African American History

5 Destinations for a Deep South Road Trip

Cross-post from the Cook Ross blog. [Link]

Summer is in full swing, making it the perfect time for a classic road trip. Here are a few suggestions to add to any Southern travels for a worthwhile dose of American history.

Louisiana State University’s Rural Life Museum

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Strap on a comfortable pair of boots and head over to the open air Rural Life Museum for an extensive exploration into centuries of Louisiana history. The Exhibit Barn includes hundreds of artifacts from everyday rural life, including a first edition of Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave and a robust collection of quilts, carriages, and everything between. The experience continues outdoors to the collection of relocated original buildings that compose the Plantation Quarters and Louisiana Folk Architecture collections.

Canton Freedom House Civil Rights Museum

Canton, Mississippi

Thirty minutes north of Jackson, housed in the original site of the local headquarters for Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), sits a testament to the power of the people. Renovated, operated, and curated by Director Glen Cotton, this homegrown museum is a tribute to Cotton’s grandfather, who lived across the street and owned a store next door. Canton Freedom House tells the histories of CORE, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the struggle for universal voting rights through the experiences of long-time Canton residents and the greater Madison County. The museum houses original photos and artifacts, many of which are not available anywhere else.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Jackson, Mississippi

How does a state, whose history is steeped in the systemic oppression of African Americans, continue the path of reconciliation? The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum answers this question with eight interactive galleries outlining the triumphs, sacrifices, and journey of the freedom struggle. Signs alerting guests to graphic content creates a museum experience that is simultaneously appropriate for children without diminishing or glossing over the gravity of the history for adults.

Also check out: The Museum of Mississippi History is steps away and contextualizes the freedom struggle within the greater state narrative.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Montgomery, Alabama

In 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice to serve as the nation’s first memorial to confront the legacy of racial terror. The outdoor memorial takes visitors on a somber journey of reflection as they walk the path around and through the central square. Sculptures, quotes, and passages guide the way in and out to set the stage and provoke contemplation. The square consists of 800 six-foot metal boxes, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place, each inscribed with the victims’ names. Experiencing this memorial leaves an indelible mark on the soul.

Also check out: The Legacy Museum, also run by the EJI, is within walking distance. Shuttle service is available between both locations.

Dexter Parsonage Museum

Montgomery, Alabama

Montgomery offers a lot for history buffs to explore and unpack. With a long list of options, don’t overlook the unique experience of the Dexter Parsonage Museum. Twelve Dexter Street Baptist Church pastors lived here, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who resided here from 1954-1960. Learn about the community’s work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the church’s impact in the movement. Notable points include unreleased photos of Dr. King, many original furnishings, and the violent imprint left in the concrete porch following the 1956 bombing.

Also check out: Tuskeegee is about 45 minutes east of Montgomery and worth the trip. Consider the Tuskeegee History Center for a comprehensive overview of the region. But if you’re headed west, stop in Selma to check out the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute.