Before I began researching this blog, I came to the experience with my own cultural baggage. To be honest, “African-American heritage themed travel” didn’t seem like it would be a fun, relaxing or exciting experience. I say this based on my assumption that for a Black woman, heritage-themed travel meant reliving the difficult history people of the African diaspora have in the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean.
But as my high school science teacher always said, “Before you form an opinion, do the research. Then do it again!” Following these hard and fast rules, I’ve since been enlightened and educated regarding the relevance and importance of heritage travel – and so are many African American tourists! While our history and heritage are linked to oppression, that’s only a part of the story. Through heritage-themed travel, families are experiencing the full story of African American’s trials and triumphs throughout history.
One such offering for music fans is the The Mississippi Blues Trail. Created by the Mississippi Blues Commission, the Mississippi Blues Trail offers tourists a guide through the land that birthed blues icon B.B. King and is the root source of modern popular music. According to the site, “Whether you’re a die-hard blues fan or a casual traveler in search of an interesting trip, you’ll find facts you didn’t know, places you’ve never seen, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the area that gave birth to the blues.”
The Mississippi Blues Trail provides a map of markers that tell stories “through words and images of bluesmen and women and how the places where they lived and the times in which they existed – and continue to exist – influenced their music. The sites run the gamut from city streets to cotton fields, train depots to cemeteries, and clubs to churches.”
Colonial Williamsburg + African American Heritage = SLAVERY. Right? Not so! Harvey Bakari, a manager of the African American Program at Colonial Williamsburg, explained it best: “The difference between hearing something and experiencing something makes you see your ancestry differently.” Colonial Williamsburg gives African American visitors a sense of their cultural foundations in this country, especially for families with children. This format of “experience education” is an excellent way to open up a frank discussion with children about slavery and the contributions of slaves to the development of America’s wealth.
As part of the Colonial Williamsburg experience, visitors can also take in the Jamestown Settlement, “a huge museum that brings the history of Historic Jamestowne to life.” During the month of February, the spacious galleries and outdoor touring areas feature interactive displays, films, and exhibits that chronicle the African American experience in early America, including a special gallery and brochure for families. In addition, award-winning actor, filmmaker and Virginia native Tim Reid, narrates an amazing film “From Africa to Virginia” that covers how African nations participated in, and then tried to end, the slave trade.
International travel is also an option for families seeking a European experience with an African American twist. Among many other African American-themed cruises, tours and travel packages, Colesville Travel offers an African American-themed package called “Black Paris & A Taste of France.” The ten-day cultural tour (June 18– 28, 2010) of France includes stops in Paris and Burgundy, culminating with a tour of legendary performer and expatriate Josephine Baker’s former home, Chateau des Milandes in Dordogne. The guided walking and bus tour retraces the illustrious lives and achievements of Black expatriates like writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes, artists Henry O.Tanner, Lois Mailou Jones and jazz legends Miles Davis and Bud Powell.
There is so much to learn, discover and enjoy regarding African American culture around the globe, and heritage-themed travel is a great place to start that journey.