This post on the best places to visit to honor Black History in North Carolina was originally published in February 2019 and updated in January 2022.
One of the reasons I rebranded to I’m Fixin’ to was to share favorite parts of my home state and to showcase parts of North Carolina. Each year, I enjoy incorporating a little more of my personal interests, particularly when it involves local history. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share some of the best places to visit to celebrate black history, perfect for a visit no matter what month of the year.
Celebrate Black History in North Carolina
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture: Charlotte, NC
Photo via Arch Daily
The Gantt Center was named for Charlotte‘s first African American mayor and has rotating and permanent exhibits and a variety of experiences for visitors. There is much to learn and experience in the Gantt center, and there are learning opportunities for children, adults, and families. Learn more here.
Duke Chapel: Durham, NC
A few years ago, I wrote an article detailing the history of the Duke Chapel in Durham for a local publication. There was quite a bit of that history that I was unaware of and thoroughly enjoyed my research for this article, including that architect Julian Abele was never able to see his finished project in person since he was not allowed on campus as a black man during the time. In 2016, Abele Quad was dedicated in memory and honor of his work on campus. Abele Quad goes up north to Chapel Quad with the Duke Chapel looming in the background. There is also a dedicated space in Duke Chapel with Abele’s history and contributions to the Duke community.
Hayti Heritage Center: Durham, NC
Photo via Hayti Heritage Center
Hayti Heritage Center in Durham is located in the once thriving business and residential district that Booker T. Washington called Black Wall Street. The Hayti Heritage Center offers a variety of programming that preserves and advanced the heritage and culture of historic Hayti and the African American experience that benefit the broader community. For more information, programming, and events, be sure to visit their website.
Harriet Jacobs Trail: Edenton, NC
Photo via Historic Women of the South Coast
Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, NC, escaped and became an influential author and abolitionist. There are self-guided tours through Edenton documenting Harriet Jacobs life and places that she wrote about plus guided tours in to provide more information at Jacobs life and influence in eastern North Carolina. For more information, click here.
Maritime Underground Railroad History Tour: Edenton, NC
In Edenton‘s Colonial Waterfront Park, join the Maritime Underground Railroad history tour. The Maritime Underground Railroad was a network of black watermen who helped arrange passage for formerly enslaved persons to freedom. This includes information on Harriet Jacobs, as her work provided one of the few written accounts of this network. For more information, click here.
Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum: Gibbonsville, NC
Photo via Wedding Wire
Founded in 1902 by Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Palmer Memorial Institute transformed the lives of more than 2,000 African American students. Today, the campus provides a setting where visitors can explore this unique environment where boys and girls lived and learned during the greater part of the 20th century. The museum links Dr. Brown and Palmer Memorial Institute to the larger themes of African American history, women’s history, social history, and education, as well as emphasizing the contributions of African Americans in North Carolina.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum: Greensboro, NC
Photo by TT Photography for I’m Fixin’ To
Located in downtown Greensboro in the F.W. Woolworth building, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum brings history to life and celebrates the nonviolent protests of the sit-in movement during the 1960s. Permanent exhibits include the F. W. Woolworth’s Lunch Counter, Presenting: the A&T Four, and Experience the Battlegrounds. Special and rotating exhibits are also on display on the first floor of the museum. For the current line-up, visit this page. While walk-ins are welcome, reservations are highly recommended.
Hillsborough’s African American History, A Walking Tour: Hillsborough, NC
Photo by GloryRoze Photography for I’m Fixin’ To
Hillsborough had a large population of freed blacks in the antebellum era, which was rare for a small southern town. African Americans created their own communities within the larger town, most of which can still be seen today. Unfortunately, much of this history has been overlooked and lost over time; however, historians are now bringing a new focus to this important part of Hillsborough’s past and are making new discoveries that Alliance volunteers are excited to share. Here is information to get started on this walking tour for background information.
Be sure to experience the history of the Burwell School and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly, who was enslaved at the Burwell School before purchasing her freedom and becoming Mary Todd Lincoln’s dress maker during her time at the White House. Elizabeth wrote a book detailing her experiences in 1868: Behind the Scenes of Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.
