The United States and black travelers have a complex history. The relationship between this country and African American travelers hasn’t always been easy. During the era of Jim Crow laws, black Americans relied on a handbook guide The Negro Motorist Green Book, so they planned trips around the country only visiting places deemed as safe spaces. The guide book included hotels, restaurants, swimming clubs, and more that would openly welcome black travelers.
Though that dark chapter of our history has passed, the woes of being a black traveler haven’t completely disappeared. There is still much anxiety felt around being a black person and visiting a new state for the first time. As black travelers, we often turn to the black travel movement happening online in search of places that have already been vetted by others in the black travel community. The online black travel movement is our modern day Green Book.
If you’re a black traveler looking for your next US city worth exploring and to connect with other black communities while you’re there, check out this list of the six best US travel destinations to add to your list for 2019.
1. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta has long been a go-to for black folks looking to travel to a place where we can find each other. The southern city continues to evolve as a music hub and a place where black businesses are thriving. Whether for the food, nightlife, or history, a visit to Atlanta is crucial for black travelers wanting to experience the roots of black America.
Nightlife is a big part of Atlanta’s draw. During your trip be sure to check out these black-owned lounges: Negril Village, The Cigar Bar, and M Bar Atlanta. By the early 2000s, trap music was birthed in Atlanta, and it has since inspired an entire era of rap music. Trap music is so popular that Atlanta-born rapper T.I. opened a trap music museum celebrating the culture of the Georgia city. Artists like Jermaine Dupri, T.I., Outkast, and Usher, all hail from ATL.
Atlanta has more than just famous musicians, however. The city was at the heart of the civil rights movement and was home to revolutionaries like Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis. Black travelers looking to learn more about the history of civil rights in the city should take a walking tour through the Martin Luther King Jr. district. The suggested route will take you through the resting place of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Freedom Hall, Dr. King’s Birth Home, and more monumental sites.
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Heather Balenger is a black travel blogger living in Atlanta. When speaking with her about some of the black-owned restaurants black travelers should visit, she mentioned the city’s array of southern comfort food. Balenger suggests grabbing a table at Richard’s Southern Fried Chicken, a staple in the city. Richard’s serves up an innovative take on traditional Vietnamese pho, and it’s called collard green pho. The dish features fried chicken and collard green noodles — an Atlanta delicacy indeed.
2. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is known for a lot of things: sports, history, and music among them. While the city is a big part of America’s history, it is also the pulse of some of the country’s most important black leaders and movements. Black travelers have to visit the liberty city in 2019 because there’s so much to explore.
Abena Bempah, travel blogger and Philadelphian, says, “The city is a must for black travelers intrigued by the origins of the nation and blackness in America.” Philadelphia gave us musical icons like Teddy Pendergrass, Pattie Labelle, The Roots, Meek Mill, and so many more. These artists have collectively shaped soul, neo-soul, and hip hop music — which has inevitably become synonymous with US culture itself. Bempah explains that you can’t visit the city without experiencing the sounds of Philadelphia’s up and coming artists.
For lovers of jazz music add black-owned South Jazz Kitchen to your list. They serve up a multi-course dinner with New Orleans-inspired dishes and accompanying live jazz performance. Besides food, Philadelphia is the home to a lot of art. The African American Museum has a large collection of photographs, paintings, and even an interactive exhibit showcasing the stories of black people in this country. In a less traditional sense, you can find street art painted all over the city. In the 1960s Darryl McCray known by his tagging name, Cornbread, is known to have started the graffiti movement in Philadelphia. Graffiti as a form of expression spread to New York City shortly after and is now practiced worldwide. If you want to see Philly’s best street art, Abena recommends heading to the Spring Arts district where some of the city’s best murals are on display.
3. Detroit, Michigan
Famously known as the Motor City, Detroit has long been a prominent city for black culture. In its heyday, the Midwest city rose to fame for its innovation in the automobile and music industries. Specifically, Detroit birthed Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Motown itself. Now, Detroit is still a music-loving city packed with festivals, plenty of restaurants, and a whole lot of black history.
Visiting Detroit at any time of year is sure to be special, but the city really comes alive in the summer. In conversation with Jessica Nabongo, world traveler and writer, the Detroit native explained that her hometown has a lot of history for visitors to explore. From the city’s African American history exhibited at the Charles H. Wright Museum to the many exciting music festivals, Detroit should be at the top of every black traveler’s list for 2019.
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For travelers looking to learn more about Detroit’s role in black history, a visit to the Charles H. Wright Museum is a must. The museum was founded in 1965 and features powerful permanent and rotating exhibitions. The fixed exhibit, And Still, We Rise, takes visitors on a journey through the history of African American people from the beginning to the present day. Currently, there is a photographic journey of President Barack Obama’s journey on display called American Odyssey.
Black travelers wanting to connect with the city musically should head to town in May for Movement Music Festival. Nabongo says, “A lot of people don’t know that Detroit is the birthplace of house music.” Movement is a three-day festival celebrating electronic music, and it has been happening along Detroit’s riverfront since 2000.
The festivals don’t just stop there though. Detroit Jazz Festival happens every September over Labor Day weekend and is a great way to experience the city’s long-standing musical history. Nabongo shares, “Any music you want, you can find here.” This year alone major artists like DMX, 2 Chainz, and India Arie are all set to perform in the Motor City.
