Where to learn about African American history and music in the Central City.
Located an hour’s drive from Atlanta, Macon is a charming small town steeped in history, culture and music. In the 1840s, Macon established itself as a cotton economy in the Black Belt. The advent of the railroad through downtown brought along politicians and artists from around the country who would stop to visit theaters and party at the clubs. Macon became an important social, political and economic center by the time of the Civil War.
After the rise and fall of “The Central City” due to bloody battles, natural disasters and a depressed economy, Macon is surfacing again as a tourist destination, attracting travelers who are looking to step back in history. “Despite the difficulties of this past year, the travel and tourism industry is returning to Macon in full force, which is great news for our local businesses, restaurants and hoteliers,” says Valerie Bradley, Visit Macon’s vice president of marketing.
Here are five reasons to visit Macon in 2021 and beyond.
A good starting point to learn about Macon’s music history and historic sites is by taking a guided walking music, food, beer or ghost tour with Rock Candy Tours. The guides give a great overview of the city’s timeline and show you several African American historic and cultural sites. Macon has 15 historic districts with over 6,000 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Historic Macon‘s Cotton Avenue District was considered the “main street” of African American businesses for over 100 years. Notable Maconites connected to Cotton Avenue include Jefferson Long, the first Black man to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1871, and Reverend Pearly Brown, a renowned blind street singer who learned to play the guitar at the Georgia Academy for the Blind and was the first Black man to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.
Macon is the birthplace of southern rock music and nicknamed Black Broadway, with famous groups like The Allman Brothers Band, Otis Redding and Little Richard among those to perform in the city. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the newly renovated Capricorn Records, where you can see some of the original guitars and the original recording studios. You can easily spend a few hours listening to old records at the small museum upstairs.
Time your visit to watch live music, theatrical performances and film viewings at one of the venues in downtown Macon. The Douglass Theatre, built and owned by Black entrepreneur Charles Douglas in 1912, now pays tribute to the African American influence on film and theatre. The Grand Opera House hosts Broadway touring companies, music acts and the Macon Symphony Orchestra.
The Tubman Museum is the largest museum dedicated to African American history, art and culture in the Southeast. The 49,000 square-foot museum features a magnificent 63-foot-long mural titled “From Africa to America,” presenting a visual history of Black people from early days in Africa to current leaders and heroes, including Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Otis Redding, Ellen Craft, Minnie Smith and many more.
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“Our goal is to expand the knowledge about African American culture and impart important lessons that are not taught in school,” says Harold Young, executive director of Tubman Museum. He recommends visiting the Inventive Gallery that features inventions that African Americans invented or enhanced, such as the ironing board, golf tee, icebox, gas mask and three-way stop sign. Also, coming between late 2021 and early 2022 is a new exhibit highlighting the contributions of Tyler Perry to American culture.
Every May-June, the museum hosts a two-day Pan African festival with music, dance, food, film, art and spoken word. Though approximately 12,000 people attended the 25th festival this year, the museum is struggling to find funds during the pandemic. Their annual black-tie fundraiser – All That Jazz, was canceled this year. “It has been a rough year as we relied on event and wedding rentals for majority of our income, and most of those were canceled due to COVID-19,” adds Young. He is finding creative ways to raise funds by doing membership drives, media blasts and partnering with concert promoters. Among other events, the museum hosts Jazz on the Plaza on every third Sunday of the month during summer.
Cherry Blossom Festival
Macon is also known as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.” In spring, you can see over 350,000 Yoshino Cherry Trees bloom around the city. Concerts, galas, dances and tours during the annual Macon’s International Cherry Blossom Festival attract over 100,000 visitors to celebrate love, beauty and international friendship.
Georgia Sports Hall of Fame
The largest state sports museum in the country offers a chance to view 3,000 artifacts, a 205-seat ballpark theater, research library, hands-on sports exhibit and a gift shop. This interactive museum highlights the Atlanta Black Crackers and the Macon Cubs, along with legendary players like Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson, and James “Red” Moore. The new Negro Leagues Baseball exhibit enlightens visitors to an overlooked part of American history.
This is just a preview of what Macon has to offer. For more attractions, including where to stay and where to eat, visit www.maconga.org/plan/visitors-centers and for up-to-the-minute Macon getaway ideas, follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.