It’s not as though you need an excuse to add more diverse history to your homeschool studies, but February is a great month to explore some of the terrific Black history-focused museums around the country. If you can score passes to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, you won’t want to miss your chance to check out this latest addition to the Smithsonian museums. But if Washington, D.C. isn’t on your February travel list, there are several other Black History Month destinations worth a field trip.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Birmingham earned the not-so-esteemable nickname Bombingham during the 1950s and 1960s when racial tensions led to horrific violence in the Alabama city, so it’s appropriate that the city’s civil rights institute is located across the street from one of the black churches bombed during those tumultuous years. Inside, the museum does a terrific job showing what life was like for Black Americans from the 1800s through the end of the 20th century—and how different their lives were from the lives of contemporary white Americans.
Many people don’t realize how much of the Windy City’s history was shaped by Black Americans — did you know, for instance, that the founder of Chicago, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, was an African-French Haitian? The DuSable attempts to repair that omission, chronicling and interpreting the lives of Chicago’s Black community and serving as a fulcrum for Black activism and social justice in the midwest.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center sits on the Ohio River, once a symbol of freedom for enslaved people since it separated free Ohio from slave-holding Kentucky. A highlight of the museum is the reconstructed “slave pen” — a sort of holding jail for enslaved people before they went on the auction block, but there are a number of noteworthy exhibits focusing both on the institution of slavery and the struggle for freedom.
Museum of the African Diaspora
A museum that focuses on Black achievement and history beyond slavery and civil rights? Count us in. There are many stories to tell about the black experience in the United States, but the Museum of the African Diaspora honors Africa’s art, culture, and global influence with a frequently rotating selection of exhibits. (Bonus: The museum bookstore is amazing.)
International Civil Rights Center & Museum
The Woolworth lunch counter where four black college students staged a sit-in in 1960 became a touchstone of the civil rights movement, so it’s a fitting spot for North Carolina’s civil rights museum. The lunch counter is still there — along with a number of exhibitions that highlight the challenges, triumphs, and tragedies of the civil rights movement.
The illustration above is from the book Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, and yes, all the illustrations are that cool.