February is Black History Month, when Americans are urged to absorb essential chapters of the nation's history, regardless of background. And if you travel, your options multiply. Here here are five ways to commemorate the month -- locally, domestically and abroad. -- Elissa Leibowitz Poma
1 Take a stroll. Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis are among area locales with African American-themed walking tours. In D.C., the nonprofit coalition Cultural Tourism DC (202-661-7581, www.culturaltourismdc.org) suggests a tour of U Street, once known as the country's "Black Broadway." D.C.'s Neighborhood Heritage Trail covers the U Street/Shaw area, including the Whitelaw Hotel, where musicians performing at nearby Lincoln Theatre stayed when other hotels turned them away. Local businesses offer free guides.
An exhibit of heroes at Cincinnati's Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
(Farshid Assassi/assasi Productions)
The homes of noteworthy Americans such as William Butler and William Bishop are included in an Annapolis walking tour detailed in a guide from the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau (410-280-0445, www.visit-annapolis.org); call or go online to order a free copy. Likewise, Baltimore's Convention and Visitors Association (877-225-8466, www.baltimore.org) has a two-day African American heritage itinerary.
2 Attend a special celebration. Residents of Hilton Head, S.C., will commemorate the struggles of West Africans brought to the Georgia and South Carolina islands as slaves at the Native Islander Gullah Celebration (877-650-0676, www.gullahcelebration.com). The event runs Feb. 4-27 and includes storytellers, gospel performances, the "Ol' Fashioned Gullah Barbecue" and demonstrations of traditional arts like sweet grass basket making.
The Blues Foundation (901-527-2583, www.blues.org) of Memphis hosts the International Blues Challenge Feb. 3-5. Though it's not billed as a Black History Month event per se, it's a fine way to recognize African American musical influence. More than 125 individuals and groups will perform.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 26, Monroe, La., hosts a Black History Month parade that includes more than 60 floats. Info: Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-843-1872, www.monroe-westmonroe.org.
3 Visit Africa. The coast of Ghana was a hub of slave trading starting in the late 1400s, and the well-preserved Cape Coast Castle in Ghana was among the gateways. The castle is a planned stop on a 15-day tour of Ghana, Togo and Benin through Palace Travel (800-401-5901, www.palacetravel.com) of Philadelphia. The cost starts at $2,250 per person double and includes lodging, breakfasts, ground transportation, English-speaking guides and entrance fees. Airfare is extra; tours depart weekly. Palace Travel offers trips to other African nations, too.
4 Leave the big cities behind. Southern cities like Atlanta and Birmingham are stocked with civil rights sites and other places of historic interest. For a different take, go outside the major metropolises.
Eatonton, about 40 miles north of Macon, Ga., was once the home of author Alice Walker ("The Color Purple") and Joel Chandler Harris, who wrote the "Uncle Remus" stories. The Uncle Remus Museum was constructed from the remains of two slave cabins. Nearby Madison is filled with big Civil War-era mansions built by slaves. In Macon, tour the Tubman African American Museum (912-743-8544, www.tubmanmuseum.com). Info: Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-768-3401, www.maconga.org.
Outside of Orlando is the nation's oldest incorporated black community. Eatonville was established in 1887 and was home to author Zora Neale Hurston (namesake of a local fine arts museum). Two miles north of St. Augustine, Fla., Fort Mose was the first legally endorsed community (and a safe haven) for free blacks. And Orlando itself has the Wells' Built Hotel (now a museum), the only overnight option before the 1960s for visiting blacks like Thurgood Marshall and Ray Charles. Info: Visit Florida, 888-735-2872, www.flausa.com.
5 See a new exhibit. For an extensive study of topics in black history, go to a museum focusing specifically on it.
One that has received top marks since opening in August is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (877-648-4838, www.freedomcenter.org) in Cincinnati. The facility features interactive exhibits on the history of slavery in the United States, a look at the ways slaves escaped and a vast exhibition on racism.
The hip Stax Museum of American Soul Music (888-942-7685, www.soulsvilleusa.com) in Memphis opens a new exhibit Feb. 4 called "Funky Films and Soundtracks of the '70s."
And look for a new museum: the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture (410-333-1130, www.africanamericanculture.org) -- to open in Baltimore this summer.