A Love for Black History & Food

A Love for Black History & Food

Imani Ellis

Imani Ellis is the founder of CultureCon, a conference for creatives of color and The Creative Collective NYC, a community dedicated to facilitating brave spaces for multicultural creatives.

I’ve grown particularly fond of trips that infuse both Black history and culture. This curiosity isn’t timed to a particular time of year because we know that Black History … is American history. Black history isn’t a footnote to be digested in 28 days, it’s critically interwoven into the fibers of our country’s historical makeup with contributions that are life-changing and monumental. I spent time the last few months taking road trips to some of my favorite historical cities and stayed in vacation rentals along the way to embed myself in the community I’m visiting.

Here are five cities I recommend you visit if you’re curious about learning and unlearning Black history and celebrating Black culture. Just like our history, the influence of Black cuisine and culture is a foundation of American cuisine, and I enjoy using food as a conduit to learning more about history, specifically regarding the Black experience in this country. In addition to the cities, I’ve also suggested some amazing restaurants you have to try while you’re in town.

Atlanta, GA

Now, I may be a little biased because I grew up here, but Atlanta is a dream of a city. You may need more than a weekend to explore all Atlanta has to offer, but I suggest starting your day with a delicious brunch at Vickeries in Glenwood. Don’t skip the breakfast sandwich! Walk it off with a trip to the Atlanta History Center, where you’ll find countless rooms filled to the brim with historic information about the civil rights movement in America. After you’ve explored each room, head to Beetle Cat in Inman Park for the best lobster roll in Atlanta.

Next, soak up some sun in Piedmont Park, then head to Golden Eagle to order a cocktail and appetizers. Wind down after a long day of exploring in this Midtown penthouse — you’ll be close to everything! If you’re still looking for more Atlanta culture, visit The Trap Museum and end your day at the Vortex for one of the best burgers in Atlanta.

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Harlem, NYC

If I’m being completely honest, Harlem is one of the reasons I’ve stayed in New York City (NYC) for so long. My favorite part about living in the neighborhood is finding local spots that are years in the making– steeped in history, culture and storytelling. People still look you in the eyes when they pass you here, and the best fried chicken and catfish in NYC can be found at Melba’s. If you’re craving pizza, grab a slice at Sottocasa Pizzeria. When you’re ready to take in some history, take a walk by Hotel Theresa where Malcolm X, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, and Muhammed Ali stayed.

As you continue to walk down the iconic 125th street, spend time in front of the legendary Apollo Theatre. Fan of Alexander Hamilton? Of course you are! Visit his home on 141st street and devour the best cookies in the city from Levain Bakery. Walk up and down Strivers Row, a row of beautiful townhomes where Black hard-working professionals, or “strivers,” resided. Book a classic Harlem brownstone and thank me later!

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Savannah, GA

Savannah has the perfect combination of Southern hospitality, history, and culture. Wake up in your sun-soaked apartment, then start your day with breakfast at Sunnyside Up, a local favorite serving the most delicious fried shrimp with a side of grits. Next, buy a ticket for a trolley tour–the most convenient way to get the lay of the land, plus your ticket lets you hop on and off all day. For lunch, head to Geneva’s Famous Chicken for the literal best fried chicken you have ever had in your life.

Next, it’s time for more exploring. First up: visit Forsyth Park, where you’ll catch a farmer’s market on Saturdays. Then head to First African Baptist Church, the home of the first Black Baptist congregation in North America, Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters, Jones Street, where the phrase “Keeping Up with the Joneses” comes from, and the Riverfront. Honorable mentions go to The Grey, Leopold’s Ice Cream (the line is worth it), and Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Georgia.

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Birmingham, AL

Birmingham was considered the epicenter of the civil rights movement and even though I grew up there for part of my childhood, I always enjoy going back. When planning your trip, book the ultimate Southern-inspired home, located in downtown Birmingham and built in 1905. Visit the Civil Rights Institute, which is filled to the brim with artifacts, interactive experiences, and firsthand accounts from the civil rights movement. Then head over to Kelly Ingram Park, a historic four-acre park in the Civil Rights District that was the location for large demonstrations, including the demonstration of 1963, where Birmingham police and firemen confronted child protesters and used fire hoses and police dogs against them. Public outrage over the events in Birmingham produced political pressure that helped to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After all this learning, you’re probably hungry, so grab lunch at the world-famous Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ and walk through the Botanical Gardens to work up your appetite again. Double up on BBQ with Full Moon BBQ, but be sure to order extra sauce on the side because it’s that delicious.

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New Orleans, LA

New Orleans will always have a special place in my heart. You could spend the entire day going on a food tour. Book your stay at this authentic Creole cottage. For breakfast, head to Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe and grab a cup of gumbo to go. Order anything from the Dooky Chase menu (I personally love the fried catfish), and if you’re still hungry, head to Neyow’s Creole Cafe for an incredible shrimp po’ boy. You should also visit Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a family-owned restaurant since 1957 and voted as “America’s Best Fried Chicken” and The Praline Connection.

To learn more about history and culture, visit Le Musée de f.p.c., or Free People of Color, to learn the history of free people of color and their contributions, then head over to Studio BE, a 35,000-square-foot warehouse turned mural showcase, depicting iconic Black civil rights leaders, located in the 9th Ward.

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It’s been so fulfilling to learn more about my history though visiting new places and trying the food tied to those regions. I hope your curiosity drives you to explore some hometown history of your own.

Follow Imani on Instagram: @ImaniImani and Twitter: @imaninaomi