When I was 10 years old, my father took me to visit Niagara Falls in New York State. I have memories of shivering in the cold mist there. I learned one fact during that trip that I still remember today. My father recounted to me that in the 19th century, Niagara Falls served as a vital stop on the underground railroad—a secret, informal network of people who sheltered escaped, formerly enslaved Black people. Our quick family trip to the falls turned into a Black history lesson because let's face it: Black history is everywhere.
Here are a few family-friendly destinations that provide opportunities to learn, or teach, Black history.
Carnival and Black History for Kids in New Orleans, Louisiana
Families often overlook New Orleans, assuming it is just an "adult" destination for boozing and carnival. New Orleans culture, a blend of Spanish, West African, Caribbean, French, and English influences, makes it a unique destination for food, music, and history in the United States. But the festive nature of the city is inclusive, which means kids can often partake in many events (minus the booze).
A family visit to this city must start with a tour of the Treme neighborhood and Congo Square, considered the birthplace of Jazz music. There, enslaved and free Black people would gather to play drums and dance to music on Sundays, their only day off.
The Whitney Plantation, just outside of New Orleans, helps people understand slavery from the perspective of the enslaved.
Families can also visit the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture museum to see floats and costumes from previous parades.
Alabama, the Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement
Heather Greenwood-Davis, National Geographic contributing editor, Black Canadian and fervent traveler, wanted her 13-year old son Cameron to understand the finer points of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. So she took him on a trip to visit Alabama, widely considered the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. Of the 130 sites on the U.S. Civil Rights trail, 29 are in Alabama.
In Birmingham, she and her son visited 16th Street Baptist Church which was bombed by Ku Klux Klan members in 1963, killing four young Black girls. There, Greenwood-Davis and her son met one of the survivors of the bombing, Carolyn McKinstry.
Alabama's capital is Montgomery, where the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott started. But the main attraction is Equal Justice Institute's Legacy Museum, which provides a comprehensive history of the United States on the legacy of slavery and mass incarceration.
Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge was the site of March 25's Bloody Sunday, when police attacked the Civil Rights activists as they marched from Selma to Montgomery.
Brazil, the Blackest Country Outside of Africa
Approximately half of Brazil's more than 200 million people identify as Black, making it the Blackest country outside of Africa.
Rio de Janeiro attracts the most tourists, but unfortunately, the city is more renowned for its beaches and nature than its Black history. That is slowly changing.
During slavery, Rio's ports received the largest number of captured Africans of any city in the Americas. Their descendants—Afro-Brazilians—created Rio de Janeiro's celebrated carnival parade more than 80 years ago, and today it is considered one of the greatest spectacles on earth.
Family travel blogger Monet Hambrick and her two daughters Jordyn and Kennedy visited Rio de Janeiro during their 2019 spring break. They hiked up a mountain, saw the Christ the Redeemer statue, danced to samba music , learned to cook Brazilian food, and attended a soccer game.
The trip resulted in a children's picture book, The Traveling Child Goes to Rio de Janeiro.
Joy and Sadness in Ghana
For Karen "Kay" Akpan and her family, a trip to Ghana four years ago brought moments of joy and sadness. Akpan is the digital content creator behind The MOM Trotter, a budget-friendly family travel blog. On their trip to West Africa, they visited the Cape Coast and Elmina Castle, where captured Africans were imprisoned until they were forced to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.
Akpan says that seeing the "door of no return" at Cape Coast Castle brought sadness upon her family. But the richness of Ghanaian culture and history helped them overcome this sadness. Their three-day trip to Accra included visits to Independence Square for fabric shopping, a hiking trip to the Kakum National Park, trips to nearby beaches, and Ghanaian food like jollof rice and plantains.
Niagara Falls Is Where Nature Meets Freedom
As its name suggests, a visit to the twin cities of Niagara Falls is a meeting with one of nature's most efficient energy creators— a waterfall. Niagara Falls is composed of three waterfalls, and they make up the most extensive waterfall system in North America.
As a city in New York State, Niagara Falls served as a key stop on the underground railroad. More than 40,000 Black people had to cross the Niagara River to reach freedom in Canada. The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center sits on the banks of the Niagara River, with Canada in sight, and its exhibitions tell the stories of those who crossed into Canada for freedom.
The Canadian side is just as rich in history: the Niagara Freedom Trail is a 35-mile trail that highlights historic Canadian moments that unfolded in the Niagara region.
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