Make no misunderstanding: the following list is not the end-all be-all of black cultural and historic sites in NYC. In fact, you’re more than welcome to suggest more places that should be added to what I’m calling the NYC Black Bucket List. With sites spanning all five boroughs, no matter who you are, you’ve got to visit these places at least once in your life. Tackling this list not only means you’ll be supporting black artists, entrepreneurs, and cultural sites; it will also—hopefully— result in you gaining a better understanding about the multiple layers of black life in NYC—and in the U.S. at large.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
You can’t talk about black history and not mention the Schomburg Center. This New York Public Library branch is a treasure trove for anyone interested in anything related to African American, African Diasporan, and African experiences. This place is not just for researchers; the Center also houses exhibits and hosts exciting events, like the Annual Black Comic Book Festival.
African Burial Ground National Monument
The site of New York’s oldest known African cemetery was almost the foundation for an office building. Saved from that fate, today it’s an emotional memorial and museum. The museum gives insight into what life would have been like for New York’s enslaved population over the course of two centuries, while the monument, full of symbolism, honors those who were laid to rest there.
Sandy Ground Historical Society
Who would have thought that the southern shores of Staten Island would be the site of one of the first free black communities in New York? This museum highlights the story of the black oystermen who created a thriving community there during the 1800s.
Weeksville Heritage Center
Around the time Sandy Ground was getting off the ground, another free black community was forming on the borders of what’s now known as the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. While only three houses from this pioneering community remains, the Weeksville Heritage Center is there to tell the story of this extraordinary community.
Louis Armstrong House Museum
Out of all the places in the world, jazz legend Louis Armstrong made his home in Corona, Queens. When you visit the house-turned-museum, you’ll see firsthand the mostly down-to-earth way “Satchmo” and wife Lucille lived and learn about the positive impact a celebrity can directly have on a community.
Lewis Latimer House
Lewis Latimer embodied STEAM well before it was an educational buzzword. This self-taught black inventor worked alongside some of the most renowned inventors in American history. Plus he also channeled his creativity into visual art and creative writing. Get your creative juices flowing by visiting his home in Flushing, Queens.
Langston Hughes House
Up until recently, poetry was still being made in the brownstone Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes called home for the last two decades of his life. Reflect on the poet’s work as you visit where he wrote “Montage of a Dream Deferred” and “I Wonder as I Wander.”
Addisleigh Park Historic District
When you visit the Addisleigh Park Historic District, you won’t just be in awe of the English Tudor and neo-Colonial Revival-style houses; you’ll also be stunned by the laundry list of black celebrities who once called this area home. Does Jackie Robinson, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, or Ray Campanella ring any bells? (And that’s not even scratching the surface.) I bet the block parties here used to be swinging.
The Bronx African American History Project
This isn’t a physical place, but you should still pay it a visit. This Fordham University initiative is a digital vault of the life stories of everyday black Bronxites.
Studio Museum in Harlem
If your idea of heaven is being surrounded by beautiful and stirring pieces of black art, than you’ll have to spend the day at the Studio Museum in Harlem (once its renovation is finished).
This is a little museum with a big name (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts), but that doesn’t prevent its exhibits from hitting you hard. MoCADA’s exhibits specialize in making you think deeply about black social and political issues.
Richard Beaver Gallery
While you are in Brooklyn, stop by this gallery to see how early and mid-career artists use visual art to address issues affecting black people.
The Africa Center
A museum where you get to connect with African art and eat African food sounds like a winning combination to me. Plus it’s right around the corner from Central Park’s Harlem entrance.
Don’t you dare leave Harlem without stepping foot in the legendary Apollo Theater! Amateur Night at the Apollo has been the launching pad for performers from Ella Fitzgerald to Mariah Carey. Maybe you’ll discover music’s next megastar.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
At Alvin Ailey, dance is more than putting on a performance. In the words of Alvin Ailey himself, his dancers aspire to “hold a mirror to society so that people can see how beautiful they are.”
Pitkin Avenue Art Walk
Don’t sleep on Brownsville! This Brooklyn neighborhood has some of the dopest street art in the city. You’ll find several incredible murals along Pitkin Avenue. The Pitkin Ave BID’s webpage lists the exact locations.
Other Worthwhile Experiences
Akaawba Mansion Bed & Breakfast
Since 1995 this mid-nineteenth century mansion in Bed-Stuy has been providing its guests with an afrocentric luxury experience. What other Brooklyn B&B has Jacuzzi tubs and serves Southern-style breakfasts every morning?
The Lit. Bar
The Lit. Bar is the only general bookstore in the Bronx, but don’t compare it to a run-of-the-mill Barnes and Noble. What Barnes and Noble do you know of that also has a wine bar?
I Bike Harlem
Sure, you can take a Harlem bus tour or a walking tour, but have you ever tried exploring the neighborhood on a bike? On an I Bike Harlem tour, Harlem resident Maxine Daniels guides you through Harlem’s streets, history, and culture.
Little Caribbean Food and Culture Tour
You don’t have to hop on a plane to visit the Caribbean. For over 100 years, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush has been home to a dynamic Caribbean community. Explore and eat your way through this colorful neighborhood with me as your tour guide.
Which things on the NYC black bucket list have you already done? Is there anything you would add to the list? Feel free to comment below! And if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to sign up for my email list and follow me on social media so you can get to know NYC even better with Shiloh in the City!