Healthy Soul

Black History Tour via Amtrak

In late June and early July, WABW blogger Jennifer Beaumont and her friend Valarie traveled from Philadelpia by train to New Orlean, with a stop in Birmingham, AL, on the way back home. In stops along the way, they spent time exploring the places associated with African American history.

Amtrak train - we'll be on and off eight times in the next 11 days.

Here are Jennifer’s blog posts on coming up with the idea for the trip, preparations for it, and traveling by train over 11 days from June 29  through the Fourth of July and a few days after:

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.

Preparing for the Black history tour on Amtrak

t is really a trip that should be shared, and my friend Valarie from Virginia Beach will be joining me on this Black history tour. We’ll be meeting in Washington, DC. With that settled, there were so many things to put in place.  Well, we are as ready as we’ll ever be. Only a couple of hours before the Amtrak conductor’s “All Aboard!” beckons us.

Black History Tour – Getting to Chicago

Valarie and I arrived in Washington, DC, within 15 minutes of each other. The first thought was to check our bags 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!

Bronzeville USA aka South Side Chicago

I’ve been to Chicago several times for conferences. I can’t recall taking a tour, but remember traversing Miracle Mile, buying pretty things at Marshall Fields, satisfying my sweet tooth at Godiva’s and sauntering along the lakefront. None of that prepared me for an afternoon with tour guide Barbara Morris.

Memphis, TN: 24 hours on the ground

There she was, posing for a picture with the marque for the B.B. King club as the backdrop. She looked so familiar. Who would I know here on Beale Street in Memphis? And then we recognized each other in the same moment! Sure enough, there was my friend Sandi, all the way from Philly just like me, exploring the fun, foods and lights on Beale Street.

Headed to Jackson, MS, and missing a town with a painful history

It was an easy day today. The train was filled with families going away for the long weekend. As we were sitting in the sightseeing car watching the cornfields and towns swoosh by, we saw that Greenwood, MS, was eight miles from Money, MS, where Emmett Till was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955.

Jackson, MS – Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour

We started the day sitting around the island in Dawna’s kitchen filling her in on the details of the trip, eating leftovers from last night’s dinner at the Bonefish: crabcakes, scallops and shrimp in mango salsa, while going through the Jackson: Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour booklet. There were 55 stops included with detailed driving directions.

Jackson, MS – Exploring the Mississippi Delta

Today, we decided to visit the Mississippi Delta, but we didn’t know exactly where it was. Online searches directed us to multi-day driving tours in areas like Clarksdale, MS, where actor Morgan Freeman lives. The city closest to us was Yazoo City, named by the Native Americans, and located on the Yazoo River. We used back roads through farm lands for the one-hour drive northwest of Jackson.

New Orleans – The Big Easy, Crescent City, Nawlins

Dinner at the French Market – blackened redfish with crabmeat for me and jambalaya for Valarie – had us cleaning everything off our plates. Valarie also enjoyed the Louisiana lemonade, low in alcohol and very refreshing, she reported. This full day came to a close with the Fourth of July fireworks on the Mississippi River, visible to thousands of spectators on the West Bank in Algiers as well as those of us on the East Bank in New Orleans.

New Orleans- Meandering around town

Christine DeCuir, the media services coordinator for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau Inc., had left a packet of information about the city for me. I picked up the packet at the front desk of my hotel when we checked in on Monday.

Birmingham, AL – Getting ready for the best tour

We said goodbye to the Big Easy, got on the Crescent and began the ride to Birmingham. Unlike the City of New Orleans train, the Crescent had no superliner cars so it was not as easy to take pictures of the scenery. The seven-hour ride took us across Lake Pontchartrain out of Louisiana into Mississippi before entering Alabama. We saw the signs to Philadelphia, MS, the back gates of Southern Mississippi University and the large Budweiser plant in Meridian, MS.

Birmingham, AL – Exploring the civil rights district

Barry McNealy, high school social studies teacher and Birmingham City tour guide, started our tour at the Vulcan, the world’s largest iron man, set atop the Red Mountain. As a high school social studies teacher, he wanted us to understand the interconnections between the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression and why there had to be a civil rights movement.

Washington, DC – Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival was the only item on the day’s agenda. We arrived in Washington, D.C.’s, Union Station about 9:30 a.m. Friday, paid the $40 daily storage fees for our bags and headed to the Metro system directly below the Amtrak station. Using the detailed maps and fare charts posted on the walls, we easily figured out the amount for the fare card ($4.50) for the round trip to the Smithsonian stop and which trains to take.

Home Sweet Home

I’ve been home for one week and I’m still on a high from the trip. Emotionally, that is. My body has shut down, screaming for physical rest. We walked miles and miles most days, and were up pretty late most nights. On the last segment of the trip, riding from Washington, DC to Philadelphia, I started texting and emailing friends, letting them know it was all about to end.


  1. I have learned so much along the way. I look forward to reading more as I think I miseed a few days.

    • I was living in Jamaica during the time most of these events of the civil rights movement were taking place. While I read about them and knew the facts, this trip has made them much more powerful to me.

      My knowledge of the geography of the USA is much, much better also.

  2. great job. thanks for the vicarious thrills. wish i could have joined you!

    thanks for sharing your amazing journey with us!

    to travel is to dance,

    elaine lee


  1. Fred Wesley was playing but James Brown was presiding | Auction Finds
  2. New Orleans - Meandering the town | Come Explore With Me
  3. Home Sweet Home | Come Explore With Me
  4. Washington, DC - Smithsonian Folklife Festival | Come Explore With Me
  5. Birmingham, AL - Exploring the civil rights district. | Come Explore With Me
  6. Birmingham, AL - Getting ready for the best tour | Come Explore With Me
  7. New Orleans - The Big Easy, Crescent City, Nawlins | Come Explore With Me
  8. Jackson, MS - Exploring the Mississippi Delta | Come Explore With Me
  9. Jackson, MS - Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour | Come Explore With Me
  10. Headed to Jackson, MS, missing a town with a painful history | Come Explore With Me
  11. Memphis, TN: 24 hours on the ground | Come Explore With Me
  12. Bronzeville, USA aka South Side Chicago | Come Explore With Me
  13. Preparing for the black history tour on Amtrak | Come Explore With Me
  14. Get on board: A black history tour via Amtrak | Come Explore With Me

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