Destination Guides

11 African-American historical landmarks to visit in the USA

The United States of America is a nation like no other, packed with some of the most incredible historical stories and monuments you will see anywhere. From the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for the nation of America to “let freedom ring.” There are countless African-American historical landmarks across the USA that celebrate those who have fought for their freedom throughout American history. Whether you’re celebrating Black History Month, or looking for alternative perspectives on US history, read on for our 11 most important African-American historical landmarks to visit in the USA. Trafalgar strives to explore every corner of the USA, and on our tours you’ll have the opportunity to see some of the most important landmarks in Black history for yourself.

1. The Bridget “Biddy” Mason Monument, Los Angeles

Born into slavery in 1818, Biddy Mason is a landmark figure in America’s Black history for her hard fought path to becoming a philanthropist and landowner in Los Angeles. By her death in 1891, Mason had made a fortune of $300,000 or $6 million today.

This richly historic African-American landmark commemorates the first plot Mason owned, having spent the first 37 years of her life as a slave. This visually striking memorial is an 81-foot wall with a timeline explaining Mason’s role in the Black history of LA and a collage inspired by Mason’s original wood-frame home.

Inspired by the orphanage Mason built, the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation provides supplies to foster children and accepts public donations.

2. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington D.C.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was opened in 2011 by Barack Obama, America’s first Black president, in a moment which unforgettably joined two unforgettable names of African-American history.

Commissioned in 1996, the Memorial’s design was selected from a competition with 906 entrants. Its Stone of Hope, featuring King, is carved from a Mountain of Despair, and King’s figure stands at 30-feet.

This African American landmark overlooks the Washington Mall, on which King delivered his historic speech. The exact address of the memorial in West Potomac Park is 1964 Independence Avenue S.W., a nod to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed segregation, a pivotal moment in Black history.

Trafalgar’s Historic Highlights tour explores this US landmark and many other famous Washington points of interest.

3. John Coltrane House, Philadelphia

One of America’s most renowned jazz musicians, John Coltrane was awarded with a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, fifty years after his death. The saxophonist and pioneering force in Black history bought this house while working in a factory at the age of 26 in 1952.

Coltrane lived here until 1958 and continued to visit the house and Philadelphia until his death in 1967. Today it serves as a key landmark in African-American history.

Be sure to take a 20 minute walk from John Coltrane House to the corner of North 29th St and Diamond St, to see a stunning mural of Coltrane painted in 2017 which depicts the love and respect of Philadelphia for this historic Black musician.  

The unoccupied house has been labelled at risk by a state preservation organisation and Preservation Pennsylvania will welcome any support for this designated National Historic Landmark.

4. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Virginia

This home, dubbed an urban mansion, was Maggie L. Walker’s residence from 1905 until her death in 1934. During Walker’s boundary-breaking life, she was the owner of a newspaper and local store, 17 years before American women got the right to vote. Walker was also the first African-American woman in history to own a bank; St. Luke’s Penny Bank.

Her home acted as a social heart of the historic Black community in Richmond. This Victorian Gothic house with a Colonial Revival porch and sunroom offers beautiful and typically Southern architecture to marvel at and serves as a landmark to the story of African-American history.

5. Beale Street Historic District, Memphis

Opened in 1841, Beale Street was an early site of many historic Black-owned businesses and has a rich musical history in its legendary jazz clubs. These have been graced by trailblazing pioneers of African-American music such as Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and B.B. King.

Spread over three blocks in Memphis, the Beale Street District has been declared a National Historic Landmark by Congress, and in 2020 it was added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, commemorating significant historical African-American landmarks.

The history of Memphis also has a tragic element, as it was the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s death. In 1968, King led a peaceful protest on Beale Street to support striking workers, and on returning a month later he was assassinated in the Lorraine Motel.

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6. Boston African American National Historic Site, Boston

Made up of 15 pre-Civil War structures, the Boston African American National Historic Site forms a 1.6 mile Heritage Trail dedicated to Black history.

