Looking to teach your family about the rich and storied heritage of Black people who migrated out of the American South to parts North and West during the 19th and 20th centuries?
Make that lesson come to life by taking Amtrak’s California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, and visit cultural landmarks in each city along the way.
From the Black American West Museum — an immersive experience where your family can learn about the first Black cowboys and the exodus of Black populations from South to West — to the Chicago Jazz Festival, here are the places and events you need to know before planning your trip with Amtrak.
The Great Migration Statue in Chicago
The Great Migration Statue in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. & 26th Place) stands tall as a symbol of the massive movement of Black people to the city from the South during the early to mid-20th century. It’s a great first stop for your journey.
DuSable Museum of African-American History
The DuSable Museum (740 East 56th Place, Chicago) is named for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Haitian of African and French descent who founded a trading post in 1779 that would later become Chicago. The museum holds numerous exhibits celebrating Black culture, and is an important destination for any Black heritage tour.
The Freedom Now Mural by Robert Witt Ames
This 72-square-foot wood carving illustrates 400 years of African-American history, depicting notables such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Mary Mcleod Bethune; as well as historic events such as the 1831 Nat Turner-led slave rebellion.
Ongoing for over 35 years, the Africa Speaks exhibit at the DuSable Museum highlights the connections between African heritage and the slave trade. This mask is one of the many artifacts and works of art in the exhibit.
Chicago Jazz Festival and The City’s Music Scene
Every Labor Day Weekend, the Chicago Jazz festival showcases the city’s vast pool of jazz talent, playing live. In 2015, the festival takes place Sept. 3-6 in Millennium Park and Chicago Cultural Center. If you miss it, don’t worry: there’s a giant blues festival in Grant Park each June. Plus, the city is never short on great music in spots like Andy’s, Jazz Showcase, and House of Blues.
Bud Billiken Parade
The Bud Billiken Parade is known as the largest and oldest annual African-American parade in the country, focused on fun-filled family activities and displays of cultural pride. It’s held on the second Saturday of each August, beginning in the Bronzeville neighborhood and ending in Washington Park on Chicago’s heavily-Black south side.
Miss Juneteenth Waves To The Crowd In Denver
After Chicago, the next stop on your journey is Denver! Here too, African-American pride is on parade during the annual Juneteenth parade in the city’s historically-Black Five Points neighborhood. Juneteenth celebrations throughout the nation commemorate when enslaved Africans in Texas finally learned they were free on June 19, 1865 — over 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Buffalo Soldiers Honored in Denver’s 5 Points Neighborhood
From the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries, members of the U.S. Army’s segregated 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments, also known as Buffalo Soldiers, were active. Seen here are members of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West club riding through the Five Points Neighborhood during a recent Juneteenth Celebration.
Black American West Museum
A family favorite. The Black American West Museum in Denver (3091 California Street) is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of Black people in the Old West, from cowboys, to homesteaders, to soldiers, to miners, to schoolteachers and others. It also houses an exhibit focused on the Black ghost town of Dearfield, Colo. The museum is a crucial stop on any tour of Black heritage in the West.
Shorter AME Community Church Displays Stain Glass Windows of Women Activists in Denver
Before you leave, visit Shorter AME Community Church, the oldest Black church in Denver, organized in 1868. Be sure to view the stained glass window depicting local women activists and leaders, such as the late Rachel Bassette Noel (shown). She was the first Black woman elected to office in Colorado, in 1965.
For more information about the places and events mentioned, see on the links below.
- Monument to the Great Northern Migration
- DuSable Museum of African American History
- Chicago Jazz Festival 2015
- Bud Billiken Parade
- Five Points Neighborhood of Denver
- Black American West Museum
- Shorter Community AME Church
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