Black History Month: A look at places to visit year round.

Black History month sped by this year. In my mind, a history month merely indicates those places that should be on our radar year around. Here are several places and events we’ve covered in the past. Hopefully in your travels between now and next February, you’ll be able to head to one or two of them. As I read through the posts, the scope of African American history in the U.S. struck me. I knew that before, but it’s good to review the vastness, and how African American history is such an important part of the U.S. fabric that ties the country together in such a unique, diverse way.

To see more than one significant site, take an African-American heritage tour. This post lists several. The photo is of the painting “Neighborhood” by African American artist Jacob Lawrence who created a series of paintings on the Great Migration–the movement of African Americans to northern cities. The paintings are part of the collection at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

Eatonville, Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, a unique Orlando alternative

Here is a place I wish I had known about earlier. December before last my family and I were in Orlando, Florida doing the Disney World thing. If I would have known about Eatonville, writer Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown, I would have felt compelled to go and see the murals at the town’s oldest church. They tell a bit of the story of the United States’ racial fabric.

Eatonville, the first black-town to have incorporated in the United States, is six miles north of Orlando. For the most part, driving through Eatonville sounds like it would be similar to driving through many small towns in the United States–towns without any particular markings that make them unique except to the people who live there.

Eatonville’s history is what sets it apart, and the fact that it has kept its identity through the changes for the last decades. The fact that it’s so close to the mega commercial build up of this part of Florida fascinates me.

It reminds me of the hidden stories all around the world. Tourists head to tourist destinations often unaware about the depth of the surrounding areas. When I read about Eatonville in the New York Times, its story compelled me to want to know more about this town. Lately the town is becoming more used to outsiders wandering in. The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts in January bring visitors in by the thousands.

The descriptions of the apprehension of the people in Eatonville towards people not from there visiting reminds me a bit of what my mother’s hometown in southeastern Kentucky is like. Because of the stereotypes of Appalachian culture there has been a bit of an unease at times when visitors, particularly from the north, have shown up in town for a look-see. Over the years, the suspicion has waned, but when I was a child I heard about the wariness from the people who felt wary.

Civil War bus tour in Washington, D.C.

Jeffrey recently wrote a post about the Gettysburg electric map that depicts this battle in different colored electric lights. The map may become no more, but here is a new opportunity to learn about the Civil War. In Washington, D.C., starting Memorial Day weekend, the bus tour “Civil War Washington: Soldiers and Citizens” will be taking people to several sites important to the time period.

On the list of stops:

  • Lincoln Cottage on the grounds of the U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home. This is where Abe Lincoln went to as a summer retreat.
  • Fort Stevens which was attacked during the Civil War
  • The African American Civil War Memorial
  • Peterson House where Lincoln died. He was taken to this house from the Ford Theater where he was shot.

As with any bus tour worth the money, this tour gives insider type information like how Matthew Brady, a Civil War photographer attempted to get his shots. For information about the tour, click here.

Black American West Museum: AAA virtual trade show tidbit

Along with passing on information about the Denver Botanic Garden when I was in the lounge at the virtual AAA trade show, “Europe is Closer than You Think,” I put in a plug for the Black American West Museum in Denver. When ever I land in a new town, I look for a place to learn something I didn’t know before. The Black American West Museum was exactly that kind of place.

Started by Paul W. Stewart, a man with a passion to promote the heritage of “Blacks in the West,” the museum is in the former home of Dr. Justina Ford, Colorado’s first female Black doctor. If you want to learn about the Buffalo Soldiers, miners, homesteaders, cowboys, and how African Americans founded the town of Deerfield, Colorado, it’s all here. This was a good place to go with kids since it’s small, but filled with actual artifacts that can hold their interest. My son was four-years-old and, unless I’m totally blocking out a miserable time, all I remember is being fascinated and had fun pointing out details to him. He liked the movies in the basement also. For people who want to know more, there are detailed descriptions and wonderful vintage photographs.

Considering such history rarely makes it into mainstream American history books, perhaps a sidebar at best, I was happy to have the chance to share these remarkable details about the African American West to my middle-school- aged daughter. I don’t remember eye rolls, unless I wasn’t looking.

Gullah Celebration–Black History Month

February is Black History month. In Hilton Head, South Carolina, a facinating part of African American history (thus American history) is celebrated throughout this month. Similar to Native Americans who have continued to celebrate and live according to the traditions of their ancestors, the Gullahs in South Carolina and Georgia have continued to embrace the cultures and beliefs of their ancestors who were brought as slaves to Georgia and South Carolina from West Africa.

Each February, at the annual Gullah Celebration, Hilton Head Island, where many Gullahs still live, is a showcase of Gullah art, food, music, language and history. Visitors can head to art shows, concerts, and other performances to enjoy the rich variety of the traditions that have been kept alive for centuries–including the language. Prayers, story-telling and sermons are told in Gullah, a mix of English and African languages, that was developed by slaves as a means to communicate with each other. Today, the language functions as a way to embrace the past, as well as, influence the future.

If you head here, check out the schedule to see what’s going on each day. No matter which day or days you come, take in a variety of historical landmarks. Of note is Mitchelville, the first freed Negro township. The store De Gullah Creations, open year round, is a place to purchase Gullah art and crafts and learn more about the culture.