Celebrate Black History and Heritage in NC with Tours, Museums and Food

Enriching experiences abound in these epicenters of community. Brush up on Black history with city tours and enlightening museum stops. If you prefer to taste your way through culture and history, savor a bite of reimagined soul food.

Asheville

The Southside neighborhood of this mountain city was once home to a thriving district of Black-owned businesses called The Block. It’s blossoming once again with new establishments, art and cuisine.

The area south of Pack Square, known as The Block, was the central district to hundreds of Black-owned businesses from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries. The area thrived until the 1950s through the 1970s, when it was met with a common devastating fate of many thriving Black communities: so-called urban renewal projects.

Today, the neighborhood is experiencing a resurgence thanks to local businesses like Hood Tours, a walking and driving tour company run by DeWayne Barton, who is passionate about sharing the stories of Black Asheville. One stop on the tour is the YMI Cultural Center. Originally the Young Men’s Institute and the crown jewel of The Block, YMI opened in 1893 (during the Jim Crow era) as a safe space for Black men, with a library, gym and a variety of classes. Now, YMI hosts cultural events and art exhibits and resides next to Noir Collective AVL, a boutique shop and gallery showcasing Black artists.

Next to YMI sits Benne on Eagle, a restaurant that follows the ethos of Sankofa: looking back to move forward with reclaimed traditions. Innovative takes on soul food include catfish and grits with collard greens kimchi.

Durham

The spirit of the Black Wall Street district lives on as Black-owned businesses once again bring vibrancy to downtown.

In the early 20th century, Durham’s Parrish Street was a hub of Black business activity that gained national attention and visits from leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. The four-block district, known as Black Wall Street, bordered the Hayti community, Durham’s main Black residential district. Sadly, Black Wall Street was destroyed when Highway 147 was routed through the area in the 1960s. In recent years, Black-owned companies have sprouted back and reclaimed downtown as a home for industry, shopping, dining and innovation. Here are four you’ll want to explore next time you’re in town,

1 The Zen Succulent

1 The Zen Succulent

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Megan Cain founded The Zen Succulent in 2012 after many years of gardening at home and crafting terrariums with her mother. The neighborhood plant and gift shop – inspired by nature’s elements – features gorgeous succulents, tropical plants and handcrafted items from across the United States.

2 Beyu Caffe

2 Beyu Caffe

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At Dorian Bolden’s highly caffeinated venture, spot local leaders enjoying a power breakfast of shrimp and grits or indulging in specialty coffee drinks, such as the Oprah Mocha or Mexican Latte. Pop by on Sundays for a brunch of French toast drizzled with signature crème anglaise.

3 Hayti Heritage Center

3 Hayti Heritage Center

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Formerly St. Joseph’s AME church, the center promotes cultural understanding through events like poetry slams, African dance classes and art exhibits at the Lyda Moore Merrick Gallery. The annual Hayti Heritage Film Festival is one of the nation’s longest running Black film festivals.

Exploring Black History

Dive into heritage sites along the coast, dig into the civil rights movement in Greensboro and weave through incredible works of art in Charlotte.

5 African-American Experience of Northeast NC

5 African-American Experience of Northeast NC

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Six coastal counties recently joined forces to honor the contributions of Black people to the region. At Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, learn about area life in centuries past, including the experiences of enslaved Africans. In Jarvisburg, visit Historic Jarvisburg Colored School Museum, the first school for Black students in Currituck County and one of the oldest such schools in North Carolina. The museum notes the students’ many contributions to society. The United States’ first all-Black life-saving crew resided at Pea Island Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe. Their 1896 rescue of nine passengers on the E.S. Newman during a hurricane earned them a posthumous Gold Lifesaving Medal in 1996.

6 International Civil Rights Center & Museum

6 International Civil Rights Center & Museum

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Located in the former F.W. Woolworth store, this is where four NC A&T State University freshmen sat at the “whites only” lunch counter in 1960 as a means of nonviolent protest against segregation. Take a tour to view photography, artifacts and interactive galleries that explore how the sit-in sparked an entire desegregation movement.

7 Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture

7 Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture

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Dedicated to Charlotte’s first Black mayor, the Gantt Center celebrates excellence in the arts, culture and history of people of African descent. Encounter quilt designs from the Underground Railroad era; an array of rotating exhibits; and engaging music, dance and theatrical performances.

History lives on throughout the state. Find more historical treasures in The Official 2022 North Carolina Travel Guide.

Updated January 26, 2022
About the Author
Shayla Martin

Shayla Martin

Shayla Martin is a Durham-based travel and food writer. She has contributed to The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fodors Travel and more.

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