen through various attractions in Richmond.
Founded in 1981, the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans in Virginia. Discover more about the museum in its 40th anniversary exhibit. You can also learn about Richmond locals; Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first Black driver; and the Richmond 34, who were Virginia Union University students who held a sit-in at a white-only department store in 1960.
The museum is also hosting a free event (with registration required) on Feb. 4 titled “Making A Place for Themselves: A Survey of the Free Black Experience in Virginia from 1800-1865.” Guests can explore the lives of free Black people around the Richmond, Petersburg and Tidewater area of Virginia before 1865. The BHMVA is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults. The museum website has more information.
Visitors to the city can also tour the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Walker was the first African American woman in the U.S. to found and serve as president of a bank. The ranger-led tour takes guests through the residence she called home for about 30 years and features family heirlooms. The tour runs 45 minutes to an hour on Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and there is a 10-person limit. For more details, consult the NPS website.
(Eric Long/Courtesy of The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture)
Once nicknamed “Chocolate City” for its predominantly African American population, Washington, D.C., is a city embedded with Black culture.
While the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site remains closed for renovations until March 2023, the National Park Service will celebrate the famed abolitionist’s birthday on Feb. 11 at the Capital Turnaround. The event will feature music by the Jubilee Voices of the Washington Revels, performances by the student winners of the Douglass Oratorical Content and a panel discussion on the question “What place did Frederick Douglass call home?” Visit the National Park Service website for more information.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture has more than 40,000 artifacts pertaining to Black history. Learn about African Americans in the context of religion at the “Spirit in the Dark” exhibit, featuring photos depicting religious life from publisher of “Ebony,” “Jet” and “Negro Digest” magazines. The “Reckoning” retrospective uses visual art to show African American perspective when it comes to protesting.
On Feb. 8, 2023, the museum is hosting a screening of “Afrofuturism: The Origin Story” in homage to the facility’s newest exhibition coming in March. On Feb. 20, the museum will also hold a free community day celebrating the 25th anniversary of “The Lion King” on Broadway. The event includes show-themed workshops run by Disney Theatrical Teaching Artists (for which separate passes will be required) and other museum activities for the family.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Mondays from noon to 5:30 p.m. While admission is free, timed-entry passes are required and can be secured on the museum website.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is hosting several events throughout the month of February. Free events include hip-hop artist Dumi Right’s “A Hip Hop Odyssey” on Feb. 3 or the Howard Gospel Choir of Howard University performing on the Millennium Stage on Feb. 4 in celebration of Black History Month.
Also coming to the performing arts center during the month are the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a hip-hop conversation with the artist Common on the 20th anniversary of his album “Electric Circus.” Visit the Kennedy Center’s website for more information.
Why Trust U.S. News Travel:
Suzanne Mason is a travel editor with a love of warm vacation destinations and a passion to learn about whatever port of call she travels to. She has worked on the business side of travel and hospitality for almost a decade and now brings her expertise to U.S. News & World Report. For this article, she uses her own travel experience with several of these attractions and her research expertise.