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Iconic Sites That Helped Make Black History

02/18/2015 12:24 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

From the former slaves and freedom fighters of the past to modern-day music legends and politicians, U.S. history has been influenced by many notable African-American figures who have left their mark on places around the country. This Black History Month, check out some of the most iconic historic sites to celebrate their contributions, and then, when you are ready to start exploring, plan your trip on Gogobot.

Washington, D.C.

Photo: Lincoln Memorial by: Vince Alongi flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

In the nation's capital it's hard to walk a few feet without bumping into a site important to black history. The National Mall is the site of March on Washington of 1963 (as well as the Million Man March of 1995) calling for civil and economic rights for African Americans, and the Lincoln Memorial is where Martin Luther King Jr., after the March on Washington, delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. For a little extra nerdy cred, check out the Willard Hotel, where MLK and his advisors prepped for the speech in the lobby. Other important sites in Washington include the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the hilltop home of the famed abolitionist; Howard University, one of the country's premier historically black colleges, with notable alumni like Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice; and Ben's Chili Bowl, a seemingly inconspicuous hot dog and chili joint that once fed both black activists and police officers maintaining order during riots and was thrust into the national spotlight when Bill Cosby hosted a press conference there to celebrate the success of The Cosby Show as the first African-American show to reach the number-one spot on television.

Photo: Bronzeville by: puroticorico flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

In Chicago many sites important to black history can be found in the Bronzeville district. During the first part of the Great Migration, from 1910 to 1920, many African Americans moved north and settled in Chicago. The area of Bronzeville in South Chicago saw an influx of thousands of African Americans, who created what would become known as a "Black Metropolis." Many notable names came from this neighborhood, including Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize; Ida B. Wells, a writer and co-organizer of the NAACP; and famed R&B singers Sam Cooke and Lou Ralls. There are also a number of important buildings here, including the Overton Hygienic Building, once the headquarters of the largest producer of American-American cosmetics; the Sunset Cafe (now a hardware store), one of the most important jazz clubs in the country in the 1910s and 1920s, hosting Louis Armstrong; and the Wabash Avenue YMCA, which is credited as the place where the commemoration of black culture began -- a sentiment that would eventually become Black History Month.

Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site by: Ken Lund flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

Many of Atlanta's most historic places are located in the Sweet Auburn district, which is centered around Auburn Avenue and got its name for being home to many affluent African Americans. The area contains a number of important sites, among them the Rucker Building, the first black-owned business building in the city; the headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, which was founded in 1905 and is today the second-largest black-owned insurance company in the country; and the original building of the Atlanta World Daily, the first major (and most successful) black daily of the 20th century. This neighborhood is also the area where MLK grew up. You can visit his home at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site; his former school, the Booker T. Washington High School; and his church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Memphis

Photo: Beale Street by: Numinosity (Gary J Wood) flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

There is a lot of black history on Memphis' Beale Street. Sure, today it may seem like a tourist trap, but it's not hard to dig past the souvenir shops and signs advertising cheap beer to discover the fascinating past. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area began developing quickly, and many of the new clubs, restaurants, and shops were black-owned businesses. It was also here that a trumpet player named W.C. Handy, now considered the father of the blues, moved his band in 1909 and created what came to be known as Memphis blues, transforming rural music from the Mississippi Delta into the contemporary popular blues style we know today. Since then, many a big name in music has graced the venues that line Beale Street, from Louis Armstrong to B.B. King.

The State of New York

Photo: Harlem by: striatic flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

The home of Harriet Tubman, a former slave who is best known for her work helping other slaves escape via the Underground Railroad, is located in Auburn, New York, just east of Syracuse. It is a great place to learn about her important contributions to everything from abolition to the Civil War to women's suffrage. Head to New York City for much more black history, including the Plymouth Church, once a stop on the Underground Railroad; the Weeksville Hunterfly Road Historic Houses, the site of a community of freed slaves founded in 1838; and Harlem, a neighborhood full of important history in its churches, jazz clubs, theaters, restaurants, and homes (including one that belonged to poet and Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes). New York City is also one of the best cities to see the impact of modern-day African-American moguls like hip-hop legend Jay Z, who owns the 40/40 Club in Manhattan.

There are lots of other iconic spots around the U.S. to celebrate Black History Month. Keep discovering more with the History Buffs Tribe.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in 1965. It really took place in 1963. The post has been updated accordingly.