American Jazz Museum, Kansas City, Missouri

In early twentieth-century Kansas City, segregation confined the African American community to a neighborhood around 18th and Vine, isolated from the white world. In this neighborhood, the black community cultivated two forms of jazz music, swing, which was born in Kansas City, and Bebop, which came from elsewhere but grew and developed in the city. Kansas City now celebrates its jazz heritage at the American Jazz Museum. The museum features permanent exhibits on jazz greats Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie “Bird” Parker. The “Studio 18th and Vine” exhibit displays the components of a working music studio with five listening stations to each visitors about the instrumental sections of a jazz band. A resource center called “Jazz Central” houses a collection of research materials, Internet access to jazz-related Web sites, and more than 100 great jazz recordings. The museum’s “Blue Room” recreates the old nightclub of the same name, which was one of the hottest venues in the 18th and Vine District during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The Blue Room displays exhibits on the Kansas City jazz heritage by day, and serves four nights a week as a working jazz club featuring local and national jazz artists. The Charlie Parker Memorial Plaza, featuring a 17-foot bronze reflection of “Bird,” is located just west of the American Jazz Museum at 17th and Vine. Charles Christopher Parker was born in Kansas City, Kansas, August 29,1920, but he cultivated his craft in the Missouri city. The museum is housed with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in 18th and Vine Complex, in the heart of Kansas City’s historic African American neighborhood.

Delta Blues Museum, Mississippi

The Delta Blues Museum is located in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a place of mythic significance in the history of the blues. Clarksdale has long been the social and economic hub of the the Cotton Kingdom region, also known as the Mississippi Delta, where the blues began. And according to the legend, bluesman Robert Johnson made his famous bargain with the devil, exchanging his soul for the ability to play guitar the way that he had always dreamed, at the junction of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale. The Delta Blues Museum was located in an old library in Clarksville for 19 years, and is now in the process of moving to Clarksville’s newly restored Illinois Central Railroad Freight Depot. (The Illinois Central was, of course, the railroad that so many black Mississippians rode north to Chicago, carrying the blues with them.) In its new location, the museum is the anchor of “Blues Alley,” Clarksdale’s developing historic blues district. The new museum will present exhibits in a chronological arrangement, placing key blues dates and events in historical, social, political, agricultural, and technological context. The exhibits will feature artifacts, photographs, listening stations with directional speakers, and interactive experiences (playing a real diddley bow, getting to know how a slide guitar feels, etc.).

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Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a museum on the civil rights movement, from the era of segregation to the birth of the movement and the worldwide struggle for civil and human rights. The exhibits are organized into several galleries. The Barriers Gallery, designed to display everyday life for blacks in Birmingham during the post-war era of segregation, includes exhibits such as white and colored drinking fountains, and the Carver Theatre, a part of Birmingham’s African American district where blacks could see movies without being required to sit in the balcony. The Movement Gallery has displays on the turbulent times from 1955 to 1965, when the Rev. Martin Luther King was most active in Alabama. The Milestones Gallery consists of fifteen burnished steel obelisks that detail dates of significant events from the civil rights movement, including the election of the first blacks to the Alabama Legislature, the Alabama Supreme Court, the U. S. Senate, the Birmingham City Council, and the Birmingham’s office of the Mayor. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is also a center for education and discussion about civil and human rights issues. The Institute’s projects and services promote research, provide information, and encourage discussion on human rights in America and around the world.

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National Civil Rights Museum

The National Civil Rights Museum would be worth visiting just to see the building in which it is located: the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. But the museum also presents a comprehensive review of America’s long struggle for racial justice, from slavery through the Civil War and emancipation, to segregation and the black migration to the north, and finally the twentieth-century civil rights movement. The museum houses over 10,000 square feet of permanent exhibits, which naturally highlight the life and career of Dr. King. Visitors can look into the room that Dr. King occupied at the motel, which has been restored to its condition on April 4, 1968, and see place on the motel balcony where he was assassinated.

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Oklahoma Route 66 Museum

Route 66, the “Mother Road” of American car culture, ran from Chicago to California. There is probably no state where the “Mother Road” was more important than Oklahoma, not only because it was the major east-west thoroughfare in the state, but also because it was the route of the great dust-bowl Okie migration, which changed the history of two states and the entire country. The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum has collected signs, artifacts, and memorabilia of the road into a comprehensive exhibition of its history and culture.

Click here for a map of the Route 66 Museum and surrounding area.