9 Places to Learn About Black History in San Diego

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Teach your kids about African American history and ethnicity for Black History Month. Visits to San Diego museum exhibits, sculptures and historical sites will spark discussions and enlighten young minds with history lessons about the first Black San Diegans as well as famous Black leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sojourner Truth. Read on for where to go for an educational and inspiring tour around the city on walking tours in San Diego.

Breaking of the Chains Monument

Teach your kids to keep Breaking the Chains of discrimination as this monument depicts. It was created by Melvin Edwards in 1995 as a testament to African Americans’ bravery on their path toward civil rights. This is found next to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade, along with other outdoor sculptures and works of art nearby.

Breaking of the Chains Monument
301 1st Ave., Downtown

Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade

Let the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspire your discussions as you walk down the promenade dedicated to him. It’s a 0.6 mile long walkway lined with 30 plaques engraved with his famous words. All along this path, you’ll find additional works of art and outdoor sculptures. It begins near Petco Park, runs through the Gaslamp Quarter and continues across from the Convention Center along the Children’s Park and ends at W. Market St.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Promenade
326 Harbor Dr., Downtown

World Beat Center

This renovated water tower has become one of the most important multicultural art and event centers in San Diego. The walls inside and out are brightly covered in murals and flags to commemorate Egyptian, African and Indigenous Cultures’ important leaders and historical cultures. Their weekly family drumming, dance and other classes are on hold right now, but there are virtual events online from poetry, tribute bands, a Malcom X birthday panel and discussions about African Americans’ presence in Latin America. They also have an onsite WorldBeat Café, currently open Fri.-Sun. for take-out featuring cultural dishes made with produce from their ethnobotany garden outside.

Work Beat Center
2100 Park Blvd., Balboa Park
619-230-1190
Online: worldbeatcenter.org

Sojourner Truth Statue

This famed UCSD sculpture was created by alumni and African American sculptor, Manuelita Brown. Sojourner was a suffragist and abolitionist who used the power of her words to stand up for women’s rights and combat slavery. You’ll find this sculpture near the Thurgood Marshall College on the UCSD campus.

Sojourner Truth Statue
UCSD Campus
9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla

Julian Hotel (originally Hotel Robinson)

Hotel Robinson was built in 1897 by freed slave Albert Robinson, who came to California to start a new life. This is one of the first Black owned businesses in San Diego County and is now part of the National Register of Historic Places. Today it continues as a hotel now called the Julian Gold Rush Hotel and has been authentically restored to provide an ambiance of the history. This is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Southern California.

Julian Hotel
2032 Main St., Julian
800-734-5854
Online: julianhotel.com

African Museum (Casa del Rey Moro)

Learn about African world history with a special focus on African-Spanish, African-Mexican and African-American heritage. You’ll find charts, timelines, carvings, weavings and more relics from ancient, colonial and current periods. There are study guides that overlap the California public school’s framework to better understand African cultural history and its impact throughout the world. The bookstore has a lot of books featuring San Diego Black pioneers and local Black history. When the museum opens up again you may even get to meet Congo, the African-Grey parrot.

African Museum - Casa del Rey Moro
2471 Congress St., Old Town
619-220-0022
Online: africanmuseumsandiego.com

Malcolm X Library and Performing Arts Center

Schedule your library book pick-up here and you can learn and read about Malcolm X. You’ll find a large statue of the civil rights leader that’s sure to spark a discussion with your kids about what he stands for. Librarians can help you choose something that’s just right for your kids to read from their Special Collection of African Diaspora books, newspapers and magazines. It also features an African American Genealogy section if you have roots in your family to look up. This library branch serves the largely African-American communities in this neighborhood and it was designed to serve as a cultural institution for the community with its performing arts and cultural center. The library is currently open for limited services.

Malcolm X Library
5148 Market St., Valencia Park
619-527-3405
Online: sandiego.gov/public-library

San Diego History Center

Search the new “Celebrate: Black History & Heritage” online exhibit at the San Diego History Center. It starts back in 1798 with their collection of historical documents and photos that record African American history in San Diego. This is a dynamic unfolding exhibition that’s not complete without on-going community involvement and "will be an ever-evolving exhibit."

San Diego History Center
1649 El Prado, Balboa Park
619-232-6203
Online: sandiegohistory.org

Gaslamp Quarter

Walk where the first African Americans lived and worked in San Diego and see how they helped shape the city. The first Black-owned businesses started along Market Street in the Gaslamp Quarter with hotels, a barber shop, a candy & sundries shop and a laundry service, among others. One of the most well known was the Douglas Hotel in 1920 (no longer there). It offered the first desegregated gathering place for black and white people for lodging, dining, dancing and entertainment. Famed Black jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday would play there often.

Gaslamp Quarter
Between Broadway - K Streets
and Fourth - Sixth Streets
Downtown

Note: Some of the locations listed above may currently be closed or have limited hours, so call ahead for updates or keep them in mind for future visits.

––Bonnie Taylor

featured image via Bonnie Taylor

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