History tells the story of the past, provides context to the present, and potentially a glimpse into the future. As is often the case, history repeats itself.
There’s no better way to learn about a place than by looking back. History tours can be priceless. After a year when race dominated the national conversation in a way not seen since the 1960s, there’s soul searching and a quest for knowledge and understanding. Start that journey with a guided tour that teaches and entertains.
While self-guided tours allow you to go at your own pace, I’m all for guided tours. You can’t beat having a passionate tour guide who knows the history backward and forward like they lived it. That insight is priceless and heightens the experience twofold.
Here are a few African American history tours to put on your must-go list.
1. Memphis Caravan Tour, Memphis, Tennessee
A Tour of Possibilities offers this guided 2.5-hour tour of African American history that you enjoy from the comfort of your own car. You hear the guide’s commentary through your car speakers by accessing the link provided upon arrival. The exploration includes sites like the Slave Haven, where you descend the stairs into the dark, damp cellar and peer through the trapdoors and hidden passages where the fugitives were harbored, giving you a glimpse of those turbulent times. It also includes the National Civil Rights Museum/Lorraine Motel (where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated), Beale Street (nicknamed the Home of the Blues), and neighborhoods like Soulsville, South Memphis, Uptown, as well as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the I AM A MAN Plaza, and plenty more. Admission is $66.
2. Charleston’s African American History And Heritage, Charleston, South Carolina
West Africa’s contribution to the heritage and history of the Lowcountry is indisputable. Bulldog Tours explores the influence and experience of African Americans in Charleston from slavery and Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights struggle. Highlights of the 2-hour walking tour include significant sites like the Aiken Rhett House, Mother Emanuel AME Church, and the Philip Simmons Prayer Garden. Simmons was one of the most celebrated 20th century ironworkers in Charleston. He made more than 500 decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron gates, fences, balconies, and window grills that dot the Charleston landscape. Adults are $37, children 4–12, $27, with children 3 and under free.
3. Black History River Cruise, San Antonio, Texas
Twice a month — on the second Sunday and fourth Saturday — The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum and GO Rio River Cruises offer a 90-minute African American history tour. You’ll discover how the once richest Black man south of the Mason Dixon line got his start in San Antonio, see the location of the first “free” school for African Americans in San Antonio, learn about the African American 14-year-old male student who helped change San Antonio history, and more. Admission is $25.
4. The Black Journey: African American History Walking Tour, Philadelphia, PA
This 90-minute tour starts off in front of the Independence Visitor Center and continues across the city at some of the nation’s most important and historical sites such as The President’s House, Congress Hall, Old City Hall, First U.S. Supreme Court Building, American Philosophical Society Museum, Independence Square, Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, and Bicentennial Moon Tree — the former location of the Philadelphia Prison Site and the oldest continuous piece of land owned by people of African descent. You’ll go to Congo Square, visit the unmarked graves of free and enslaved victims of the yellow fever epidemic, and see where the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1793. Walk in the footsteps of enslaved people, abolitionists, slaveholders, and founding fathers. Tickets are $20–$35.
5. The James Brown Family Historical Tour, Augusta, Georgia
Get on the good foot. The Godfather of Soul has a special place in Black history. Nobody sang and danced quite like him. Cherish the memories with a private guided tour of his favorite haunts on a nearly 2-hour tour led by his daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas. You’ll visit his childhood home, spots where he hung out, restaurants, his elementary school, and more. Tours are $15 per person and can be set via the James Brown Family Foundation.
6. Birding The Harriet Tubman Byway, Bucktown, Maryland
Start your 4-hour adventure at the Brodess Farm Site in Bucktown. The guided drive and hike are for bird lovers. Harriet Tubman Tours and Delmarva Birding Weekends sponsor this adventure that goes along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad in Dorchester County, Maryland. You’ll learn about Tubman as you make your way through the farms, Chesapeake Bay marshes, and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, encountering some of the best birding and bald eagle watching. Cost is $65 per person.
If you want to learn more about the Underground Railroad, head north On The Way To Freedom.
7. The Real Black Wall Street Tour, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Despite the gravity of the Tulsa Race Massacre, until the 100th anniversary of the massacre this year, little was known about it. This tour will give you an education that might be painful but insightful. The tour takes place through the historic Tulsa district of Greenwood. You’ll hear the details about the people and buildings that were affected by the massacre, and the places that were bombed, including churches and schools. Warning, you might need a hanky. You’ll go through some of the neighborhoods that were leveled. Admission is $15.
8. Black History Tour, Washington, DC
Washingtonian Christopher W. vows to show you what was left out of textbooks when it comes to the contributions of African Americans with his Tours By Locals. While you’ll get the expected — like the Lincoln Memorial and the spot where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech — you’ll also venture to the Frederick Douglass House, Lincoln Park, Howard University, Howard Theater, Ben’s Chili Bowl Mural, African American Civil War Memorial, and the African American History and Culture Museum during the 6-hour tour. Admission is $500 for up to four people.
9. Gullah Tour, Sandy Island, South Carolina
Just south of Murrells Inlet is Sandy Island, where many of the 120 residents are Gullah Geechee descendants, the culture that originated from West African slaves who worked on the rice plantations in the 1700s. Start the 2-hour tour at the Sandy Island Boat Ramp and take a brief boat ride to Pyatt’s General Store with its African heritage gifts, Gullah Sweetgrass baskets, and more. Then you’ll board a passenger van and make your way around the island to the Sandy Island firehouse, old gravesites, church, community center, library, and more. Admission is $35.
10. Freedom Seekers Heritage Tour, Niagara County, New York
The Niagara River and Gorge was an important crossing point into Canada for those using the Underground Railroad. For the freedom seekers who passed through the Niagara Frontier, the physical act of crossing the Niagara River represented the final act of courage and determination at the end of a long journey. Motherland Connextions’ tour takes you to key towns and sites. For over 3 hours you’ll visit the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center with its exhibits, scenic built environment, nearby murals of Harriet Tubman and freedom seekers, and more. In Lewiston, there’s the Freedom Crossing Monument on the bank of the Niagara River. The statue honors the courage of freedom seekers who sought a new life in Canada, and those who helped them on their journey across Niagara. Murphy Orchards in Burt is a farm that secretly housed enslaved people on the run in a barn. Another place of refuge is the many canals. You’ll see the Erie Canal in Lockport. The tour is $94 for adults and $67 for children.
11. Duke Street Black History Walking Tour, Alexandria, Virginia
The 90-minute Manumission guided walking tour along the Duke Street corridor in Old Town Alexandria includes sites connected to the early Alexandria slave trade, such as the former site of Franklin & Armfield and the former Bruin Slave Jail that held the Edmonson sisters. The tour also includes sites that connect to early African Americans’ spirituality like the Shiloh Baptist Church and the Alexandria National Cemetery. You might want to check their other tours too. Freedom’s Fight in Alexandria Walking Tour highlights pre-Civil War history and the stories of runaway slaves, early abolitionists, and more. The Still’s Underground Railroad Walking Tour takes you along the downtown King Street corridor to hear about the Underground Railroad in Alexandria. The Black History in Alexandria bus tour is a 2-hour guided tour that will take you to the Freedom House Museum, Alfred Street Baptist Church, the site of the 1939 Library Sit-In, Contraband & Freedman Cemetery, and more. All Manumission Tours are $15 for adults and $12 for those 12 and under.