I Am A Man Mural

Celebrate Black History Month Year-Round in Memphis

South Main Street / Craig Thompson

Note: With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, operating hours and capacity may vary. Please call ahead or check social media before visiting area businesses, attractions and restaurants.

In Memphis, you can feel the struggles and triumphs, experience the music and movements, and discover the legends and unsung heroes of Black History. Important historical sites, poignant museums, soulful recording studios and inspiring special events point the way, whether you visit during Black History Month or beyond. While some of our sites are currently closed due to COVID-19, there are still safe ways to celebrate Black History Month 2021 in Memphis. Read on for details.

Black History Attractions, Museums, Historic Sites & Tours

National Civil Rights Museum

While the National Civil Rights Museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, you can still visit the plaza outside the museum. Here, you'll see the door to room 306 where Dr. King stayed while he was in the city supporting upstanders, and the balcony where he was assassinated. A wreath marks the spot and cars from the era are parked beneath. The museum also continues to host virtual events while it remains closed.

When the museum is open, it's a good first stop on your Black history pilgrimage in Memphis. Located at the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 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

While the attraction is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, it's still worth driving by to see this preserved structure and the magnolia trees out front, which were planted to signal runaway slaves that the estate was a safe haven. 

When open, you can learn more about slavery in America at 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. Even if the Withers Collection isn't open on your visit, walk by to extend your stroll down historic Beale Street.

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 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 Blues 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. Be sure to call ahead to check operating hours — but remember that the Blues Hall of Fame and Stax Museum make great photo ops even when they're not open.

Guided Black History Tours

Visit a sampling of Memphis' Black history sites on a guided tour. A Tour of Possibilities is offering a Caravan Tour option in response to COVID-19. Tour the city from the comfort of your own car, following behind your guide and listening to her narration using a smartphone link. Heritage Tours is another option, and your tour guide may even be able to share personal experience of participating in local civil rights campaigns in the 1960s. 

 

Parks & Self-Guided Tours

These outdoor spaces, DIY tours and walk-by monuments are a great way to experience Black history in Memphis while staying socially distanced.

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 MLK50, a year-long event commemorating Dr. King's legacy 50 years after his death.

I Am A Man Plaza

Visit “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 this historic strike. The area features a sculpture along with a wall filled with the names of those who participated in the movement.

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. Walk by as you explore Beale Street.  

Tom Lee Park

Two blocks from Beale Street is Tom Lee Park. This green space on the Mississippi River 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, and the park itself is a nice place to walk with river and downtown views. 

Memphis Heritage Trail

Walk the Memphis Heritage Trail to discover historic markers throughout downtown. Trail markers highlight 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.

Public Art

Key figures and moments in Black history are depicted around Memphis through public art, statues and murals. In the South Main Arts District, you’ll find many gripping examples, but don't miss the “I Am A Man” mural on South Main Street between Talbot Avenue and Huling Avenue or the 80-foot-tall mural at the intersection of South Main and MLK Avenue, depicting milestones and icons in Memphis black history. 

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

Arts, Entertainment & Dining 

 

Dining

As seen on Travel Channel, the Today Show and Good Morning America, Alcenia's is the place to get a big hug from Chef BJ and taste food made with pure love. You can also head to Soulsville for a meat-and-three at the historic Four Way Grill. Dr. King was a frequent guest on his trips to Memphis and Stax artists were known to grab a bite here 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 a modern twist on soul food classics, get to Chef Tam's Underground Cafe or Lunchbox Eats.

Arts & Entertainment

Catch a performance at the area’s only Black repertory theatre, Hattiloo. Traditionally, Hattiloo features an eight-production season, running from August through the following June. In reponse to COVID-19, the theatre has been hosting virtual events, including a series of historic Black speeches for Black History Month 2021.  

Discover the Orange Mound neighborhood, designated as a Preserve America Community by First Lady Michelle Obama. While currently closed due to COVID-19, The CMPLX serves as the headquarters for The CLTV, a group that supports Black artists, musicians and creatives in Memphis. Keep an eye on their calendar for operation updates. Next door, the Orange Mound Gallery hosts local art exhibits. 

 

Save The Date: Memphis Events with a Black History Connection 

King Day 2021 

In response to COVID-19, the National Civil Rights Museum has planned a virtual celebration of Dr. King's birthday. Register for free for an afternoon or evening livesteam to honor the icon, learn more about how the holiday came to be and reflect on past years' celebrations.

Memorial of MLK's 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. 

While 2021 plans for the following festivals have not yet been announced, check back for details:

Africa in April

Celebrate African culture at the Africa in April Cultural Awareness Festival, traditionally held in the middle of the month. The festival features activities, food, performers and a parade honoring a different African country each year.

Juneteenth

Celebrate African American freedom at the Juneteenth Urban Music Festival, traditionally held over Father’s Day weekend. Get to Robert R. Church Park in downtown Memphis for music of all varieties during this event. 

WLOK Stone Soul Picnic

Watch for details on the WLOK Stone Soul Picnic, traditionally held at the Levitt Shell in August. With food trucks, concessions and free live music, this annual summer gathering has guaranteed family fun and a sense of community since 1974. 

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.