The following is a partial list of African American dedicated museums, monuments and landmarks located throughout Tennessee. Whether during Black History Month or another time of year, plan a visit to one of these intriguing sites that reflect African-American history and heritage.
Aaron Douglas Gallery
Third Floor, University Library
Nashville, TN 37208
Phone: (615) 329-8720
Housed in one of America’s oldest universities founded for African Americans, the Aaron Douglas Gallery is a splendid collection of paintings, watercolors, sculptures and prints by such artists as Henry Ossawa Tanner, Malvin Gray Johnson, Aaron Douglas and James Lesesne Wells.
Located on the third floor of the library at Fisk University in Nashville, the Aaron Douglas Gallery is one attraction not to be missed for any art enthusiast. Elsewhere in the library, view abstract paintings and copper repousse sculptures by Gregory Ridley, pastel portraits by Winold Reiss and drawings by Cyrus Baldridge. You will not be disappointed.
Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum (Burkle Estate)
826 N. Second St.
Memphis, TN 38107
Phone: (901) 527-3427
A white clapboard house built in 1849 by Jacob Burkle is rumored to have served as a way station on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves. A tour of the house includes a visit to a small cellar where slaves waited to escape.
National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry St.
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 521-9699
The National Civil Rights Museum displays exhibits from the Civil Rights Movement, dated 1619 to 2000, including the room in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resided in April 1968. The Museum is located at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, where on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The Museum educates the public on the Civil Rights Movement and its influence on human rights movements worldwide, through its exspansive collections, exhibits, research and educational programs, and includes Room 306, where Dr. King resided. The museum is one of only five U.S. accredited international sites of conscience, and has been featured in several televised segments, including CNN and the History Channel. Every generation will benefit from the exhibits and rich heritage provided by this museum.
Ida B. Wells Marker
Convention and Visitors Bureau on Beale St. near W.C. Handy Park.
Memphis, TN 38103
Ida B. Wells, an outspoken journalist, abolitionist and suffragist of the early 1900’s, was one of the first African-American women to publish a newspaper. Her accomplishments are honored by the marker.
Hunt Phelan Home
533 Beale St.
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 525-8225
Built mostly by slave labor in 1828, the Hunt-Phelan Home displays a rich and elegant past. Several hundred slaves were taught English by members of the Freedmen’s Bureau at an on-site school house.
The house was built in two stages, the first in 1830 by George H. Wyatt. The second stage, circa 1851, added a two-story kitchen and service wing and a two-story porch. In the early months of the Civil War, the house served as headquarters for Confederate General Leonidas Polk. After the Battle of Shiloh, Union General Ulysses S. Grant used the house, planning the siege of Vicksburg in the parlor. The mansion also served as a Union hospital from 1863-1865. Although unlikely, it has been rumored that a tunnel under the house was part of the underground railroad through which slaves escaped and boarded boats for Illinois.
Beale Street Historic District
203 Beale St., Ste. 300
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 526-0115
The music and entertainment pulse of downtown Memphis, Beale Street at the turn of the 20th century served as a haven for African Americans migrating from small towns. Legendary greats such as W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Willie Mitchell and Isaac Hayes have showcased their talents on Beale. Beale Street offers three blocks of nightclubs, specialty shops, galleries and restaurants. For over 150 years, Beale Street has hosted blues music and entertainment. Beale played a pivotal role in branding Memphis as one of the most musically rich cities in the world, and was prominent in hosting some of the first black business owners in the south. In between, the street was host to the birth of blues music, the civil rights movement, rock ‘n’ roll, racks of ribs and bands. As thousands of bands, fans, major blues players, entertainers and reporters (including the American blues scene) descend on Beale, the street once again takes a party atmosphere as only the blues can provide, colliding a searing helping of original Memphis soul with dozens of different styles, takes and interpretations of hundreds of artist’s blues music and dedication. Most of the buildings that exist on Beale are the same buildings that have been frequented by the great many music lovers and great musicians that came in the 100 years before, providing a proprietary sense of history to the legendary street.
Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center
535 Haley Avenue
Henning, TN 38041
Phone: (731) 738-2240
Originally known as the Palmer House, this ten-room, bungalow style home was constructed in 1918 and 1919 by Will E. Palmer, the maternal grandfather of Alex Haley (1921-1992). From 1921 to 1929, and during some subsequent summers, Alex Haley lived here with his grandparents, Will and Cynthia Palmer. The front porch was often the place where young Alex heard the oral accounts of family history, including stories of Kunta Kinte, the young Mandingo man captured near his West African home.These stories inspired Haley to write about his ancestry in a book called Roots: The Saga of An American Family. This 1976 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been translated into over 30 languages and has had great influence in stimulating the study of genealogy. In 1977, Roots was adapted for an eight-part television series, which became one of the most popular programs in television history. Two years later its sequel, Roots: The Next Generations, aired as well. On December 14, 1978, the Alex Haley House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It has attracted scholars and visitors from around the world. Alex Haley is buried on the grounds. The Alex Haley House Museum has been restored to model the home as it was when Haley was born. Some of the 1919
furniture which decorates the home belonged to the Haley family. The restored building is open to the public as a museum featuring Haley’s work, childhood memorabilia and references to the people who inspired his characters in Roots. Visitors can view the memorabilia and family artifacts that remain showcased, with the opportunity to make purchases at a small on-site gift shop as well as to see Alex Haley’s final resting place at the front lawn of the home. Call today to schedule a tour: (731) 738-2240
Matt Gardner Homes-tead Museum
110 Dixontown Road
Elkton, TN 38455
Phone: (931) 468-0121
The Matt Gardner House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 as a significant farmstead associated with African American heritage, agriculture, commerce, and architecture from 1870 to 1942. The farm provides for the interpretation of a variety of significant historical topics, including slavery, emancipation, Reconstruction, education, religion, architecture, and agriculture. The house is accompanied by five contributing structures, including a well house, smokehouse/store, chicken coop, outhouse, and cow barn.
