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How to Visit the Homes of 5 Famous African Americans

Harriet Tubman's home
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Harriet Tubman's Home

The best way to get to know a historical figure is to visit their home. When you see someone’s childhood photos, the desk where they wrote and the bed where they slept, their spirit comes alive. It’s a powerful experience.

Unfortunately, the homes of many famous African Americans no longer exist, or are not open to the public. For instance, all that remains of Frederick Douglass’s birthplace in Talbot County, Md., is a historical marker a few miles from the site.[1] Rosa Parks’s Detroit home has been moved to Berlin, Germany, where an artist plans to transform it into a movable exhibit.[2] We’ve found five famous African Americans’ homes you can visit, from the Harriet Tubman house to the birthplace of Booker T. Washington.

Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, N.Y.

Born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, Harriet Tubman possessed legendary courage. When she was just 12, she tried to block an overseer from beating a fellow slave who tried to escape. The overseer threw a two-pound weight at Tubman, which struck her in the head and left her with lifelong headaches and narcolepsy.[3] Tubman eventually escaped slavery — and then returned to Maryland at least a dozen times, risking her life to personally bring some 70 people to freedom via the Underground Railroad. She spent her later life in Auburn, N.Y., where the Harriet Tubman house was recently named a national historic park.[4] While the exhibits are modest, the tour guides tell vivid stories of Tubman’s life. Another place to discover Tubman’s story and walk in her footsteps is the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Dorchester County, Md.

Muhammad Ali Childhood Museum

You wouldn’t expect the heavyweight champion of the world to come from a tiny, pink house. But that’s where the story of Muhammad Ali — born Cassius Clay Jr. — began in 1942. Ali was born in the little house at 3302 Grand Avenue in Louisville, Ky., and started boxing when he was just 12. Ali won Olympic gold in 1960 and became the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964, later reclaiming the title twice.[5] An outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, a philanthropist and a civil rights activist, Ali died in 2016. After falling into disrepair, Ali’s house was restored to its original condition in 2015 and is now the Muhammad Ali Childhood Home Museum, open for tours Thursday-Sunday. Ali’s brother, Rahman Ali, often drops by to speak with visitors.

Paul Laurence Dunbar House

Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s life, though short, made a lasting impact on American culture. Born on June 27, 1872, he worked as an elevator operator and self-published his first collection of poems. Frederick Douglass befriended young Dunbar and helped him bring his work to a national audience.[6] He soon became the nation’s best-known African-American poet, celebrated for powerful poems like “We Wear The Mask.”

At the Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio, visitors can see the desk where Dunbar wrote and learn about his literary legacy. He was friends with aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright — a bicycle the Wrights built for him is displayed in the house — and their relationship is further explored in the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, part of the Dayton Aviation Trail.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in a Queen Anne house on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. As a young man, King led the Montgomery bus boycott that followed the arrest of Rosa Parks. He became a national leader of the nonviolent resistance movement, which used peaceful tactics to oppose racial injustice and segregation.[7]

Today, you can visit King’s birthplace — but go early. Tours are limited to 15 people, and no advance reservations are permitted.[8] The house was closed for repairs in 2016 after a floor joist broke. The first floor was reopened for tours in 2017, and the entire house should be accessible once more in 2018.[9] Near the house are other destinations to visit: an engrossing visitor’s center; Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was pastor; the Kings’ graves; the International World Peace Rose Garden and other memorials.

Booker T. Washington National Monument

Booker T. Washington’s early life was defined by his relentless pursuit of education. He walked, near penniless, 500 miles across Virginia to enroll at the Hampton Institute. After his graduation, he became a teacher and, in 1881, founded Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, a school that trained African-American teachers and tradespeople. Under his leadership, Tuskegee grew from 30 students and a few ramshackle buildings to a thriving university serving some 1,500 students.[10] 

The Booker T. Washington National Monument, near Roanoke, Va., stands on the site of the farm where Washington was born a slave in 1856. Recreated farm buildings illustrate what Washington’s early life was like, including the log-built kitchen house where he and his siblings lived with their mother, Jane. Kids (and adults) will love exploring the farm and gardens, meeting the resident animals, and walking the monument’s wooded trails.

Want to continue your civil rights travel journey? Check out our guide to six must-see African American history museums . Allianz Global Assistance provides travel insurance products to protect every kind of adventure, both domestic and international.

Richmond-based travel writer Muriel Barrett has a terrible sense of direction, and has spent many happy hours getting lost in Barcelona, Venice and Jerusalem. Her favorite travel memories all involve wildlife: watching sea turtles nest in Costa Rica, kayaking with seals in Vancouver and meeting a pink tarantula in Martinique.

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Feb 16, 2017