I Am A Man Mural

Celebrate Black History Month in Memphis

South Main Street / Craig Thompson

This February, explore black history in-depth as you experience the struggles and triumphs, the music and movements, and the larger-than-life legends and unsung heroes at important historical sites, poignant museums, soulful recording studios and inspiring special events.­­

 Attractions, Museums & Historic Sites

National Civil Rights Museum

Perhaps the very first stop you should make during your black history pilgrimage is the National Civil Rights Museum. Located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony on April 4, 1968, this important museum is filled with Civil Rights history, and its comprehensive exhibits showcase 260 artifacts and interactive media to cover five centuries, from slavery in America and the Civil War to the 20th-century Civil Rights movement and modern-day issues. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore the exhibits—visitors are often surprised by how much time they take to experience the displays (and how truly moving they are).

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum

Learn more about slavery in America when you visit Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum housed inside the historic Burkle Estate, one of the Underground Railroad stops offering refuge for runaway slaves on their way to freedom. Or, stand at the epicenter of the South’s cotton economy—which relied on the hard labor of slaves—when you visit The Cotton Museum at the Memphis Cotton Exchange.

Ernest Withers Collection

Peek into the more recent past at the Ernest Withers Collection, a gallery featuring an expansive collection of photographs depicting life throughout the 20th century: musical legends, sports stars, pivotal events during the Civil Rights movement and daily life in Memphis.

Memphis Music Legends

B.B. King, W. C. Handy, Isaac Hayes, Hank Crawford—you can’t fully experience black history in Memphis without celebrating the musical greats and the chart-topping hits that changed the course of music forever. Celebrate black musicians across a range of genres, and take your pick from must-visit museums and attractions: The Blue's Foundation's Blues Hall of FameStax Museum of American Soul MusicSun StudioMemphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Memphis Music Hall of Fame and W.C. Handy Home and Museum.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reflection Park

See Richard Hunt’s sculpture “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” and even more Civil Rights Movement photos from the Withers Collection at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reflection Park. The park is located on the corner of S. Second Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Ave. and was built in commemoration of King’s impact on Memphis and the world.

I am a Man Plaza

Don’t forget to visit the “I am a Man” Plaza on Hernando Street next to Clayborn Temple. The new plaza was created to honor the sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968. Clayborn Temple was a key rallying point for the historic 1968 Memphis sanitation strike. The area features a sculpture along with a wall filled with the names of those who participated in the strikes.

First Baptist Beale Street

On Sunday mornings you can visit the oldest African-American congregation in Memphis, First Baptist Beale Street. Started in 1865 as a shelter for the thousands of rural freed men and women who came to Memphis during and after the Civil War, this magnificent structure is the first brick-constructed, multi-story church in the U.S. built for African Americans. It also housed the first black newspaper, The Memphis Free Speech, which was edited by Ida B. Wells. If the history of the church doesn’t move you, the service will.

Tom Lee Park

Two blocks away is Tom Lee Park. This riverside park serves as home of the Memphis in May International Festival and is named for Memphis’ greatest hero. In 1925, with the help of his tiny rowboat, local African-American resident Tom Lee (who could not swim) braved the Mississippi’s swirling currents to save 32 strangers from drowning when their excursion steamer sank. A statue at the center of the park pays tribute to Lee’s heroic efforts.

Memphis Heritage Trail

Walk the Memphis Heritage Trail and visit various historic markers scattered along downtown’s sidewalks to get a glimpse of history. The trail highlights the cultural impact and achievements of African Americans in our city with each marker depicting a historical figure or event that took place right here in Memphis.

Black History Tours

Memphis is the unique, culturally rich and diverse city it is today thanks in large part to African American achievement throughout the city's 200-year history. A Tour of Possibilities and Heritage Tours explore African American history in Memphis, from the Civil Rights Movement and music legends to historic churches and world famous Beale Street. 

National Civil Rights Museum / Raphael Tenschert
Withers Collection Museum & Gallery. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks
Four Way Soul Food / Alex Shansky

Arts, Entertainment & Dining 

As seen on Travel Channel, the Today Show and Good Morning America, stop by Alcenia's and get a big hug by Chef BJ. Once you taste her food, you know it was made with pure love. Or head to Soulsville for a meat and three and a live band on Thursday afternoons at the historic Four Way Grill, where Dr. King would frequent on his trips to Memphis and the Stax artists would grab lunch between long recording sessions. Get your Memphis barbecue fix at The Bar-b-que Shop on Madison in Midtown or Interstate Barbecue off of I-55. For more restaurants check out Memphis Black Restaurant Week which takes place March 8-14.

Discover the Orange Mound neighborhood, designated as a Preserve America Community by First Lady Michelle Obama. On your visit, catch a concert or art exhibition at The CMPLX, the headquarters for black arts collective The CLTV, a group that supports African-American artists, musicians, and creatives in Memphis. Then head next door to the Orange Mound Gallery for exhibits curated and created by local artists, including the Africa in April art exhibition that precedes the annual festival downtown. Learn how My Cup of Tea is helping the women of Orange Mound, located at The House In Orange Mound, and serves up locally created tea flavors like "Orange Mound Porch Peach", "Riverboat Queen Green Tea", and others. Call ahead for hours and availability. You can also find My Cup Of Tea products served and sold at other cafes and shops around town, too. 

Hattiloo Theatre

Catch a performance at the area’s only self-supporting Black theatre, Hattiloo Theatre. Each year, Hattiloo features an eight-production season, running from August through the following June.  

Public Art

Key figures of history are depicted around town through public art, statues and murals. In the South Main Arts District, you’ll find many astonishing murals, but none as impactful as the “I am a Man” mural on S. Main Street (between Talbot Ave. and Huling Ave) and the Civil Rights mural at the intersection of S. Main and MLK Ave.

Save The Date

DreamFest Weekend

Don’t miss your chance to hear the Memphis sound at DreamFest Weekend, Jan. 17-19, 2020. The weekend, which focuses on the collaboration and promotion of Memphis music and artists, is jampacked full of events and headlined by a concert on Friday Jan. 17.

King Day 

Honor of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the National Civil Rights Museum on King Day, Jan. 20, 2020.

Memorial of MLK Assassination

Around April 4th, look for days of remembrance at the National Civil Rights Museum in memoriam of the anniversary of Dr. King’s death. 

Africa in April

Celebrate African culture at the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival. This annual festival includes activities, food, performers and a parade in honor of the diverse cultures of Africa and their wide-ranging influence.

Juneteenth

Celebrate African-American freedom at the Juneteenth Urban Music Festival during father’s day weekend. This annual festival, held at Robert R. Church Park in downtown Memphis, features music of all varieties and focuses on respecting different cultures. 

WLOK Stone Soul Picnic

You won’t want to miss the WLOK Stone Soul Picnic at the Levitt Shell. With food trucks, concessions and free live music, this annual summer picnic guarantees family fun, while creating a sense of community. 

Soulsville USA Festival

Attend this annual festival to celebrate the cultural influence of Stax Records and the history of Memphis soul music. The festival features live music, dance demos, crafts, food trucks and free entry to Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The festival usually takes place in October each year.