Black History and Culture Itinerary

Explore the impactful history of Black Americans, support Black-owned businesses, and visit the sites walked by famous figures from Harriet Tubman to President Barak Obama on this tour of Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. This itinerary includes highlights from across the region; spend a day or several exploring these top sites.

Washington, DC

Start your tour at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the only national museum devoted to documenting African American life, history, and culture. Exhibits include Musical Crossroads, detailing the history of African American Music, Slavery and Freedom, and A Changing America. Be sure to stop into the museum’s Sweet Home Café for a taste of traditional African American cuisine.

After a tour of the Smithsonian, head out to the National Mall to visit the memorials of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Dr. King’s memorial is the first federal memorial in honour of a man of colour and a non-president. An engraving at the Lincoln Memorial memorializes the spot where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

In the evening, head to the U Street neighbourhood, known as “Black Broadway” from the 1920s to 1950s. U Street is home to one of DC’s most iconic foods – the half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Visitors, locals, and celebrities alike have been flocking to Ben’s since it opened in 1958 for the authentic food, friendly atmosphere, and rich history. Afterward, catch a show at Lincoln Theatre, an historic theatre that hosted famous musicians like Duke Ellington (a DC native), Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.

Explore more of DC's Black history sites and attractions.

Maryland

Continue your tour by discovering the rich history of Maryland’s most famed African Americans, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Begin in Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, and home to Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum. This national heritage site recounts the story of Frederick Douglass as well as Isaac Myers and the founding of the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company, America’s first African American-owned shipyard. Other sites to explore in Baltimore include the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum.

From Baltimore, travel south to Annapolis, Maryland’s capital city. Tour the Banneker-Douglass Museum, the state’s official museum of African American Heritage, or opt for a 2-hour African American Heritage walking tour of Annapolis. Sites on the tour include the Annapolis City Dock, where slave ships entered 300 years ago; the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial; and the Maryland State House and statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

Continue across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This scenic area includes sites along the Frederick Douglass Driving Tour as well as the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Scenic Byway. Highlights include the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and the nearby Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, home to wetlands that provided protection to freedom seekers.

End your day in one of the charming waterfront towns that dot the Eastern Shore. Find accommodations, dining, and shopping in Cambridge, St. Michaels, and Easton. 

Explore more of Maryland's Black history sites and attractions.

Virginia

Home to the longest continuous experience of Black life in the United States, Virginia’s was the site of the first English settlement in Jamestown, the capital of the Confederacy, and was the centre of some of the hardest fought battles of the Civil Rights Movement.

Start your journey of Virginia’s African American history where it all began: Jamestown Settlement, the site of the first permanent English colony in the United States. Exhibits here describe the Powhatan Indian, English, and West Central African cultures that converged in early Virginia. Nearby, Colonial Williamsburg’s year-round historic interpretation programming examines the stories of enslaved and free Black people of the 18th century. Artefacts, exhibits, and films frame the story of the first Africans, the development of the transatlantic slave trade, and African American culture.

Continue your journey by visiting the homes of some of the country’s founding fathers: George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Fairfax County; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville; and James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County. Each of these historic sites include exhibits and tours recounting the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and laboured on these estates. The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville features a permanent historical exhibit, a rotating contemporary art gallery, and hosts numerous events highlighting Charlottesville’s African American history and culture.

Explore more of Virginia’s Black history sites and attractions.

Related: 
Scenic Drives
Outdoors & Nature
Tours & Trails
City Adventures
History & Culture
Attractions & Family Fun

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