One of the best ways to honor Black History Month is by taking a road trip to Memphis, Tennessee, a city steeped in Black American history and culture. Memphis is known for its music scene, significant role in the civil rights movement, and deep-rooted African American heritage.

Stop 1: Starting the Journey

Before embarking on your road trip to Memphis, it’s essential to plan your route and accommodations. Depending on your starting point, you may want to consider stops in other cities along the way, such as Atlanta, Birmingham, or Nashville, to explore additional Black history sites. Book lodging in advance, as Memphis can get busy during Black History Month.

Stop 2: The National Civil Rights Museum 

Your first stop in Memphis should be the National Civil Rights Museum. This museum, housed at the Lorraine Motel, is the site of the tragic 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It stands as a striking monument to the American fight for civil rights. The exhibits walk you through the history of the civil rights movement, from slavery to the present day. They also provide a deep understanding of the challenges faced by African Americans in the fight for equality.

Stop 3: Beale Street

Memphis downtown
Photo credit: Heidi Kaden

After immersing yourself in the history of the civil rights movement, take a stroll down Beale Street, often referred to as the “Home of the Blues.” Beale Street has been a hub for African American musicians and artists for generations. You can still feel the powerful energy and musical spirit as you explore the numerous clubs, restaurants, and shops along the street. Beale Street is an enduring symbol of African Americans’ impact on the music industry.

Stop 4: Stax Museum of American Soul Music 

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music is a must-see on every Memphis trip. Stax Records was a legendary record label that released some of the most memorable soul and R&B songs of the 1960s and 1970s. Artists like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Booker T. & the M.G.’s made Stax Records their home. Today, their music continues to influence generations of musicians. The Stax Museum tells the story of this influential label and its impact on American music. Plus, it gives visitors a chance to appreciate the African American contributions to soul music.

Stop 5: Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

To gain a deeper understanding of the African American experience during the time of slavery, make a stop at the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. This historic site was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used to help enslaved African Americans escape to freedom. The museum provides insight into the harrowing journey to freedom and the courageous individuals who risked everything to assist those seeking liberty.

Stop 6: Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum

Continue your journey through the musical heritage of Memphis by visiting the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. This museum looks into the origins of rock and soul. Most importantly, it highlights the influential role played by African American performers. It also honors the many musical traditions originating in the African American heritage of the Memphis sound, including rock ‘n’ roll and blues. 

Stop 7: The Cotton Museum 

To understand the economic and social impact of the cotton industry on African Americans, visit The Cotton Museum. Cotton was a vital cash crop in the South. Its cultivation played a significant role in the history of slavery and the struggle for civil rights. This museum offers insights into the cotton industry’s history, including the labor and contributions of African American workers.

As you wrap up your road trip through Memphis, Tennessee during Black History Month, you will have gained a profound appreciation for the African American history and culture that permeates the city. This road trip serves as a reminder that Black history is not just a part of the past; it is a living, breathing, and essential part of American history that deserves recognition and celebration year-round.