Black History Month was first proposed at Kent State University, Ohio in February 1969 with its first celebration one year later. Six years rolled on and Black History Month was then being celebrated all across the United States after President Gerald Ford recognised it at the United States Bicentennial. From then on, it was decided that the month of February should be a time to highlight, recognise, and celebrate the role played by African Americans in U.S. history.
Before the month was officially recognised, Carter G. Woodson, the individual who created Negro History Week in February 1926, believed that black history should be used as a weapon in the struggle for racial uplift. In turn, the week he created also had a powerful urgency to ensure that school children were to be exposed to Black History and that it was to be taught in schools. Chakita, founder of United Street Tours(opens in a new tab) in Nashville, says “One of my favourite activists to reflect on during Black History Month is Carter G Woodson. He’s known as the father of black history and the founder of Black History Month. As the founder of a tour company that specializes in black history tours, I hope to continue Dr Woodson’s legacy of educating a nation about black culture through black history storytelling.”
And this leads us to the main reason this month is so widely celebrated: education. Black History Month’s celebrations create awareness and remind us that Black History is everyone’s history. Just like Hispanic, Asian, European and Native histories, it belongs to every single one of us – black and white, men and women, young and old. Black History is for everyone and there is an increasing desire to want to learn more.
One of the key roles tourism plays, especially throughout the United States, is education and there are many towns and cities that have their own unique Black History stories to tell. Karin, of City Tours Detroit(opens in a new tab), says “For a long time, traditional telling of history excluded many voices including the perspective of black Americans. I believe dedicating particular months to tell these stories is not only personally enlightening, but it’s important collectively to further our knowledge of United States’ history.”
The important connection between tourism and Black History resonates from the words of the founders of Black History Month and the need to raise awareness and educate. “When touring in any city, you are sure to come across a contribution from black history. Although tragic throughout some eras of history, our ancestors have left marks across the world that are hard not to recognize when touring. Tourism lends itself to black history in allowing people to learn about the regions in which they visit. In doing so they are made aware of multiple ways blacks in history have added to the culture,” explains Kai from Roundabout Atlanta Tours(opens in a new tab).
Schools don’t have to be the only source of Black History education, as “the tourism industry is another avenue to educate the public about Black History,” Theresa, founder of Milwaukee Food & City Tours (opens in a new tab)explains. “Our tours have rich content and allow us to make history come to life. On our Black History and Civil Rights Tour in Milwaukee, we not only visit historically significant sights, but we eat at black-owned restaurants and bakeries and meet entrepreneurs and members of the community that are carrying the story forward today. Tourism allows us to connect the stories to real places and people for our guests.”
Having black history tours offers a great platform to create awareness and to educate those on black history, in wonderfully unique ways. The potential to influence the general public is endless – whether it’s learning about slavery to freedom in Nashville, tasting delicious bakery goods from entrepreneurs who help spread the black history stories, a civil rights walking tour in Atlanta, or learning where in Detroit Dr Martin Luther King Jr. first introduced his iconic “I Have a Dream(opens in a new tab)” speech. And it doesn’t have to be just tourists as focusing on the local community can be extremely beneficial too.
“I am always excited to host locals on tours because I think it is deeply important for the Nashville community to know the diverse history of our community. This year so far, 80% of our customers have been locals,” explains Chakita. “Nashville is growing extremely fast and the healthcare and tourism industries are booming. This made me realize that our Nashville tours bring people of the community together in a major way. To come to the realization that through United Street Tours, I am preserving black history but also bringing people together was a major aha moment for me.”
The demand for black history tours are steadily increasing and in places such as Detroit, there have been major changes happening. “I’ve definitely noticed a demand for tours focusing on black history and have seen many new companies pop up to address this need. I see interest continuing to grow,” says Karin, from City Tour Detroit.
Perhaps consider adding a tour to an existing tour company as a way of incorporating a certain part of black history. For some inspiration, check out Roundabout Atlanta’s Black History & Civil Rights(opens in a new tab) tour, Milwaukee Food Tours Black History(opens in a new tab) tour, United Street Tours(opens in a new tab) Nashville experiences, or check out City Tours Detroit’s private tours(opens in a new tab) and see Detroit’s history that way. This could not only be beneficial financially but also contribute to raising awareness and educating people, not only about Black History Month but on racial awareness generally.
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