The Matt Gardner Homestead is one of seven certified Century Farms in Tennessee that was established by an African American.
Wilma C. Rudolph Statue
College Street & Riverside Drive
Clarksville, TN 37040
Phone: (931) 645-7476
To honor one of America’s most outstanding Olympic athletes and her legacy, a bronze statue of Clarksville native Wilma Rudolph was handcrafted in her likeness. The statue can be viewed at the southern end of the Cumberland RiverWalk at the base of the Pedestrian Overpass. Erected to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of three time gold Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph, a native of Clarksville. One of the city’s main streets is also named in her honor.
1100 Fort Negley Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: (615) 862-8470
Fort Negley Park and Visitors Center is an outdoor recreation and historical education center.
Fort Negley Park holds the ruins of Fort Negley and explores Middle Tennessee’s natural and geologic history with a Milkweed garden and fossil collection area. Fort Negley Visitors Center is a resource for exploring the delicate relationship between Nashville and the Federal Government during the Civil War and learning about the site’s relevance in the 20th century and beyond.
East Tennessee History Center
601 S. Gay St.
Knoxville, TN 37902
Phone: (865) 215-8824
Begin your exploration of the region’s history at the East Tennessee History Center. Located here are the McClung Historical Collection, a premier genealogical research library, the Museum of East Tennessee History, covering 300 years of life in the region, the offices of the East Tennessee Historical Society, and the Knox County Archives, with records dating to 1792.
African American Appalachian Arts, Inc. Emporium Center
Knoxville, TN 37902
Phone: (865) 546-9705
African American Appalachian Arts, Inc. is a nonprofit arts organization that focuses on positive social and community development by utilizing creative methods of education through cultural artistic programming and development. These endeavors create an atmosphere of support and understanding of cultural diversity throughout Knoxville and East Tennessee.
Over ten years ago African American Appalachian Arts, Inc. launched a bold initiative called Haley Heritage Square (HHS). In 1993, they commissioned internationally acclaimed artist Tina Allen to sculpt the 13-foot bronze statue of Alex Haley. The HHS International Literary and Storytelling Festival is an annual event which has been a great success for AAAA.
Bessie Smith Cultural Center
200 E. Martin Luther King Blvd.
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: (423) 266-8658
The Chattanooga African American Museum was founded in 1983 to provide sources of curricula, historical references, creative works, and the media about the identity of Africans and African Americans, particularly those of Chattanooga. Civil War era exhibits include discussion of the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.
W.C. Handy House Museum
352 Beale St.
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 527-3427
William Christopher Handy known as the “Father of the Blues” was born in 1873 in Florence, Alabama in a log cabin built by his grandfather. Growing up, he received lessons on the cornet in the local barber shop. Handy was teaching school by age nineteen, but left for a high paying job at a factory in Bessemer, Alabama. Wishing to rekindle his flame with music, he organized a quartet that performed at the Chicago World’s Fair and toured for a short time afterward. Later, Handy joined Mahara’s Minstrels playing the cornet. Handy formed his own marching band in 1902, which combined various elements from popular dance music, and performed for both white and black audiences alike. Touring and traveling, he heard and recalled music made by rural people. He particularly recalled the strange sounding music he heard a man playing at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi: The Blues. Handy was a religious man whose influences in his musical style were found in the church music he sang and played as a youth. He said that his inspiration came from “the music of every songbird and all the symphonies of their unpremeditated art.”
In 1909 Handy and his band moved to Memphis and established their presence on Beale Street.
“The Memphis Blues” was written in 1909 and was the first blues ballad Handy ever wrote, and arguably the first blues ballad in history. After publishing the song himself in 1912, “The Memphis Blues” became popular all over the United States. It was originally entitled “Mr. Crump” as it was a campaign tune written for mayoral candidate Edward Crump.
Handy continued to write music based on what he heard in folk song. “Memphis Blues” was followed by “St. Louis Blues” which was written in 1914 and “Beale Street Blues” which was written in 1916. Handy moved to New York in 1917 where he wrote five books and continued with his music until his death in 1958.