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A Guide to African-American Heritage : Black History Month Focuses Attention on Landmarks Across the United States

February 07, 1993|SUSAN LaTEMPA | LaTempa is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer.

Any visitor returning to the United States after a hiatus of 10 or 20 years might quickly notice the growing wealth of exhibits, memorials, markers, special collections, restored homes, churches and other buildings commemorating African-American history and culture.

Many notable museums have been established--from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis to the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver to the not-yet-opened Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

"Living History" programs--featuring guides/actors in period dress (i.e., Williamsburg, Virginia and the Henry Ford Museum Greenfield complex in Dearborn, Mich.)--have been expanded to offer au thentic re-creations of African-American life during the period represented.

But even now, as Black History Month begins, finding out about the black heritage sites in any given travel itinerary takes some planning. Some states with impressive African-American historic sites don't yet include them in printed information for travelers. (And, despite our best efforts, we may have missed some that do.) Other states have such listings, but they're not always available through centralized sources like state tourism departments. On the other hand, some regions are beautifully documented and planning tools are an easy toll-free phone call away.

Following is a current guide to where to go for information on many African-American landmarks across the country. When you're planning a vacation, check these resources. Allow plenty of time. Free government tourism publications are sent fourth class and will take three or more weeks to arrive; books will often need to be ordered by your bookstore or library.

National

The National Park Service maintains many of the country's most significant African-American history landmarks. We often think of national parks as wilderness areas, but the system includes historic sites and urban landmarks as well.

National park rangers offer tours and information not only at parks that are specifically designated as African-American historic sites, but also focus in particular on black history at other established sites. Boston's Black Heritage Trail, for example, is a part of the Boston National Historic Park. Information about any site in the national park system may be obtained from any regional National Parks Service office, or by writing to your congressional representative.

The service also publishes an annual "Index," a descriptive listing of National Park System areas by state. Here you'll find listings for the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond, Va.--the home of an ex-house-slave's daughter who became a bank president--and the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. (named for the educator and presidential adviser), as well as for other sites listed below. In addition to the Index, brochures on the following sites are free and may be ordered by calling the local office of the National Park Service. In the L.A. area, that number is (818) 597-1036.

* Tuskegee Institute National Historic site, Tuskegee, Ala.

* Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta.

* Boston National Historic Park, Boston.

* George Washington Carver National Monument, Diamond, Mo.

* Ft. Davis National Historic Site (one of the posts of the late-19th-Century Buffalo Soldiers, all-black cavalry and infantry units, Ft. Davis, Tex.

* Booker T. Washington National Monument, southeast of Roanoke, Va.

* Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C.

* Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Alabama

One of the most conflict-ridden states during the Civil Rights era, Alabama seemsto be a model state when it comes to African-American heritage tourism. The state's tourism office claims to have been the first in the country to publish a guide detailing African-American historic sites when in 1983 it issued "The Alabama Black Heritage Trail." Only Florida has as extensive and beautifully illustrated a publication devoted to the subject of black heritage landmarks.

A revised edition, titled "Alabama's Black Heritage," has just been issued. It has 163 entries and a cover picturing the state's impressive new Civil Rights Memorial located in Montgomery and designed by Maya Lin, who conceived the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Historic sites are located by community and suggested itineraries help travelers plan one-day to one-week tours. Special festivals and events such as the Black Mardi Gras in Mobile and the W.C. Handy Music Festival, named after the famous Alabama blues man, also are detailed. To obtain a free copy, call 1-800-ALABAMA.

California

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