Battling Bigotry Through Travel: Destinations to Visit Now to Remind Us That Black Lives Have Always Mattered
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” -Mark Twain
In the wake of recent events heightened by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, America has awoken to the consequences of racism in our society on a scale not seen since the 1960s. There has been a global call to action in demanding institutions, policies, and prejudices be critically examined in order for citizens of the world to become active allies of the Black community. While there are a multitude of complex challenges facing citizens and policymakers, there are a number of solutions that each one of us can employ in order to learn and unlearn racist biases so deeply entrenched in society. Travel is one of them.
Taking the time to travel and understand other cultures helps us all open our minds and replaces fear of the unknown with trust in humanity. While travel is certainly a privilege not everyone can afford, it doesn’t take venturing to the other side of the world to be exposed to new places, cultures, and ideas. As domestic tourism in the United States begins to reopen, Solimar invites you to explore the following destinations that may be in your own backyard as we all take the time to better educate ourselves during this global movement towards social justice and common understanding.
Washington, D.C. – East of the River (Chris Seek)
Washington, DC is Solimar’s home base and one of the best tourism destinations in the US (we might be biased). Every year over 20 million visitors come to DC to enjoy the Smithsonian Museums and National Monuments, but only a few venture east of the Anacostia River. One of DC’s earliest suburbs, Anacostia was home to Frederick Douglass and his home now serves as a historic site run by the National Park Service. Other highlights include the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens and the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, which documents and interprets the impact of historical and contemporary social issues on communities. Many local and Black-owned businesses line the main street, and thanks to the support of a $50 Million grant from a non-profit, these businesses help ensure the historically Black neighborhood retains its authenticity and small town feel. While in Anacostia be sure to visit the Anacostia Arts Center, or cleanse your soul with a King Kong Kale juice from Turning Natural. Finish the day with a drink named after DC Go-Go icon Chuck Brown or Dr. Martin Luthr King at Uniontown Bar and Grill.
Explore the Underground Railroad (Chloe King)
Whether you live in California, Alabama, Virginia, or Vermont, chances are you only have to drive a few hours to visit one of the historical sites of the Underground Railroad, the famous network that helped slaves escape from Southern plantations to a freer life in the Northern states. As part of the National Park Services’ Network to Freedom Program, there are over 600 individual destinations you can visit nationwide, either in-person or virtually. From learning about leaders like Harriet Tubman who helped people escape to freedom to reading national archives rich with first-hand testimony of those with dreams of a better life, this network is an excellent way to explore the history in your own backyard. Read two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad on your journey, a story of two slaves on their bid for freedom from a Georgia plantation.
South Side of Chicago (Derek Schimmel)
Chicago’s South Side offers visitors to the Second City an opportunity to explore one of the most eclectic and historically rich Black neighborhoods in America. Travelers can tour the Bronzeville Walk of Fame, which features 91 bronze plaques of important civil rights movement personalities, and learn about Black cultural heritage at the Gallery Guichard or by walking the Black Metropolis Great Migration Pullman Porter Blues Trail. The city of Bronzeville is also home to Camp Douglas: Union Army Recruitment and Training Camp and the Abbot House: A National Historic Landmark home of the founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper. For a taste of local cuisine, visitors can try Valois Restaurant, a cafeteria-style, cash-only for breakfast and Ja’Grille for a taste of Jamaica come dinner time.
In Jackson Park, The Obama Presidential Center is set to open in 2025. This future landmark will be a massive draw to the South Side for travelers and locals alike. More recently, Illinois Congressman Bobby L. Rush reintroduced the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Act, designed to celebrate the history of the African-American community and preserve the cultural and economic benefits that it has brought upon the city since the Great Migration.