The buildings located here include early historic African-American businesses and schools and the homes of abolitionists, many that helped escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad.

The Beacon Hill area was home to over half of Boston’s African-American population before the Civil War, making it home to many of Boston’s most significant landmarks in Black history.

You can take free two hour guided tours with park rangers during the summer months to hear the stories of Beacon Hill’s history first-hand.

7. Langston Hughes House, New York City

The home of Langston Hughes from 1947 to 1967, this New York brownstone building was given official status as a landmark in African-American history by New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1981.

The poet Langston Hughes led the Harlem Renaissance, and stated his work was about ‘people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten.’

Today, Hughes’ home is occupied by the I, Too Arts Collective who support emerging Black artists. Launched by a crowdfunding campaign in 2016 by a Harlem-based writer, this collective regularly host literary events.

The Langston Hughes House currently welcomes donations, sponsors and volunteers.

8. Eagle Saloon, Karnofsky Tailor Shop & House, and Iroquois Theater, New Orleans

The Eagle, Karnofsky and Iroquois buildings on South Rampart Street might be in disrepair now – but all served an important part of the early history of jazz in America.

Louis Armstrong grew up on Perdido Street, 15 minutes from jazz club, The Eagle Saloon. As an eleven-year old, Armstrong fired a pistol outside the Eagle and in a twist of fate, his community service gave him his first musical training.

The Iroquois Theater was the first stage Armstrong ever appeared on, winning a talent contest and the Karnofsky family owned several businesses in the area and provided the young Louis Armstrong with employment.

All three of these historic New Orleans buildings give a fascinating snapshot into this much-loved figure of African-American history.

9. Frogmore and Oak Alley Plantations, Louisiana

Former slave plantations in the South, including Louisiana, offer a powerful insight into pre-Civil War life in America for African-Americans, so prepared to be confronted with a history of violence against Black people.

Frogmore Plantation consists of 19 restored structures dating to the early 1800’s including the old living quarters of slaves. Your tour takes you inside lives on the plantation and lets you hear songs of slaves and freedmen.

Frogmore’s role in African-American history holds particular significance as it was used as a campsite by Union soldiers in the Civil War.

Frogmore’s preservation and modern use is thanks to the Tanner family’s desire to save these landmarks of African-American history from destruction. Today, they use its facilities for cotton harvesting for the garment business.

Built in 1837, Oak Alley Plantation is named for the distinctive sight of its canopy of oak trees (planted over three-hundred years ago) which shade the path leading to the house.

Follow this path to the Oak Alley mansion and you will see twenty-eight columns designed to mirror the twenty-eight oak trees that lead your way. A tour of the mansion and exhibits provide an immersive and affecting look at life on a plantation, while reminding us of a dark chapter of US history.

You can uncover these pieces of Black history on Trafalgar’s Tastes and Sounds of the South tour, which takes you to both plantations.

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10. Natchez National Cemetery, Mississippi

Natchez’s place in history is marked by being the oldest city on the Mississippi river, and this cemetery is built on a cliff overlooking it.

Natchez Cemetery was established in 1866 during The Civil War, a pivotal event in the African-American historical struggle and still America’s deadliest conflict.

For many Black soldiers fighting for freedom against the Confederate Army, Natchez was their place of burial. Hiram R. Revels – the first Black man elected to the Senate – is buried here, making it a must visit landmark of Black history.

Natchez Cemetery is open to visitors Monday-Friday from 8am-4.30pm for tours of the grounds, while self-guided walks are also encouraged – you can spend upward of two hours exploring.

11. Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Texas

Allen Chapel church, completed in 1914, was the work of famed African-American architect William Sidney Pittman. Its elegant exterior is based on the Tudor Gothic Revival style, seating over 1,350 people at capacity.

This landmark’s place in African-American history is marked by its title, which honours Richard Allen, a former slave who was the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal faith.

In 2011 the bell tower was hit by lightning, and you can donate in person or online to contribute to restoration work.

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