Travel to some of the most historically significant places in the United States in the southern states. Plantation museums, Civil War battlefields, and Civil Rights monuments are found throughout the region. Visit the epicenter of country music, Mardi Gras and Ozark arts and crafts, just a few of the cultural elements kept alive in the south.
It’s festival time every day at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras World. Tour the workshop where larger-than-life floats and over the top costumes are under construction for next year’s Mardi Gras season. Watch artisans transform papier-mache into colorfully painted, glittered and accessorized alligators, court jesters, and mythical creatures.
Pre-Civil War Greek-revival mansions loom on both sides of the Mississippi River, remains from Louisiana’s sugar plantation era. Drive the Great Mississippi River Road between the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans to view these historical estates. Some like, the Evergreen Plantation, offer tours of their grounds. Evergreen holds national landmark status as it preserves all aspects of plantation life including slave cabins along with the ornate main house.
Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the decisive Civil War battle and the 47-day siege of the Confederate-held Vicksburg, strategically situated overlooking the Mississippi River. The park’s 16-mile tour road passes a portion of Vicksburg’s 1,300 monuments, 144 cannons and reconstructed earthworks and trenches. The restored Union armored USS Cairo Gunboat sunk by a torpedo during battle was raised in 1966 and is now on display within the park.
Part of the Birmingham Civil Rights District, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an interpretive museum immersing visitors in the legacy of the civil rights movement. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, bombed by white supremacists in 1963, a reminder of racism’s horrifying past is located across the street from the museum. Realistic installments and life-sized sculptures place Institute visitors into iconic civil rights movement moments.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park celebrates the influential civil rights leader’s life from birth to death. His boyhood home, an 1895 Queen Anne, is open for tours. The historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King became a minister at the age of 19 is also within the Park. The King Center promotes nonviolent social change. The Center displays artifacts and archives from Dr. King’s life and the civil rights movement. Dr. King’s tomb rises above a long water feature memorial within the King Center complex.
Savannah’s Historic District dates back to the mid-1700s and over the years has accumulated museums, charming parks, stately mansions, shops and restaurants it’s hard to know where to start exploring. Let the horses at Historic Savannah Carriage Tours show you around by carriage ride. As the carriage passes historic homes of notable locals, the driver tour guide will fill you in on the town’s colorful story.
The forested Ozark Folk Center State Park in Northern Arkansas preserves the region’s Ozark culture. Home remedies and delicious cooking start in the Park’s diverse herb gardens where medicinal herbs and spices grow. Visit over 20 crafters and artisans as they make goods throughout the park. Quilts and homespun yarns are just a few of the products made onsite. The Ozark Mountain Sound or music keeps the mountain culture alive. Live music performances are held at the Park where the Ozark Highlands Radio show is recorded then distributed to public radio stations and online.
See how the King of rock and roll lived at Graceland the Home of Elvis Presley. Graceland Mansion is furnished in the 1960s, and 70s items Elvis and his family used and enjoyed when they lived there. See many of the rooms he took refuge in. Stop by the peaceful Meditation Garden where Elvis is buried. His private jets, auto collection, and bedazzled performance jumpsuits are all available to see up close.
The Grand Ole Opry, home base for country music since its first radio broadcast in 1925 produces a weekly country music variety show. The two-hour live music show features established and up and coming country music artists. Attend the live country music concert at the Grand Ole Opry or listen from anywhere to their web stream.
The Country Music Hall of Fame honors the deep American roots of country music and supports the future of the genre. The Hall’s core exhibit “Sing Me Back Home” takes visitors on a trip through the origination of country music to today. Costumes, instruments, recordings and film footage create the sense of each musical era. Find the plaques of favorite country music musicians hanging in the museum rotunda.
Eva Barrows is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer. Eva writes about local places, people and events on her website www.evabarrows.com. She founded the online literary journal Imitation Fruit in 2007 and has enjoyed promoting fellow writers and artists ever since.