Gee’s Bend, Alabama (Natalie Sellier)
The Black Belt Region of Alabama—which stretches through 13 counties and has historically been an agricultural center for the state—contains some of the poorest counties in the United States. A sordid history of political disenfranchisement and violent racism combined with a fluctuating agrarian-based economy has left this region deprived of both financial and natural wealth over generations. The small community of Gee’s Bend located in the Black Belt is a microcosm for the issues plaguing this region. However, its scenic location on the Alabama River and its famous quiltmakers are untapped resources for growth through sustainable tourism – allowing people to experience a piece of southern culture that is still unique, palpable, and authentic. In 2012, Solimar worked with Sustainable Rural Regenerative Enterprises for Families (SURREF) through a Ford Foundation grant to help build a new community-based tourism enterprise that maximizes tourism revenues by offering—for the first time—tourism packages that encourage visitors to stay longer, spend more, and truly appreciate all that this small destination has to offer. Click here to learn more about visiting this incredible community, including the Gees Bend Quilt Mural Trail.
York- The Lewis and Clark Expedition (Sophie Levy)
Little is known about the enslaved African American who was vital to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. York was a slave to William Clark and became the first African American to cross the United States from coast to coast. York was an invaluable member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition team, risking his life to save Clark in a flash flood on the Missouri River, hunting game to feed the group, and directing the sails of the boat that safely delivered the Corps of Discovery to Pennsylvania. York had only two features named after him on the journey. “Yorks 8 Islands”, renamed by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 2000 as “York’s Islands,” are a cluster of islands along the Missouri River in Montana. While the islands are predominantly privately owned now, there is public access available at the York’s Islands Fishing Access Site. The other was a tributary of the Yellowstone which Clark called “York’s Dry Creek.” An explicative sculpture named “York: Terra Incognita”, or “unknown land”, stands outside of the Library at Lewis and Clark College attributing respect to the often unrecognized historical figure. A bronze statue depicting York’s strength and valor is located on the Louisville Belvedere in Kentucky as a lasting legacy to honor York’s memory and importance in American history. Check out Solimar’s work on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Harlem, New York (Mica Pacheco)
Harlem is a neighborhood located in the Northern section of New York City borough of Manhattan. Known as one of the Meccas for Black history, Harlem was and still is a home to many races and ethnic group. The neighborhood gained its notoriety during the 1920’s in the era called the “Harlem Renaissance.” The Harlem Renaissance is characterized by the literary, intellectual, and cultural flourishing of the new Black cultural identity. It was coupled with advancements in entertainment with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong building the innovation of jazz, and in advancements in poetry with poets like Langston Hughes. This period of activity caused the incorporation of Black culture into popular mainstream culture, making Harlem a key destination point for entertainment.
Today, the residents of Harlem are fighting against rising developments and property value as gentrification becomes a looming threat to the community. There are groups like Harlem Heritage Tours that offer many different tours of the neighborhood and its history by local residents. Tours include iconic sights like the Apollo Theatre and the National Jazz Museum. For those who are unable to make the visit, the organization also sells a variety of products in order to fund its cultural research and outreach to the community.
Kansas City, Missouri (Matt Clausen)
Kansas City has a vibrant African American culture and a deep history. The African American Heritage Trail of Kansas City, Missouri links over 50 important sites all around the city and a virtual tour provides people all across the world a chance to learn more about the city’s history. The American Jazz Museum preserves the history of American jazz music, with exhibits on Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and others. The museum is also home to one of Kansas City’s finest jazz clubs, The Blue Room. The Negro League Baseball Museum is the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich history of African-American baseball and its impact on the social advancement of America. Founded in 1974 by Horace M. Peterson III, the Black Archives of Mid-America collects, preserves, and honors the heritage of Black Americans. An African American museum in the former residence of John A. Walker, the Old Quindaro Museum in Kansas City preserves the rich history of the community where runaway slaves once found sanctuary.
