Black History Vacations
In a city so influenced by African Americans, it’s no wonder that heritage is strongly embraced and celebrated here. Start your swing through Memphis’ culture at Church Park, near the corner of Beale and Fourth streets. The park was founded by Robert Church, best known as the South's first black millionaire and for helping the city rebuild after the yellow fever epidemic of the 1870s. Church’s park was the city’s first recreational center and auditorium for African Americans. Today, people from all walks of life come to enjoy fresh air and exercise as they stroll along its walking path, dine on picnic lunches beneath one of four pavilions or peruse the park’s historical markers and memorial.
Putting Down Roots
Although the road to equality was a long one – one that’s still being traveled – one Memphis landmark chronicles the entire journey. Explore exhibits on the civil rights movement at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where you can see the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood and stand with sanitation workers like Elmore Nickelberry, who proclaimed “I Am a Man.” Recently renovated, the museum encourages participation in human rights efforts around the world.
While some residents of Memphis were making major strides in the effort to gain equality, some were also changing the sound of popular music. Today, this sound – the blues – is alive and well in Memphis. On Beale Street, you can practically feel the blues in your veins as it spills out of nightclubs and as you stroll along street musicians playing it. Visitors can get the entire blues experience by visiting the W.C. Handy House & Museum, the shotgun house where you can see photos and memorabilia on a guided tour. (Also on Beale is the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery, where you can see 60 iconic civil rights images on display.)
Beale isn’t the only place to catch the sounds of Memphis. Tune into AM 1070 and hear R&B music coming over the airways from WDIA, the country’s first radio station programmed for African Americans.
Today on almost any R&B, pop or classic hits station you’ll likely hear Memphis again by way of a small recording studio called Stax Records. For 14 years, Stax turned out hit after hit by then-unknown artists such as Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Now the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, the studio welcomes the public to take part in the Stax experience. Stand in the very studio where these artists were transformed into stars. Immerse yourself in the Hall of Records, where every Stax album is displayed. Finally, let loose on the “Soul Train” Dance Floor, where that funky 1970s sound flows without stopping.
Full of Flavor
Soul food is widely available in the Bluff City and is loved by visitors and Memphians of all backgrounds.
Be sure to make a stop by Four Way Restaurant (the legendary Four Way Grill) for some of the best pork chops and fried green tomatoes in the city. It’s no wonder why – this restaurant began serving the community long before the term “soul food” was ever coined.
Speaking of community, for an experience that feels like going home to Mama’s visit Alcenia’s, where proprietress Ms. B.J. will greet you with a hug when you walk through the door. (If you can, go for Saturday brunch and try the famous salmon croquette!)
Need more restaurant ideas? Check out some of the best Memphis restaurants.
Celebrating Our Culture
Memphis loves a good party, and what better to celebrate than its heritage? Each April, Church Park is alive with African music, food and entertainment during the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival. In June, the celebration moves to Douglass Park for the Juneteenth Freedom & Heritage Festival. In honor of the end of slavery, this festival features storytellers, live music and tributes to the accomplishments made on the road to civil rights.