Last Updated on July 19, 2021
Last Updated on July 19, 2021
Black history in North Carolina, like most things in life, is better understood at the locations where important events transpired. From Underground Railroad sites to Civil Rights landmarks and hubs of African-American business, this guide will share quite a hefty list of places for you to visit.
Black History Month in February results in increased traffic to these sites, but we hope you’ll keep these landmarks in mind throughout the year. Such important parts of America’s story should not be limited to simply one month.
This post is part of our series on the best things to do in North Carolina.
Places to Learn About Black History in North Carolina
In case you’re looking for something specific, we’ve alphabetically arranged these important places in Black history in North Carolina.
African American Heritage Tour, New Bern
Start from New Bern’s Convention Center and embark on an African-American Heritage Tour that includes more than 10 landmarks. You’ll learn about the Rhone family and Isaac Smith, two names that live on largely in part due to this tour.
We try to limit the spoilers, but the corner of Middle and Pollock Streets is an important stop. During the Greensboro Sit-in, a local sit-in occurred at this location at the same time.
African-American Museum of History & Culture, Gastonia
Gastonia’s African-American Museum of History & Culture at Loray Mill is one of the newer places to learn about Black history in North Carolina. Open since February 2019, this museum honors African-Americans who have contributed to the Gaston County community.
These influential contributors include business leaders, artists, and more change-makers who’ve made an impact on Gaston County.
African-American Music Trail, Various
The African-American Music Trail is the first of a few car-friendly ways to learn about Black history in North Carolina. It’s spread across multiple cities and towns in Eastern North Carolina.
Some of our favorite exhibits include the art installations at Kinston’s Music Park and the beautiful mural in Goldsboro. There’s much more to discover here, however; purchase a guidebook via the NC Arts Council and learn about the trail and musicians who lived and played along it.
Airborne and Special Operations Museum, Fayetteville
Visiting the Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) is one of our favorite things to do in Fayetteville. This Cumberland County attraction hosts an exhibit featuring the 555th Battalion (aka Triple Nickels).
This historically all-Black airborne unit was activated during World War II and officially served from 1942 to 1950. Many of its members continued to serve during the Korean War.
That exhibit is one of 23 stops on an African-American Heritage Trail put together by the folks at Visit Fayetteville.
Black Wall St, Durham
Parrish Street in Durham was once known as a hub of African-American enterprise. It spanned four blocks and earned the praise of prominent figures such as Booker T Washington and WEB Dubois.
Today, a historic marker sits at the corner of Parrish and Mangum streets, commemorating Durham’s Black Wall Street. The old headquarters of Mechanics and Farmers Bank, one of many businesses to have originated here, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Bull City Laughs, Durham
While the route can sometimes change, BCL typically focuses on Black history in Durham, in and around downtown, and in the areas that once made up Black Wall Street. Also, this is not a PG-rated tour, in case you were wondering.
Check out our interview with owner Brandon Wright, on our podcast, NC Travel Chat!
Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, Sedalia
In 1901, teacher Charlotte Hawkins Brown established the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute in Sedalia, near Greensboro. As president of the preparatory school for 50 years, Brown graduated more than 1,000 African-American students.
Thanks to the efforts of Brown’s niece and her classmate, the site was designated as North Carolina’s first African-American State Historic Site. Today, you can visit and walk through the shoes of the many students who lived and learned at the school.
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, Rodanthe
Drive down US 12 on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, one of our favorite scenic roads, and you’ll eventually come upon the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Commissioned in late 1874, this was the first life-saving station along North Carolina’s coast.
It was also America’s only life-saving station crewed by African-Americans. One notable feat of heroism came in 1896 when the surfmen rescued all nine passengers of the ES Newman while battling a hurricane.
Driving the byway and visiting Chicamacomico are a couple of our favorite things to do in the Outer Banks.
Halifax Underground Railroad Trail, Halifax County
The Halifax Underground Railroad Trail will take you around three towns in Halifax County. Each National Park Service-designated site provides a piece of the story of a runaway slave’s journey to freedom.
Halifax (25 St David St) is where you’ll find the first site. Here, you’ll find a series of wanted ads once posted in North Carolina newspapers. These ads will lead you to the Roanoke River, a guiding path for the “runaways” in their escape.
River Falls Park in the town of Weldon (100 Rockfish Dr) hosts the second site. The Roanoke River comes into full view here and demonstrates the dangerous circumstances presented to those who escaped.
Finally, the Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail in Roanoke Rapids offers information about the slaves who largely built the canal. Ironically, that same canal was utilized as part of the escape route after its completion.
Harriet Jacobs Trail, Edenton
An exhibit inside the Visitor Center features photos and illustrations of her life and the people and places associated with it. You can also embark on a self-guided tour and visit sites related to Jacobs and her eventual escape north via the Maritime Underground Railroad.
Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, Charlotte
The Harvey B Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture (The Gantt) is part of the Levine Center for the Arts in Charlotte.
The Gantt’s location and design offer much insight into Black history in Charlotte, residing in the razed Brooklyn neighborhood that once was a Black community hub. Its outer aesthetic is inspired by the demolished Myers Street School, once the Queen City’s only African-American public school.
