A Closer Look at 4 New US Civil Rights Trail Sites, Plus How to Plan Your Visit

While some historic institutions remain the same over time, America’s Civil Rights Trail remains a work in progress. When it was formalized in 2018, the route included 120 sites in Washington, DC and 14 states, most of which are in the southern United States. Many of the original sites are well known, including Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of a 1963 bombing that killed four black girls, and the Atlanta home where Martin Luther King Jr. was born.


But lesser-known landmarks tied to the civil rights era of the 1950s and ’60s are finally getting some much-deserved attention. In February, the Civil Rights Trail welcomed 14 more sites in Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. Some of these destinations, like the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, were recently created. It opened in January 2021 to honor African-American music styles including blues, gospel, jazz, hip-hop, and more.


A Louis Armstrong concert poster from around 1935 at the National Museum of African American Music, in Nashville.

Courtesy of the National Museum of African American Music


Other sites along the way have been around much longer, like the Robert “Bob” Hicks House in Bogalusa, Louisiana, once a safe haven and emergency medical station. It was also the unofficial office of a black-owned law firm that took depositions and prepared federal lawsuits. Perhaps most exciting, some sites are still evolving. The McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School building, which housed one of the first integrated schools in New Orleans, is being transformed into a museum and educational space.


Oklahoma isn’t represented on the road yet, but one of its state senators, Kevin Matthews, is on a mission to change that. He wants to include 13 historically black communities and a new center, Greenwood Rising, which is dedicated to Tulsa’s Black Wall Street and the city’s 1921 race massacre. He anticipates that it will take three to five years to strengthen the tourist infrastructure surrounding these sites and to apply and join the trail. “We can’t expect anyone else to advance our black history,” says Matthews. “It is our responsibility.”


Louisiana

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant has been the place to eat Creole food in New Orleans since 1941.

Courtesy of Dooky Chase


Edgar Dooky Chase Jr. and Leah Chase’s New Orleans Creole venue, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, was a major forum during the civil rights era, hosting Martin Luther King Jr. and local leaders.


When to go


Summer (if you can stand the heat), to see the Essence of Culture Festival, which celebrates Black women and community.


Where to stay


The Black-owned Duchess Bed & Breakfast is an eight-bedroom property with a beautiful garden that’s within walking distance of the 187-year-old St. Charles Avenue streetcar.


Missouri

Bronze statues of catcher Josh Gibson and other players at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Courtesy of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum



The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City shares the stories of all-black teams during segregation and explains how the game changed after players broke the color barrier. Jackie Robinson, who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, was just the first of many.


When to go


Summer, to combine the visit with a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium.

Where to stay


The stately Eldridge Hotel is just a half hour drive west across the border in Lawrence, Kansas. The original building, called the Free State Hotel, was attacked twice by pro-slavery forces and rebuilt each time, first in 1858, then just eight years later.


Tennessee

In Memphis, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music showcases the record label’s legacy of hits and features stars like Otis Redding, Carla Thomas and Booker T. and the MGs. The museum is located on the original site of the Stax Records studio.

When to go


Fall, to listen to live music at the Soulsville USA Festival.


Where to stay


The Central Station Hotel in Memphis is a reminder of the Great Migration’s train journeys. Black families from the Jim Crow era South passed through this station on their way to the urban North and West. The hotel is located in the Memphis Central Station, which opened in 1914 and is still a stop on the train from New Orleans to Chicago.


Virginia

The Museum of Fine Arts and History in Danville, Virginia.

Images by David Hungate/Dominion


The Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History occupies the Sutherlin Mansion, which once housed Confederate President Jefferson Davis and later became a whites-only library, and was subsequently a site for civil rights protests during the 1960s .


When to go


Fall, to see the colorful foliage on the Blue Ridge Parkway, adding a stop at the Booker T. Washington National Monument.


Where to stay


An hour south in Greensboro, North Carolina, the historic black-owned Magnolia House is a bed and breakfast with mid-century modern details. was included in the black motorist green book, a publication that helped blacks travel safely during segregation. Guests have included Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and James Baldwin.



A version of this story first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the title “The road ahead”.

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