New York City has a rich heritage of African-American culture that dates back almost 400 years to 1626 when the first slaves were brought here. Since then, contributions from famous and everyday heroes have helped to create the vibrant African-American community that exists today. From the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century that spawned incredible art (Romare Bearden), literature (Langston Hughes) and music (Louis Armstrong), to the 19th century free African-American community in Weeksville, Brooklyn, and the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s, New York’s neighborhoods are teeming with stories, and we’ve pulled together a list of 10 tours that cover the gamut of African-American history in New York from music and food to art and culture.
New York City Slavery & Underground Railroad Tour
African-American history is hidden across the city, and this walking tour from Inside Out opens visitors’ eyes to the fight for freedom that took place across the city. From a Colonial burial ground with 419 Africans and African descendants interred that is now a National Historic Landmark to important sights along the Underground Railroad like a coffeeshop that was once home to David Ruggles, who helped hundreds escape from slavery, the two-hour tour touches on the slaves that history often overlooks and the true story of New Yorkers who risked everything to help them. Along the way, you’ll hear heroic tales and visit the former locations of homes and churches where seemingly small deeds had a huge impact on history.
DETAILS: Saturdays 2pm to 4pm; $31.50 (get tickets!), advance purchase only; Lower Manhattan (meeting place provided after purchasing)
Weeksville Hunterfly Road Historic Houses
Though only rediscovered in 1968, Weeksville, a thriving village of free African-Americans, was established in 1838 as an independent community in the heart of Brooklyn. Founded just 11 years after the abolition of slavery in New York, it was in place a full 27 years before the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. To get insight into this amazing community, you’ll need to take a guided tour of Weeksville Hunterfly Road Historic Houses, three original properties dating from 1840 to 1883, which offer a look into the daily life of African-Americans in the 19th century.
DETAILS: Tuesday through Friday at 3pm; $5 (walk-ins welcome, but call to reserve as tours have a six guest max); 1698 Bergen St., Brooklyn; weeksvillesociety.org
Harlem Renaissance Multimedia Walking Tour
This two-hour walking tour kicks off at an important destination in its own right, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Learn about the history of the neighborhood there and then listen to the voices of the Harlem Renaissance like Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey and Billie Holiday, which are played as you stroll through some of Harlem’s most beautiful and storied blocks. This multi-media experience from Harlem Heritage is a unique way to experience history as audio and video clips of music and voices of famous African-Americans from Harlem enhance the experience. Furthermore, the walks are conducted by Harlem natives who give an insider perspective on the neighborhood. You get a local’s view as you visit the Savoy Ballroom, the Langston Hughes House and many more historic locations.
DETAILS: Saturdays and every other Monday from 1pm to 3 pm; $25; Schomburg Center at 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard); harlemheritage.com
Dive deep into the history, culture and architecture of one of New York’s most famous neighborhoods with this tour led by the informative guides from Big Onion tours. You’ll visit the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Striver’s Row, the Big Apple Nightclub and important sites associated with W.E.B. Du Bois, the Harlem Renaissance and Madame C.J. Walker just to name a few. From the founding of Harlem as a Dutch outpost in the 1600s to the changing landscape we see today, this is a great introduction to the neighborhood.
DETAILS: dates and times vary, tours last approximately two hours; $20 in cash with no reservations required; northwest corner of 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard; bigonion.com
Great Day in Harlem Jazz Tour
Spend the afternoon getting an up-close look at many of the famous venues that lit up Harlem’s historic jazz scene. This five-hour mini-bus tour from Big Apple Jazz Tours takes to you to the original Cotton Club, Apollo Theatre and Minton’s Playhouse along with the home of Duke Ellington, the haunts of Billie Holiday, and the popular club of Count Basie. Guest also get a soul food dinner and a chance to experience the modern day jazz scene with three live sets at authentic Harlem clubs still going strong today.
DETAILS: Sundays 3pm to 8pm; $149, which includes dinner but not drinks; 125th Street, exact location revealed after booking; bigapplejazz.com
Harlem Sunday Gospel Tour
Head uptown to Harlem on a Sunday morning for an informative morning-long bus tour through this vibrant neighborhood that hits all the high points (Morris Jumel Mansion, Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, the Schomburg Center, etc.) and ends with a visit to a local church service known for live gospel music. There’s a brunch option too, so you can fill up on soul food (think the likes of chicken and waffles, collards and sweet potato pie) after listening to the beautiful sounds of the choir. No shorts, tank tops or flip-flops allowed on this Harlem Spirituals Tour.
DETAILS: Sundays 9:15am to 1:15pm; $59, advance booking required; 690 Eighth Ave.; harlemspirituals.com
Louis Armstrong House Museum Tour
Although Louis Armstrong was already a jazz legend by the time he moved into this humble house in 1943, he made the working-class neighborhood of Corona, Queens, his home for the last 28 years of his life. The house is preserved with uniquely decorated rooms that were designed by his wife Lucille. Just wait until you see the all-blue kitchen! You’ll also visit the handsome study where Louis met with famous guests, listened to music from his library, and recorded interviews. Informative guides add poignant details and play clips from Louis’ musical recordings over the years as you make your way through the rooms, and the house is only accessible with a tour.
DETAILS: Tuesday through Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm to 5pm with tours on the hour, every hour (last tour at 4pm); $10; 34-56 107th St., Corona; louisarmstronghouse.org
Birthplace of Hip-Hop Tour
Travel to where a musical and cultural global phenomenon all began in the Boogie Down Bronx and beyond with this in-depth, four-hour bus tour. You’ll visit important landmarks in hip-hop history including the 1970s nightclubs where DJs and dancers made their moves along with the Graffiti Wall of Fame in East Harlem that is still a canvas for the superstars of street art. Best of all, you will be guided by real life hip-hop legends like GrandMaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, Rahiem of the Furious Five, and Reggie Reg of Crash Crew who provide first-person insights into the origins of the genre and answer questions and offer up autographs along the way.
DETAILS: Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 11am to 3pm; $75; near the Empire State Building (details provided after booking); hushtours.com
Taste Harlem Food Tour
Soul food may be at the heart of Harlem cuisine, but this Taste Harlem tour opens up your palate to the other foods that the neighborhood is known for including dishes from Africa, the Caribbean and beyond. This walking tour will show you the rich history of Harlem fare (everything from deep Southern goodies like chicken and waffles to the soups and stews of West Africa) as you make five to seven stops to taste along the way and get a glimpse of local history with a visit inside a historic row house from the 1880s.
DETAILS: Tuesday, Friday and Saturday 10am to 2pm; $95, advance purchase required; Harlem (details provided after booking; come hungry); tasteharlem.com
Romare Bearden Tour
This tour from Harlem One Stop highlights locations significant to the art and life of Romare Bearden, an important African-American artist of the 20th century who moved to New York as a young child. Bearden’s work — he’s known for collages that focus on African-American life — can be found in MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Library of Congress. One of the tour highlights is seeing his studio and the site of The Block, one of his most famous works.
DETAILS: dates and times vary; $25, RSVP required, call 917-583-4109 or 212-658-9160; location revealed after booking; harlemonestop.com
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