Healthy Soul

Black History Tour – Exploring Washington, DC

My friend Valarie and I are on our own Black History tour aboard Amtrak, visiting heritage sites pertaining to African American history in Chicago, Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Washington,DC. We began on Tuesday, June 28, 2011. Here is what we did on Day 1, starting out on this adventure.

The laughter came from the five sisters taking their aunt, who was blind, to see her brother, their uncle, at the Soldiers’ Home outside of Washington, DC. They’d be meeting his children, their cousins, for the first time.

We sat together and talked about their family of 12 siblings; about their trip to Las Vegas and having so much fun at the Platters’ concert that concert-goers who saw them the next day remembered them, about their frequent visits to the slots in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

And so went the first leg of my train trip. Valarie and I arrived in Washington, DC, within 15 minutes of each other. She came from Virginia Beach. I came from Philadelphia. We had three hours before the next leg to Chicago would begin. The first thought was to check our bags – we each had one – and then explore outside Union Station. The agent at the information desk asked if we had sleeper units. Our negative response prompted directions to the bag storage area. Eight dollars per hour for two medium bags. Per hour? Hmm!

Remember to add the storage fees to your budget when traveling through Washington, DC.

We navigated the station with the bags in search of lunch. We quickly realized that they would hamper our movements outside the station. So back to the bag storage area we went, anted up the $8 and walked across the street to the National Postal Museum, a part of the Smithsonian Institution. Who knew that when the Pony Express first got started, it was so dangerous that on average for every 300 miles  the mail carriers rode, someone died? Robbed and shot. Or that beneath the streets in major cities was a pneumatic system for transporting mail?

National Postal Museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Back in the station and on line to board the train, we learned the pecking order: those with sleepers, seniors, families with young children and then the rest of us. We boarded specific cars by our final destination, received seat assignments and got assistance with luggage from the conductors. Lots of leg room. The seats reclined way back and the footrests came up so high that we were almost lying prone. In spite of that, we were happy that we had only three nights of sleeping on the train.

My favorite spot on the train was the sightseeing car. Floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights, comfortable chairs that face out so we could enjoy the scenery and tables with lots of outlets. Riders hung out there. No Wi-Fi as promised. Very poor cell-phone reception.  That’s where we met the Inspired Catholic Voices, a three-member singing group on the way home to Oakland, CA, after accepting an award at the Red Cap Gospel Show in Greenville, NC.

Twins Leona Powers and Leila Bellows, and Luana Striplin, members of the Inspired Catholic Voices.



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


  1. Jennifer, sounds like an amazing odyssey so far! Are those singers triplets?!

    Can’t wait to see some of your videos! :)