Healthy Soul

Get on board: A black history tour via Amtrak

It fell into place just by chance. Well, not exactly. Let’s say it evolved from my quest for the lowest possible airline fares between Philadelphia and Jackson, MS, to visit a friend for the July 4 weekend.

I had been promising to visit for almost two years, and she was now planning to move by the end of the summer. I scoured all the sites touting low fares, only to find them way above my budget. Some airlines not only declared exorbitant fares but offered itineraries with long layovers. It was just not coming together the way I intended.

I'll be on lots of train platforms on this trip.

Amtrak to the rescue

How else could I get there? Driving more than 1,000 miles would mean at least 20 hours on the road each way. Nope, I would not be doing that. The bus was definitely out of the question. I didn’t even check it out; the mental images did not evoke fun.

The train, Amtrak, came to mind. At first glance, the fares were equally outrageous and with much, much longer travel times. For a moment, I thought I’d have to give up on the idea of going to Jackson, but just as the cursor hovered over the X to close the website, I saw it. The fourth item under “Other Options” said “US Rail Passes.” For $389, Amtrak will allow me to get on and off the trains up to eight times – or segments as they were called – within 15 days. You can also get rail passes for 12 segments to complete travel in 30 days and 18 segments for 45 days.

Instantly I saw the possibilities. Not only will I visit with my friend in Jackson, but after looking at the stations along the way – Washington, DC, Chicago, Memphis and the end of the line, New Orleans – the idea of a black-history tour by train began taking shape.

The plan

Although I’d be missing the official commemoration activities of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, I could visit the black cultural and historical sites in Jackson. I wanted to do the same in all the other cities. I carefully studied the train schedule, paying attention to the time between train connections and where it would make sense to stay a day or two in a city.

The first leg is Philadelphia to Washington. The four-hour hiatus is more than enough time for me to get on a metro to Arlington National Cemetery to pay homage to the many soldiers buried in the colored section. Then it is an overnight ride into Chicago that delivers the gift of an entire day to explore the DuSable Museum and other significant sites.

I’ll seek assistance to identify sites within easy reach of the train station from Barbara Morris at Tours of Black America. I’ll be riding on the City of New Orleans – a train promising spacious lounges and menus featuring local fare at reasonable prices as it plies between Chicago and New Orleans, with Memphis and Jackson on the way. I’ve never been to Memphis, so I’m planning one day and night to absorb the Civil Rights Museum and Stax Records, seek out vegan soul food (I’m not anticipating much success with this item), and possibly take a Mississippi riverboat cruise.

And how could I return home without a visit to New Orleans, my first since Katrina? Or pass up the opportunity to see the Eddie Kendricks/Temptations’ Memorial Park in Birmingham?


Over my 11-day trip, there are about four overnights on the train. A conversation with an Amtrak agent assured me there are showers available for those of us not opting for the sleepers. Sleepers, I found out, could cost up to an additional $179 per segment with meals included, when available. I’m taking my chances on those spacious coach seats.

I will need hotel accommodations in Memphis, New Orleans and Birmingham. And those will be in black-owned properties. I’ll check the websites of the African American Innkeepers Association International for bed and breakfast establishments, and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers for larger properties and franchises.

I’ll work on the details over the next few weeks. In the meantime, tell me about your trip plans?


Click here to read the other posts from Jennifer’s Black History Tour.


  1. your trip seems so exciting and makes me want to try it, thanks for the info

    • Hey Loretta – yes, it was fun and educational. If you go, purchase a sleeper as it was not very comfortable sleeping in the coach seats – even though some were pretty wide. Remember to check with the visitors and convention bureau in each city. I want to hear about your trip when you take it.

  2. I am doing a Gullah Tour and you just saved me so much money. I did not have to charter a bus and cut the hotel cost tremendously. Thank You.