Black History Month is a time to honor the history and celebrate the culture of African Americans. There are lots of historical sites and museums across the United States that offer a rich mix of historical and contemporary storytelling—and you don’t need to leave home to experience them. Many of these museums now offer virtual exhibitions and interactive experiences, so learning about African American history has never been more accessible to all. Here’s our guide to the best in-person and virtual exhibitions you need to check out.
Virtual Exhibitions For Black History Month
A great place to start your journey of learning about Black history is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. If you can’t make it out to Washington D.C. to see it in person, you can check out the virtual exhibit, The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth. Through images and video, it takes you through the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the process of the news spreading across the country, the celebrations, all the way to some states making Juneteenth an official holiday.
Another virtual exhibit to see at the National Museum of African American History is the Black Fashion Museum Collection. If you’re taking a trip to D.C., you can see collections of numerous African American designers, but if you can’t make it, you can see the incredible works of the Afro-Caribbean designer Peter Davy from your laptop. First, you’ll learn a little about the founder of the Black Fashion Museum, Lois Kindle Alexander-Lane. Then, see some of Davy’s work on display. You’ll also see the influential people he dressed like Rosa Parks and Jacquelyn Kennedy. Finally, learn about the designer himself.
If you’re in the D.C. area, you may want to head to the National Women’s Heritage Museum next. Once again, you can check out one of their exhibits online: Standing up For Change: African American Women and the Civil Rights Movement. This exhibition gives you a fascinating look at how influential African American women were in the movement. You’ll learn about some of these influential women like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, as well as the Black women's club movement, the start of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP),and more.
Staying in the Virginia area, The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum is a must-see. She was one of the founders of the NAACP, an activist, and the first African American poet to be included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry. If you can’t make it to her house in person, you can walk through her home and gardens online just like you would on Google Maps.
Next, we’ll travel to Pennsylvania to the Senator John Heinz Center. This can be done virtually for the African American History in Western Pennsylvania exhibit. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and has archives and artifacts of African American people in this area. The virtual museum looks at the history through significant figures like Willie Thrower—the first African American quarterback, and Daisy Lampkin, the first female member of the board of directors of the NAACP and the vice president of the Pittsburgh Courier Publishing Company. Then explore the artifacts on display in the museum, like George Benson's guitar and Swin Cash's U.S. Olympic Women’s basketball jersey. Lastly, you’ll learn about teams, groups, and organizations.
Now, let’s head to Massachusetts to the Museum of African American History. If you’ve been to Boston before, you may have walked The Freedom Trail. There’s also a Black Heritage Trail, and you can virtually walk this one. This trail follows historical landmarks of the 19th century of African American history. You’ll also learn about famous abolitionists like Julia Smith and see old documents like The Rights for All.
Two other exhibits worth seeing are the Education for Liberation at the Amistad Research Center and the John Henry Series at the Museum of African American Art. Unfortunately, the physical museums are temporarily closed, but you can get a little of what they offer online.
The Amistad Research Center is located in New Orleans, but the exhibit you can explore is just a few clicks away. Education for Liberation focuses on the American Missionary Association Schools (AMA). Click through the images, documents, and text. Discover all about how African Americans fought for their right to education.
The Museum of African American Art is in Los Angeles, but the John Henry Series is online. The artist of the collection is Palmer C Hayden. He portrayed African American life in sketches, oils, and watercolors. This series includes 12 oil paintings dated between 1944 to 1947, and three other related works. The series focuses on John Henry, an African American folklore hero and former slave.
In-Person Exhibitions For Black History Month
If you want to visit heritage sites in person, Washington D.C. is once again a great place to start. You can see the homes of Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune and Carter G. Woodson. These houses give you a glimpse at the legacies these iconic figures left. Douglass was born into slavery, escaped and became an abolitionist and writer. Bethune was the daughter of slaves, a civil rights leader, and educator. Woodson was one of the first people to study African American history. He was the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. His home now serves as the headquarters for the organization. Fun fact: We have Woodson to thank for this month, as he established Negro History Week in 1926, which subsequently became Black History Month.
While you’re in the D.C. area, check out the birthplace of Booker T. Washington. He was born into slavery but grew up to advise two presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. This national monument shows you how slavery, the Civil War and emancipation affected the land.
Next, take a trip to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad. You can explore the exhibit that showcases Tubman’s dedication to freeing slaves or see the Underground Railroad Scenic Byway.
If you’re in the south, the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Alabama is well worth visiting. It gives you an excellent picture of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. There are seven sites related to this national monument. First, the Masonic Temple Building, nicknamed the black skyscraper because the Black doctors, lawyers, dentists, and civil rights activists had offices in the building, and were fighting for a better life. Next, visit the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Tragically, the Klu Klux Klan bombed this church on Sunday, September. 15, 1963. After that, head to the cultural and educational research center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Next, visit the Historic Bethel Baptist Church, where non-violent organizing happened for desegregation. Next, travel over to Kelly Ingram Park, where police attacked demonstrators in May 1963. Then to the 1963 desegregation campaign headquarters, the A.G. Gaston Motel. Finally, see the St. Paul United Methodist Church, one of the oldest African American Churches in Birmingham.
In Mississippi, you can visit what was the second-largest slave market in the south to learn about the Domestic Slave Trade. Forks of the Road is part of the Natchez National Historical Park. The city was the center of slavery.
If you’re in the midwest or road tripping through it, pay a visit to the Nicodemus National Historic Site. Former slaves from Kentucky moved to Kansas for the promise of freedom. It is now the oldest and only remaining African American settlement west of the Mississippi River.
Support Black History and Black Lives beyond Black History Month with nine Racial Justice Movement organizations you can donate to.