Detroit is also home to some great restaurants. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, head to black-owned Sweet Potato Sensations. Sweet Potato comes in many forms here — from waffles to sweet potato cornbread. If savory is more your thing, grab a table at Savannah Blue, a restaurant serving up southern style dishes with a Detroit twist. And if you’re vegan, Detroit Vegan Soul has you covered.
4. Oakland, California
When East Coasters think of California, Los Angeles is usually the first place that comes to mind. For black travelers who are looking to experience another part of California, head to the Bay Area to experience Oakland. From being the legendary birthplace of the Black Panther party to being the home of multiple present-day social movements, Oakland has always been a place of refuge for black people. Now, it is being recognized as a travel destination with so much to see, do, and eat.
Ashleigh Reddy, a photographer and traveler known online as stayreddy, says Oakland is a place that black folks have to experience. If you enjoy being outdoors while traveling, then add this city to the top of your travel list. “There’s so much natural beauty from Lake Merritt to parks like Joaquin Miller State Park that hosts concerts and boasts hiking trails.” Outdoor lovers may also enjoy the Black Joy Parade. Starting in 2018, The Black Joy Parade is a festival celebrating the collective black experience. The parade is held in February during Black History Month, and Reddy described it as being one of the greatest showcases of melanin power.
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Ideally, travelers should plan to be in town for the city’s First Fridays celebration. The monthly event features entertainment, food, and authentic Oakland culture. Reddy says “First Fridays is poppin’ and errrbody is out! You can see art, try new foods, hit up local bars, and always meet new folks.” For traveling foodies, be sure to check out black-owned restaurants like Brown Sugar Kitchen for comforting soul food or Everett and Jones for hearty BBQ.
She recommends ending your weekend with a stroll around Jack London Square to check out local vendors and listen to live music while chilling on the bay. Although Oakland’s black population isn’t as large as it once was, black travelers will still find thriving black-owned businesses to discover around the city.
5. Baltimore, Maryland
If it’s fresh seafood, a diverse black population, and East Coast meets Southern hospitality that you want, Baltimore is a great choice. The appeal of the harborside city is in its laid-back feel, rich black culture, and world-famous food. It’s easy to fall in love with Baltimore, and for a city that is nearly 65 percent African American, black travelers will not have a problem finding new places that feel like home. This is my hometown, and it is so much more than its famous Inner Harbor, especially for black travelers.
From black cultural festivals to some of the best food on the East Coast, Baltimore has plenty of black-owned businesses for travelers to explore. You can’t come to Charm City without dining at one of our food halls. Lexington Market has been open in Baltimore since 1782 and has long been a staple in the black community. The market sells produce and famous local dishes like crab cakes and fried chicken boxes.
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If you’re in town for the weekend, be sure to dine at one of the city’s many black-owned brunches. For delicious red velvet pancakes, check out Teavolve in Harbor East. Stick around until Monday night for the popular weekly open mic night. Other honorable mentions include Water For Chocolate and community-first cafe Doveocote Cafe.
If you aren’t sure when to plan your visit, Summer is an exciting time to visit Baltimore. Every year since 1976 the city has hasted AFRAM, one of the largest festivals celebrating African American culture on the East Coast. The festival is held in Baltimore’s iconic Druid Hill Park and has welcomed artists like Ella Mai and Baltimore-born group Dru Hill. It’s an event that my friends and I never miss. Travelers will love the community feels at this celebration of black culture.
6. New Orleans, Louisiana
Much of America’s black history is steeped in the South, and New Orleans has a significant role in that narrative. Visitors to the city often talk about the appeal of Bourbon Street, but the city has a lot more to offer.
Although a trip to New Orleans is always a good idea, black travelers might be interested in visiting the city during some of its most famous festivals celebrating black culture. Rondel Holder, the founder of online black travelers community Soul Society 101, recommends visiting New Orleans for Essence Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Voodoo Festival, and of course, Mardi Gras.
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Essence Festival is hosted every summer by the legendary Essence Magazine and is in its 25th year in 2019. The celebration decorates the Big Easy every July, bringing celebrities like Mary J. Blige and Nas to perform. After the success of the movie Girls Trip, Essence Festival has become even more popular, making it a great time to explore the city.
New Orleans wouldn’t be quite the same without jazz music. Lovers of the genre and its fusions like hip hop will love the variety of live music found all across the city. Holder says, “The city is so rich in culture, particularly its Black culture.” Travelers wanting to connect with New Orleans black culture must head to Bourbon Street’s lesser-known cousin, Frenchmen Street. Located in the French Quarter, you’ll find jazz music pumping out of corner bars, such as Vaso. Hip hop and brass band lovers should head to Blue Nile. When the venues close around 3:00 AM the liveliness continues outside. Typically the street is lined with interesting people and black chefs selling some of the best gumbo and sausages in town.
Foodies will also not be disappointed in this city because it’s full of amazing cuisine from black-owned restaurants like the family-owned Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Holder recommends trying iconic dishes like etouffee, fried alligator, gumbo, and po’ boys. When you’re not eating your way through the city, rest your head at the black-millennial-owned boutique hotel, The Moor, which doubles as an art exhibition. New Orleans is often described as a city that doesn’t feel like it belongs in the US. The complex history of the city created a beautiful fusion of West African and French culture, making it one of the most unique destinations to visit.