Hit the Road, Black!

The Lorraine Motel, a real-life Ku Klux Klan uniform, the oldest black church. Forget the stay-cation. Pack up the minivan and head out on a black history road trip this summer.

Mike Brown/Getty Images

Yeah, we know, you’re broke. We all are. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to endure another summer stay-cation. Even with gas prices inching back up, road trips make great penny-pinching getaways. Add a little black history, and you can patch together a trip that is both economical and enriching.

The best thing about planning a black history vacation is that a lot of the best places to stop are in relatively inexpensive parts of the country. Sure, if you want to spend big you can head to New York and visit Harlem’s iconic Apollo Theater. But that means you have to pay to sleep and eat in New York. If you’re just dying for a city vacation, why not give the Michigan economy some much-needed love and check out Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, billed as the "world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience." And you can have just as good a time in cities like Memphis, Tenn., Tuskegee, Ala., and Topeka, Kan.

If it’s a choice between the mortgage payment and a long weekend away this summer, then, please, stay at home! But if you’ve got a little wiggle room, here are The Root’s picks for great black history road trips. Unless otherwise indicated, admission is free.

The Southeast

First African Baptist Church

23 Montgomery St.

Savannah, Ga.


Guided tours Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

First African Baptist in Savannah makes a strong case for being the country’s oldest African-American church. The congregation was organized in 1777 as First Colored Church by George Leile, a former slave who had been ordained two years earlier. The present name was adopted in 1822. In the 1970s, the church opened its museum, which has artifacts going back two centuries. If you take the tour, look down at holes in the floor. Those decorations were based on Congolese spiritual symbols and served a dual purpose: providing ventilation and spiritual protection for escaped slaves hiding under the floorboards.

Then look at the ceiling. Those white tin tiles, which resemble the nine-patch quilt pattern, are believed to have signaled that the church was a stop on the underground railroad. To learn more about the church, watch this short documentary on YouTube.

The Midwest