February is Black History Month and a time to reflect on the profound impact that African-Americans have had on this nation’s history. Consider the many triumphs that African-Americans have championed for our nation, despite incredible odds and extreme racial prejudice. Their immeasurable contributions have enriched our culture and strengthened our stature in the world. For a greater appreciation of six of the most influential African-Americans, take a look inside their homes. Imagine the extraordinary lives they lived. Listen to their stories. Learn about their families, their struggles, and their extraordinary achievements. The historic home tours listed below offer a unique perspective on the lives of these individuals and provide an intimate opportunity for deeper understanding.
It may be hard to believe that a giant in the world of sports and heavyweight champion of the world would have been raised in a petite, pink house. Yet, this modest home located at 3302 Grand Ave. in Louisville, Kentucky is where Muhammad Ali – born Cassius Clay, Jr. – grew up. Ali lived in the 2 bedroom, 1 bath home with his mother, father, and brother from 1947 to 1961. In 1960 Ali won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics and quickly rose to international fame. Beloved and respected for his athletic prowess, social activism, and larger than life personality, Muhammad Ali is a worldwide legend. Shortly before Ali’s death in 2016, his childhood home was restored to its original and is now the Muhammad Ali Childhood Home Museum. The Ali Center is also located in Louisville and certainly worth a visit.
Frederick Douglass spent his life fighting for justice and equality. Born into slavery in 1818, he escaped as a young man and became a leading voice in the abolitionist movement. People everywhere still find inspiration today in his tireless struggle, brilliant words, and inclusive vision of humanity. Douglass’s legacy is preserved here at Cedar Hill, where he lived his last 17 years. According to the National Parks Service website, Cedar Hill was built between 1855 and 1859 in Anacostia, a historic neighborhood om Washington, D.C. On September 1, 1877, Douglass purchased the house for $6,700. He lived in the home until his death on February 20, 1895.
Louis Armstrong—the world’s most famous jazz musician—was an international celebrity who could have lived anywhere. Yet in 1943, he and his wife, Lucille, settled in a modest house in Corona, Queens, where they lived for the remainder of their lives. No one has lived in the house since the Armstrongs, and the house and its furnishings remain very much as they were during Louis and Lucille’s lifetime. Today, the Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives is open to the public, offering guided tours of Louis’s longtime home. On the tour, audio clips from Louis’s homemade recordings are played, and visitors hear Louis practicing his trumpet, enjoying a meal, or talking with his friends. Visitors also get to enjoy an exhibit on Louis’s life and legacy, and the Armstrongs’ beautiful Japanese-inspired garden.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in a two-story Queen Anne-style home in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta, GA. Also located in the same neighborhood, just one block from the King’s home, is the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where King was a pastor and emerged as arguably the greatest civil rights leader of modern history. Both sites are part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park which also includes The King Center, the tomb and burial site of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and a Visitor Center. Tours of the home’s interior are led by park rangers from the National Parks Service and are incredibly popular among with visitors. Often described as immersive, engaging, and moving, the tour allows visitors to imagine how the King family spend several formative years of their lives as it was inside the walls of this home.
Harriet Tubman led a courageous life as an American abolitionist, political activist, and a lesser-known occupation as a Union Spy. She was born into slavery in Maryland, but escape to freedom in 1849. She worked tirelessly to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, putting her own life at risk. Tubman was also a spy during the Civil War. Using the skills and connections she gained from her work on the Underground Railroad, Tubman was able to gather intelligence on the locations of Confederate mines located in the Combahee River which resulted in the safe passage of Union boats. The Harriet Tubman Residence, where she lived during much of the time from 1859 through 1913, is part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, NY.
Nina Simone’s music is worldly, spanning a broad range of musical styles. She fused gospel and pop with classical music, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing to create a timeless sound. Regarded as one of the most influential recording artists of the 20th century, the musicians who cite her as an influence are as varied as Simone’s own musical styles. Elton John (who named one of his pianos after her), Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Christina Aguilera, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, and David Bowie are just a few. Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933 in this three-room clapboard house in Tryon, NC. Currently, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is working to restore and preserve Simone’s Tryon home.