The new United States Civil Rights Trail, created nearly 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, commemorates the fight for equality and civil rights for African Americans across the American South.
The trail spans 14 states and Washington, D.C., highlighting more than 100 crucial landmarks and moments that changed the course of history in the USA.
While the traditional sites of the Civil Rights Movement are an integral part of America’s past and present, there are some lesser-known leaders and sites across the country that were equally important in the fight for freedom, both pre- and post-Civil Rights Movement.
1. Carter G. Woodson Park, Washington
Known as the “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson was one of the first scholars of African-American history. He founded “Negro History Week” in February 1926 in Washington, D.C., and lobbied extensively in schools and organizations to establish Black History Month as a nationwide institution.
His dream was not realized until 26 years after his death, when in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month.
2. Freedmen’s Colony, Roanoke Island, North Carolina
Roanoke Island, near the North Carolina mainland coast, became a Union-occupied territory during the Civil War in 1862 and subsequently a safe haven for slaves searching for freedom. Considered “contraband” of war and thereby granted freedman status, these former slaves established a church, several schools and a sawmill operation on the island and built more than 500 homes.
Most were forced to leave Roanoke Island at the end of the war, but in 2001, descendants from these pioneering African-Americans erected a marker to honor the site of the colony.
3. African Burial Ground National Monument, New York City
In 1991, federal General Services Administration construction workers discovered the skeletons of more than 400 men, women and children in the heart of lower Manhattan. Scientists confirmed it was a burial site from the 17th and 18th centuries, declaring it the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans.
In 2006, through Presidential Proclamation, then-President George W. Bush named the African Burial Ground a National Monument, making it the first national monument dedicated to Africans of early New York and Americans of African descent.
4. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, Missouri
African-Americans began playing baseball in the late 1800s before establishing their own organized league structure in 1920.
The legacy of these players is honored at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a 10,000-square-foot museum of interactive exhibits and films residing in the 18th and Vine district of Kansas City, a historic hub of African-American cultural activity.
5. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located along the banks of the Ohio River, the natural barrier that separated the slave-holding states of the South from the free states of the North.
Many slaves utilized the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses, to escape the brutalities of slavery on their way to freedom. The center details both the stories of ordinary people who fought for freedom during the dark period of American slavery, to contemporary freedom fighters that battle modern day slavery around the world.
6. Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, Walterboro, South Carolina
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first group of African-American military pilots to serve in the U.S. armed forces, but less is known about how hard they worked to prove their worthiness to fight. Their sheer determination is memorialized with a monument at the Lowcountry Regional Airport, what was then the Walterboro Army Airfield.
7. Melrose Plantation, Melrose, Louisiana
Melrose Plantation is a 200-year-old cotton and pecan plantation in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana built by and for free blacks. Although born a slave, Marie Thérèse Coincoin was purchased by and granted her freedom from Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, with whom she had ten children.
In 1796, her son Louis Metoyer built the majority of Melrose Plantation, including the Big House, by 1833. Today, visitors can tour the National Historic Landmark to learn about life on the plantation during the 19th century and about the families that lived on property after the Metoyers.
8. St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Oakland, California
One of the Black Panthers’ overlooked contributions was the Free Breakfast for Children program, where they prepared breakfast for children in poor neighborhoods before school. The first breakfast took place at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland, the primary meeting place of the party, eventually serving around 20,000 meals a week.
9 Buffalo Soldiers Monument, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
Post-Civil War, the all black 10th Cavalry Regiment who helped settle the western frontier earned the respect and nickname of “Buffalo Soldiers” from Native Americans, due to their fighting ability and courage under fire.
After lack of acknowledgment for decades, then-Major General Colin Powell led the effort in the 1990s to build a proper memorial at Fort Leavenworth, consisting of a 13-foot bronze statue of a Buffalo Soldier on horseback, a “Circle of Firsts” celebrating their achievements and the Charles Young Reading Room dedicated to the study of the Buffalo Soldiers.
10. African Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts
Built in 1806, the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston is the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States. It was centered in the heart of Boston’s 19th-century free black community on Beacon Hill, hosting many key leaders of the Abolitionist Movement.
In 1972, the building was acquired by the Museum of African-American History and restored to its 1855 appearance to host exhibits, tours, film screenings and lectures.
More on these locations
Carter G. Woodson Memorial Park, 900 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, no phone number
Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island, 1401 National Park Drive, Manteo, NC 27954, +1 (252) 473-2111
African Burial Ground National Monument, 290 Broadway, New York, NY 10007, +1 (212) 637-2019
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, 1616 E 18th St, Kansas City, MO 64108, +1 (816) 221-1920
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, +1 (513) 333-7500
Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, 537 Aviation Way, Walterboro, SC 29488, +1 (843) 549-2549
Melrose Plantation, 3533 Highway 119, Melrose, LA 71452, +1 (318)-379-0055
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 525 29th Street, Oakland, CA 94609, +1 (510) 832-6462
Buffalo Soldiers Monument, 881 McClellan Ave, Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027, +1 (913) 684-4021
African Meeting House, 46 Joy Street, Boston, MA 02114, +1 (617) 725-0022 ext. 330
Shayla Martin is a North Carolina-based writer and editor covering travel, cuisine and culture. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine and Delta Sky, among others.