Family looking at portraits at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia

National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by @gcalebjones

Best Places for Families to Experience African American History

From Atlanta to Savannah, these powerful experiences in Georgia bring African American history to life.

One of the best ways to learn about history is to experience it. Museums, lectures and books are all helpful, but walking through history in someone else’s shoes can be life-changing. Plus, “doing something” helps keep children entertained and engaged.

You can experience African American history in Georgia in a myriad of ways. Check out these experiences available throughout the state that will immerse you in African American history and teach you more than any book about the Black experience in this state.

These examples are all appropriate for families with children of all ages and will help to bring history, from slavery through the civil rights movement, to life.

8 Best Ways to Experience African American History in Georgia

Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta

Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia

Listen to Dr. King's sermons at Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

A fantastic place to experience African American history is at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. The Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church is filled with history, reverence and meaning. It is the place where Dr. King’s father was a pastor. It’s where Dr. King was baptized and was later co-pastor. It also hosted the funeral of Dr. King. One of the greatest American men to ever live spent much of his 39 years in and around this church. It should not be skipped!

Tremendous restoration work has been done on the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church to resemble how it looked during Dr. King’s tenure, 1960-1968. Take time to sit in the upper sanctuary and listen to the booming voice of Dr. King as recordings of his sermons are played continuously. While you’re there, appreciate the careful preservation of the original stained-glass windows. The African American church was the backbone of the civil rights movement, so it is logical that this church carried, and still carries today, historical significance within the civil rights struggle. Experience what it would have been like if you could attend Sunday service here in the 1960s.

Ma Rainey House and Blues Museum in Columbus

Ma Rainey House and Blues Museum in Columbus, Georgia

Visit the Ma Rainey house in Columbus

Known as the "mother of the blues," Ma Rainey was born and raised in Columbus. After making her fortune in Chicago and elsewhere from 1900 to 1935, she returned to her hometown and eventually bought two theaters for other African American acts. Her lovely home fell into disrepair but is now restored as the Ma Rainey House and Blues Museum. Historians say Ma Rainey was largely illiterate but composed more than 100 songs and became a shrewd businesswoman at a time when being African American and female were two enormous strikes against you. Free tours are offered of this large, pale yellow two-story building.

Buffalo soldiers exhibit at the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville, Georgia

Buffalo soldiers exhibit at the Jack Hadley Black History Museum in Thomasville, Georgia. Photo by @gcalebjones

Explore exhibits in Thomasville

Learn about some of America’s and Thomasville’s first Black achievers at Jack Hadley Black History Museum. The museum was created in 1995 by James "Jack" Hadley, who served in the Air Force for 28 years and then worked for the United States Postal Service for another 12 years. In his spare time, he collected more than 4,700 pieces of African American artifacts telling the story of Black American history throughout our country. Take a tour and leave with a deeper knowledge and facts that you never knew.

Bus exhibit at the Albany Civil Rights Institute in Albany, Georgia

Bus exhibit at the Albany Civil Rights Institute in Albany, Georgia

Learn about the civil rights fight in Albany

The Albany Civil Rights Institute is an experiential museum of photographs, hands-on educational exhibits and oral histories.  The Albany Civil Rights Institute lets visitors experience how the civil rights movement affected Albany, and how Albany affected the civil rights movement. It is located in Old Mt. Zion Church, a restored church dating back to 1906. The museum details the struggles Albany residents, as well as others in the South, experienced during this crucial time in history. Learn about the push for voter registration, economic boycotts, nonviolent protests, and even the freedom songs sung during the civil rights struggle.

Woman at the lunch counter experience at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia

National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by @gcalebjones

Sit at the lunch counter at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Have you ever wondered if you would have been able to stand up for freedom? Or sit in for the rights of African Americans? If you ever thought you’d like to know what it would have felt like, head to the lunch counter exhibit at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. When you take a seat at an innocuous-looking lunch counter and slip on the headphones, you’ll be thrown into what you would hear and feel if you had been a protestor at one of the many sit-ins in the South. Ordinary protestors came by the thousands to protest the segregation of restaurants and public places in the South. [Note: Parents may not wish to have young children experience this exhibit. It feels so real; it may be frightening.]

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is one of the most magnificent places to not just learn about the civil rights movement, but to actually experience it yourself. This museum is home to some of the most dramatic, sobering, and incredibly realistic exhibits on the civil rights era and beyond.

Bicycle tour at John Lewis mural in Atlanta, Georgia

Bicycle Tours of Atlanta at the John Lewis mural in Atlanta, Georgia

Take a civil rights bike tour in Atlanta

For a unique way to learn about African American history in Georgia, hop on a bike! The Atlanta's Journey for Civil Rights tour by Bicycle Tours of Atlanta highlights stories leading up to the Civil War, the challenges of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. From street murals to heritage sites, to historically and culturally important landmarks, this three-hour tour is an active, calorie-burning way to get your history lesson.

Smith Family Farm at Atlanta History Center

Smith Family Farm at Atlanta History Center in Atlanta, Georgia

Walk through authentic slave quarters at the Atlanta History Center

This may be one of the most emotionally charged African American history experiences. The Atlanta History Center offers many opportunities to learn about all Georgians, including the ones who were once enslaved in this state. The Smith Family Farm is a fitting example. It includes the oldest surviving farm house in Atlanta, built in the 1840s. Visitors can walk through this large, well-preserved home, as well as outbuildings a house of that size would have had in Georgia. One of those outbuildings is a replica of slave quarters. There are often reenactors who are happy to answer questions and tell visitors about the truth about slavery, in age-appropriate language. While the slave quarters are decidedly nicer than ones most slaves lived in during the 1800s, there is a stark difference between the plantation home for the white Smith family, and the shack for their slaves. While slavery is difficult to talk about, witnessing the inequalities firsthand is sure to make an impression.

Pin Point Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia

Pin Point Heritage Museum in Savannah, Georgia. Photo by Geoff Johnson

Take tours in Savannah & Tybee Island

Put on your walking shoes for the Footprints of Savannah tour, which gives a genuine recount of Savannah’s Black history. Or, take a 90-minute bus tour with Savannah Black History Tours and learn about the city's rich Black history dating back to 1526. The bus tour for up to 12 people is a celebration of Black history, from enslavement to inspiring success stories, and it includes 20 sites and interactive exhibits.

Later, venture just outside of Savannah to Pin Point Heritage Museum. The museum in a former Crab & Oyster factory offers an authentic look into Gullah Geechee culture with guided tours from residents who grew up in the community.

On nearby Tybee Island, follow the Tybee Island Black History Trail, tracing 13 locations that uncover parts of the island's history and geographies that remain unfamiliar to most people. Learn about the arrival of enslaved Africans, the ways Jim Crow impacted Black Tybee residents, the thriving community of fishermen with Gullah Geechee roots, successful Black entrepreneurs and more.

Published: February 2024
Written by: Maria Smith
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