After a year filled with travel bans, COVID fears and social unrest, we’ve been through a lot. Hopefully, we’ve also learned a few things. Travel bans required those of us with acute wanderlust to discover treasures closer to home. COVID fears and separation from family and friends provided us with a new appreciation for togetherness. As for the wide-spread social unrest, plenty of work still needs to be done to effect change.
Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Increased sensitivity and compassion emerge when we strive to understand each other. Travel provides that opportunity. If you typically travel with children, this assumes even more importance. By introducing them to other cultures during their formative years, we have the opportunity to positively guide the future of the next generation.
My “A-Ha” Moment: The Freedom House Museum, Alexandria, VA
As a Southern-born white woman, incorporating Black history sites into my travel plans never crossed my mind… until I married a Black man. A road trip through Virginia led us to The Freedom House Museum in Alexandria. Once part of the largest domestic slave trading firm Franklin and Armfield, the building now exhibits powerful first-person accounts of enslaved people. Viewing the exhibits in silence, I turned to my husband and saw the sadness in his eyes. It was then that I realized, for me, this was a museum filled with accounts of tragic history. For him, it was personal.
A New Perspective: Whitney Plantation, Louisiana
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Whitney Plantation tells the story of its days as an antebellum sugarcane, rice, and indigo plantation through the eyes of those who saw it with brutal honesty—the enslaved. Over the years, 350 humans were held as captive laborers at Whitney Plantation. Today it exists to educate the public about this dark chapter in American history. Lanyards carrying a card with the story of an enslaved man, woman, or child hang around the neck of each visitor, providing a connection to the story of one person who lived this nightmare. Unlike typical tours where the grand décor of the plantation home takes the spotlight, the Whitney Plantation tours start where the story begins—in the slave cabins.
Students Sit for Progress: Woolworth’s, Greensboro, NC
When four Black students from the Agricultural & Technical College of North Carolina (now known as North Carolina A&T State University) stepped into the local Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, change began. It was February 1, 1960, when the young men took a seat at the whites-only lunch counter. Despite being refused service, they stayed until closing. And they came back the next day… and the next… and the next until the sit-in drew more than 300 students. Their action galvanized a movement as other sit-ins spread across the country in solidarity.
Today, the original Woolworth’s building houses the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. The historic lunch counter and seats remain intact alongside extensive exhibits that delve into the struggles and successes of the civil rights movement and the Jim Crow era.
In an oral history account by Robert Tyrone Patterson, Sr. who joined his four friends at Woolworth’s on day two of the sit-in, he shares his experience as well as some of his fears. One concern was his parents. What would they think of his involvement? When he sat down to speak with them, his father said, “Son, if my generation had done what they should have done, you wouldn’t have to be doing this.”
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop…” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
These words delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis from the pulpit of the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ would become part of his final public speech. Hours later, he was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel. A stop along the Civil Rights Trail, the motel now serves as the National Museum of Civil Rights. Housing 260 artifacts along with 40 interactive stations with films and accounts of oral histories, the museum’s exhibits cover a span of five centuries including slavery, student sit-ins, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Rides, and Black Power.
Black History Month and Beyond
Observing Black History month brings into focus these stories at a time when celebrating the cultural contributions of our fellow citizens has never been more important. So, while you’re road tripping around the country this year, consider incorporating some of these or other educational experiences into your itinerary… and bring the kids.