Inside the Gantt, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to Black history, art, and culture in North Carolina and beyond. The Gantt also works with local creatives to cultivate a community of arts in Charlotte, a community that will hopefully last for many years.
Historic Stagville, Durham
Historic Stagville is the former site of a massive plantation in North Carolina. It once housed more than 900 enslaved people and today, the site is trying to tell the story of those who were forced to live and work here.
There are tours held throughout much of the week, though you can visit either the one-time main house or Horton Grove, which housed the enslaved people.
Hood Huggers International Tours, Asheville
DeWayne Barton leads Hood Huggers International Tours, an interactive look at Black history in Asheville. He’ll take you through neighborhoods flourishing with the arts, music, and more grassroots initiatives.
A common theme in this community is resilience, a theme that is worth listening to during one of Barton’s tours. Both driving tours and walking tours are available, offering a nice mix depending on your ability to keep up.
International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Greensboro
Today, it’s known as the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, but, before February 1, 1960, it was a whites-only lunch counter. On that day, a group of four North Carolina A&T students took action that would change the world.
The museum commemorates the A&T Four, who each took a seat at the counter and peacefully fought for change. Galleries and exhibits share the story of their five-month-long sit-in but also the greater Civil Rights struggle as a whole.
If we were to pick one thing to do in Greensboro, this place to learn about Black history in North Carolina would be it.
Montford Memorial, Jacksonville
Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville is a powerful place, with monuments dedicated to Americans who fought and died in multiple wars and important moments in our history. Also at Lejeune is the Montford Point Marine Memorial, which remembers African-Americans who trained during and after World War II from 1942-49, all while segregated from the white soldiers.
There’s also a wall of 20,000 stars dedicated to honoring the unnamed troops because no active roster can be located. Another thing to appreciate about the Montford Point Marine Association is that they continue to search for those who served from ’42 to ’49.
When identified, these veterans are presented with congressional gold medals. In case you know a Montford Point Marine who hasn’t yet been recognized, please contact the Montford Point Marine Association.
Nina Simone Plaza, Tryon
Nina Simone Plaza in Tryon honors one of the world’s most powerful and iconic voices. Born Eunice Waymon in 1933, Tryon was Nina Simone’s childhood home until she moved to Asheville to continue her education.
That education eventually led to Julliard and a professional career in singing. The name “Nina Simone” came as a disguise from family she feared would not approve of her playing “the devil’s music.”
The Eunice Waymon—Nina Simone Memorial Project honors her life and legacy, even offering a scholarship to rising sixth graders.
North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh
Each February, the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh celebrates Black History Month with special exhibits and tours, but they still offer much to learn at any other time of the year. The “Story of North Carolina” exhibit takes you through our state’s history from its pre-history through today.
You’ll learn about slavery in North Carolina, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights struggle, and more as you stroll through. As long as the Smithsonian is kind enough to let us have it, the original Woolworth’s counter where the A&T Four made history is on display, too.
Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum, Wilson
The Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum in Wilson is housed in one of the most unique buildings you’ll find. Inside, the museum offers an insight into African-American life and contributions to the Wilson community, from slavery through today.
You’ll also find examples of Freeman’s work in and around the house. Freeman’s work accentuates this amazing place where all can come and learn about Black history in North Carolina.
Pope House Museum, Raleigh
The Pope House Museum is special for more than a few reasons. For starters, it is North Carolina’s only African-American house museum.
This free Raleigh attraction commemorates Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, who built the home and was also the only African-American male to run for mayor in a Southern capital city during the Jim Crow era.
During a tour, you’ll find original family furnishings, historic artifacts, and more.
Princeville, Edgecombe County
The Princeville Museum and Welcome Center honors the oldest town incorporated by African-Americans. A group of freed slaves founded this town and named it “Freedom Hill” after the Civil War.
Sitting right across the Tar River from Tarboro is a mobile museum designed by NC State students, accompanied by an informative display. Just before you reach the bridge that crosses the river, you’ll also see a historic marker that briefly describes Freedom Hill.
St Phillips Moravian Church, Winston-Salem
St Phillips is a unique contribution to Black history in North Carolina (and the United States). Many of the Moravians who worshipped here between 1823 and 1861 were enslaved and the only congregation historically made up of African-American Moravians in the US.
You can still join the church congregations on Sundays in their Historic Brick Church inside the Old Salem complex.
This is another reason why we think Old Salem is one of the best museums in Winston-Salem.
Underground Railroad Museum, Washington
The Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum details Washington and Beaufort County’s history of slavery. Housed in a caboose, the museum’s collection also shares the story of enslaved people in the area who sought freedom from slavery.
This site is designated by the National Parks Service’s “Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.”
Young Men’s Institute, Asheville
The Young Men’s Institute in Asheville was built as a YMCA equivalent for Black men and boys who helped construct the Biltmore Estate. In fact, it’s designed similarly to many of the homes at the estate and buildings in Biltmore Village.
Today, the YMI (now the YMI Cultural Center) hosts exhibitions, educational, cultural, and social activities, along with leadership and economic development programs.
Visit these Places and Learn More About Black History in North Carolina
As much as we love books and articles about these places, you’re not going to learn as much about Black history in North Carolina as you could from a visit.
Also, please let us out if we left out any vital spots for Black history in North Carolina! We’re always happy to hear about that.