Walking tours are an element that travelers are increasingly adding to their itineraries as a way to explore cities by foot rather than via other forms of transportation. For many, this is an opportunity to enjoy an area that warrants a closer look at a slower pace, be it a history tour, architecture themed or any other topic. You could possibly find a walking tour of your interest in many larger American cities.
One Tripadvisor study reports the most growth in bookings in historical and heritage tours, with food tours appearing to be among the top five favorites. Here are a few that are either Black-owned and operated or catering to the African-American historical and cultural experience in the country that you can include in your vacation plans any time of year.
Atlanta: Unexpected Atlanta Tours and Stories
The King Historic District Tour available here is the story of how Atlanta changed the world. Experience highlights and hidden treasures such as Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and The King Center and the National Historic Site. The company’s signature tour centers not just on the well-known story of Martin Luther King, Jr., but instead on how Atlanta itself had to be the headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement.
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The tour is told chronologically, showcasing unexpected places in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. “But, it’s a mistake to think of Dr. King as an anomaly, a hero separate and apart from his surroundings. Instead, he was an incredible man shaped by the incredible people who had lived for over a century in this incredible place,” says owner Akila McConnell. “We want to share those stories of the people and places that influenced him and, in turn, how he shaped our world.” She also has a few walking food tours available here for your taste of southern comfort food.
Charleston: International African American Museum
To plan your own trip to the city targeting all things African-American heritage, the museum (scheduled to open in 2020/21) offers resources online for your visit organized by themes and places of interest or by historical timelines from the pre-Colonial era to modern-day.
Tour Charleston has a few offerings, but the Lost Stories of Black Charleston tour is the one you should head for, where licensed guide Damon Fordham talks about names that didn’t make the history books. Charleston Cavalier Tours offers the Tours Above Calhoun Street which is a 1.5-hour walking history tour covering different themes to choose from, including women’s history, civil rights and spirituality. You can also consider tours at individual locations. For instance, Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark, has a 60-minute Beyond the Fields tour exploring the lives of the enslaved and freedmen while Magnolia Plantation, the oldest public gardens in America, offers a 45-minute From Slavery to Freedom: The Magnolia Cabin Project tour.
The Soul of Dallas Food and Black History Bus Tour
Not one for walking tours? Head out and about in a chauffeured bus in Dallas for a taste of the city’s culinary history and iconic foods, all while supporting Black-owned businesses and touring regional landmarks.
Author Deah Berry Mitchell (“Cornbread & Collard Greens: How West African Cuisine & Slavery Influenced Soul Food”) and local food blogger and writer Delila Thomas organize the tours, usually a five-hour experience, that start and end at the African American Museum. Tours are held monthly, with the focus being a specific theme, such as vegan in February and BBQ in July, or a particular neighborhood. Past venues have included bakeries, bookshops, and also other businesses that aren’t necessarily Black-owned but play an important role in the local community.
Memphis: City Tasting Tours
This tour company is your one-stop-shop for a variety of walking food tasting tours through the city. Owner and native Cristina McCarter knows all the hidden gems and lesser-known spots that make this foodie destination. Of course, the tours also introduce you to the people and places that provide those enticing bites as well as the landmarks that make the historic neighborhoods unique.
Tours are typically two hours or more and McCarter has vegan and vegetarian-friendly options. Having only started the business in 2016, her first entrepreneurial venture quickly garnered accolades, including a mention in Memphis Travel’s 200 Reasons to Visit in 2019. While BBQ spots cannot be completely eliminated from the foodie experience here, she tries to introduce locals and visitors to less frequented venues. And if you do not find a tour you like with McCarter, she understands that not all visitors are the right client for her tours and collaborates with other tour operators to recommend options.
Nashville: United Street Tours
Showcasing the lesser-known stories of Nashville’s Black history and culture, United Street Tours Founder Chakita Patterson believes these tours are especially important in today’s climate “that seems to be filled with racial tension and misunderstandings. Teaching employees, tourists, locals, and even school groups about the African-American experience unite us because this is the human story, of sacrifice, suffrage, resilience and triumph,” she shares.
Patterson presents these opportunities as a platform for cultural understanding to close information gaps that prevent people from seeing beyond their limited lens. The tours are also a way to help build bridges to rid destructive mindsets about race and cultural differences. “We serve an incredibly diverse, high-end clientele and we make everyone feel included by starting from the beginning of the story and building in essential concepts, ideas, and personal experiences,” she adds. “We hope to inspire more positive cross-cultural connections.”
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New York: Inside Out Tours
Covering some of the iconic neighborhoods with tour options such as gospel music, the history of slavery in New York as well as the Underground Railroad, you want to make reservations ahead of time as tours do sell out. Tours vary in price and duration, and some even get you a slice of the action on the local metro. Learn all about the origins of African American gospel culture and the site of the first slave market in the city.
For other options, consider the Black Gotham Experience walking tours which bring attention to the impact of the African Diaspora on the making of New York City through a 1.5-hour walk looking at very specific venues and events in the history of the city that affected Black life in the area. Harlem Heritage offers walking tours in the area covering everything from civil rights to heritage foods, gospel to soul music and more. Tour guides are all born and raised in Harlem, so you have a local taking you around the area. Stop by The Studio Museum in Harlem for works by artists of African descent.
To create your trip itinerary to multiple locations in the country, head to visittheusa.com for planning options including ideas for a multi-city civil history rights tour, blues legends tour and jazz music tour, among others.