More African-Americans traveling to historical sites


January 15, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EST

From Reporter Kalin Thomas-Samuel

(CNN) -- To commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., many tourists are visiting his gravesite in Atlanta, Georgia.

But black historical sites are popular not only during special events. Today's tourists, especially African-Americans, are making more trips throughout the year to destinations rich in ethnic or cultural history. It's the newest market in the travel industry, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.


Caletha Powell of the African-American Travel and Tourism Association Inc. traces the trend to the publication and popularity of Alex Haley's book "Roots" in the 1970s. Whatever its beginnings, interest has grown dramatically, and many tourist bureaus have begun promoting their black historical attractions. (153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)

"What we're doing now is research to determine what significant contributions have been made and packaging that into black heritage brochures," Powell said. "Lots of states are doing those now, adding those into the welcome centers and into the state tourism offices and convention and visitors bureaus."

Interest in African-American history stretches beyond the borders of the United States. Harlem, New York, is popular with European tourists. They remember the Apollo Theater as the place where artists such as Gladys Knight and the Pips and James Brown got their start. Another popular Harlem site is Sylvia's soul food restaurant.

Black historical treasures also can be found in Detroit, Michigan. There, the original Motown studio has been turned into a museum where many African-American contributions to popular music are on display.

In Chicago, the DuSable Museum -- named for John Batiste DuSable, a black man who founded the city -- is just one of the many museums teaching travelers about black history.


Powell helped develop an African-American tourism brochure for her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. "When international visitors come (to New Orleans), they want the jazz. They want the Creole food. They want the ambiance," Powell said. "They like to visit the French Quarter and see the iron work that was done by African-Americans."

And, of course, the history of the civil rights era also is popular with tourists.

lunch counter

In the nation's capital, the Smithsonian Institution is welcoming visitors with a fairly new exhibit from the civil rights movement. In the exhibit, tourists can find the lunch counter from the Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, where four African-American students grabbed attention with the "sit-in" movement.

"What America is really known for is its cultural diversity," Powell said. "This is what makes it interesting for international visitors to come and spend the money that they spend in America."

With African-Americans spending more than $30 billion a year on travel, U.S. tourism bureaus are finding that diversity makes good sense, not to mention good dollars.



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