African American Heritage Tour: New Bern
Photo via Tryon Palace
As the first state capital of North Carolina, New Bern has a pretty well-documented Black history dating back to the early 1700s. Learn more about New Bern’s complex history from the 1700s through the 1960s using this walking guide. One point that I learned from this was the sit-ins that occurred in New Bern on March 17, 1960 at S.H. Kress and Co. Store and the Clark’s Drug Store, which was not something I was familiar with prior to our walking tour.
Life on the Lesser Stairs at Tryon Palace: New Bern
Tryon Palace has been building up its Black history resources, including the addition of the “Life on the Lesser Stairs” exhibit. This tour takes visitors down the back staircase to downstairs of the Palace, the stables, and the kitchen office and is included in part of the Tryon Palace tour. Learn more here.
Dorothea Dix Pop-Up Museum Exhibits: Raleigh, NC
Dix Park’s first-ever Pop-up Museum hosts two inspiring history exhibits: From Plantation to Park, presenting the layered history of Dix Hill and We Built This, a showcase of Black architects and builders in North Carolina. These exhibits run through February 27, 2022 in the Chapel Hill Events Center. Be sure to check this website for COVID protocols, hours of operation, and inclement weather updates.
From Plantation to Park: The Story of Dix Hill
This interactive exhibit traces the layered history of Dix Park from its earliest time as Native American hunting grounds, to plantation, to the founding of North Carolina’s first mental health hospital, and now as a public park. Presented by City of Raleigh Museum and Dix Park Conservancy, From Plantation to Park explores the legacy of the park site through the experiences of those who lived and worked on ‘Dix Hill’, encouraging us to honor it’s memory and identity while shaping the future of this public space for generations to come.
We Built This: Profiles of Black Architects & Builders in North Carolina
This multi-faceted educational exhibit showcases the history and legacy of Black builders and craftspeople in North Carolina. Created by Preservation North Carolina, Dix Park is the first stop for this traveling exhibit that highlights African American’s who designed and/or constructed many of North Carolina’s most treasured historic sites. Spanning more than three centuries, We Built This provides over two dozen personal profiles and historic context throughout eras of slavery and Reconstruction; founding of HBCUs and Black churches; Jim Crow and segregation; and the rise of Black civic leaders and professionals.
St. Philips Moravian Church: Winston-Salem, NC
Photo via The Moravian Church
St. Philips Moravian Church is the oldest-standing African American church in the state and is located in Old Salem. The church was built in 1861 and the Union victory in the Civil War was announced in this church in 1865 in Winston-Salem. The historic brick church is located in Old Salem Museum & Gardens.
Hidden Town Project: Uncovering Old Salem’s Unique African American History: Winston-Salem, NC
Photo via Visit Winston-Salem
Called Hidden Town, the groundbreaking project draws on the vast resources of the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem which safeguards the records of the Moravian Church in the South and includes photos and artifacts ranging from maps and historical data to journal entries, preserved objects, and personal memoirs. The records provide historical information that is not typically available for enslaved people. Old Salem is building information on individuals and the dynamics of the community with the goal to reconstruct a portrait of life for African Americans that has been largely overlooked, much like a hidden town living underneath the surface.
The Hidden Town Experience is part of the regular admission to historic Old Salem Museums & Gardens. To see all available ticket options, as well as an overview of upcoming programs, visit: https://www.oldsalem.org/visit/tours-tickets/
Visit NC has a list of additional places to explore here. If you have sites to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Black history is American history, and I look forward to these sites continuing to evolve their offerings and learnings as history is further contextualized.
While this is not an exhaustive list of places to visit for Black history in North Carolina, it is a list places that I have experienced for various learning opportunities. As a historian, I am passionate about learning and growing from the past to make for a better future. While our history includes diverse races and experiences, learning more about other people’s heritages provides an opportunity to acknowledge our country’s imperfections. By acknowledging this history, it also creates an opportunity to grow as a society and confront uncomfortable parts of history and celebrate the momentum forward.