Make sure to include the many nearby sites just outside of the city on your itinerary. Just north along the Missouri River in Leavenworth, Kansas is the Buffalo Soldier Monument which honors the bravery, determination, and courage of the African-American frontier soldiers who served in the 10th Cavalry. View memorabilia at the Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum from General Colin Powell, Buffalo Soldiers, uniforms, freedom papers from former slaves, photographs, items from the old Bethel A.M.E. Church, and a stop on the Underground Railroad in Leavenworth. For insight into the abolitionist movement, visit the John Brown Museum State Historic Site in Osawatomie. This cabin served as an abolitionist’s headquarters in Kansas and a stop along the Underground Railroad. Nicodemus, Kansas is the oldest and only remaining Black settlement west of the Mississippi River. Nicodemus represents the involvement of African Americans in the westward expansion and settlement of the Great Plains.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati (Mary Haas)
Historically, the Ohio River was seen as separating the North and South. When enslaved men, women, and children were escaping the oppression of the slave states in the South, crossing the river was a crucial point in reaching freedom. It is only fitting that a museum that celebrates the heroes of the Underground Railroad is situated on the banks of the same river that so many people bravely crossed for freedom. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has a wide variety of exhibits that show the cruelty of slavery as well as acts of great kindness and strength. While generally focusing on the era of the Underground Railroad, the Freedom Center also has a wide variety of exhibits that educate visitors on the importance of equality and freedom, as well as the evils of institutionalized racism. A visit to the Freedom Center reminds us that history must be remembered in order to continue advocating for justice and equality for many generations yet to come.
Nova Scotia – The footsteps of the Black Loyalists (Caecilia He)
The story of the Black Loyalists is a very important and colorful moment in African-Canadian and African-American history. The Black Loyalists arrived in Nova Scotia between 1783 and 1785 as a result of the American Revolution. The term “Black Loyalist” particularly refers to men who escaped enslavement and served on the Loyalist side due to the Crown’s promises of freedom. About 3000 Black Loyalists were evacuated from New York to Nova Scotia. David George was an African American Baptist preacher and an influential Black Loyalist. George was born a slave in Virginia, yet founded the first Baptist church in Nova Scotia. One attraction highlighting this in Nova Scotia is the Black Loyalist Heritage Site, which takes visitors on the journey of these earliest Black settlers to Nova Scotia. The history of the Black Loyalists occurred more than two centuries ago, and descendants of the Black Loyalists are calling for the remembrance of spirits of their ancestors and discovering their stories of struggles. Click here to read the award-winning 2007 novel “The Book of Negroes” by Lawrence Hill with the stories of these brave individuals.
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park (Beau Baiocchi)
Located in central California, Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park makes for the perfect educational stopover on the Los Angeles to San Francisco drive, or a perfect destination in itself for those interested in learning more about the little known history of this African American settlement. Now a historic park operated by the National Park Service, Allensworth was established in 1908 as a town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. Their goal was to create a thriving community with programs that allowed individuals to create better lives for themselves. Purchased by the Park Service in 1974, this now vacated town offers a glimpse into its past with refurbished and reconstructed structures conjuring up reminders of its former days. Attractions include the baptist church, historic schoolhouse, and library. The site houses 15 campsites, a visitor center, and its paved roads are perfect for biking.
Oftentimes, we discover dream destinations that turn into unforgettable vacations from travel bloggers and writers around the world. For more inspiration, check out some suggestions below as well as these 50 Amazing Black Travel Bloggers
- Storyteller, author, podcast host, and transformational lifestyle designer Ernest White II has circumnavigated the globe six times. His travel docu-series, FLY BROTHER, captivates viewers through his inspirational narratives on international friendship and connection around.
- A talented photographer, video creator, writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable and green tourism, Ashley Renne tempts her audience to ditch the office and live life on the road. Not only is she a full-time content creator, but she also educates other explorer enthusiasts on how to intertwine entrepreneurship and travel at her co-founded academy Travelpreneur Life.
- Family content creator, Monet Hambrick, permits no excuse for globetrotting parents and provides a unique, family-friendly perspective to adventure via The Traveling Child. Her helpful tips on how to travel with kids offers valuable insights from managing unforeseen illness abroad, packing properly for a lengthy road trip, and finding “alone” time just for parents.