A personal sense of urgency to preserve and protect American history has fueled the creation of a series of Black history tours launching in Washington next month that will be hosted by Martin Luther King Jr.'s eldest son and his family.
And the launch of these tours, designed to honor and, hopefully, strengthen the legacy of King's civil rights work, is timely and necessary, their creators say, given the country's fractured political and educational landscape.
Martin Luther King III, along with his wife, Arndrea Waters King, and their 14-year-old daughter, Yolanda, will host the Continuing the Dream tours, the first of which is slated to debut on Presidents Day weekend, Feb. 17 to 20.
Custom-travel tour brand Insider Expeditions will operate the series, which will include three tours annually in three destinations, all hosted by the King family. The second itinerary will take place in the South and is expected to launch by the end of 2023, while the first international tour is planned for East Africa and will launch in 2024.
The tours aim to drive King's legacy by not only highlighting his pivotal work during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s but also by continuing the public discourse about racial equality and justice in America that the King family says is still very much needed, especially after the events of 2020.
The murder of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020, followed by the swift resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement that galvanized global protests in the wake of his killing, has been a driving force behind the creation of the tours, the family said, and its decision to host such tours for the first time.
"It is obvious that we experienced a racial reckoning in 2020, not only in this country but all over the world," King said. "In a very real sense, 2020 provided the largest civil rights demonstrations that the world had ever seen and the first time that all of these protests were happening on all seven continents."
Waters King added that the recent politically charged challenges to exclude or restrict the teaching of America's well-documented, centuries-old history of racism and slavery from public school systems in certain states have also served as their call to action to launch the Continuing the Dream tours.
"When you think of the fact that at this time our real history is not being taught in schools or being tainted, edited or just literally pulled out," she said, referring to the litany of proposed legislation targeting the teachings of critical race theory, slavery and systemic racism, "we feel a calling, more than ever, to make those connections so that people can see themselves within the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and their heirs."
The first Continuing the Dream tour will visit Washington. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Insider Expeditions
'Chocolate City' legacy
The inaugural four-day itinerary kicks off with a walking tour of the monuments and memorials on the National Mall followed by a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park and a Black history tour of the Capitol Grounds before digging into Southern cuisine at a well-known neighborhood restaurant.
Day Two will focus on the history of the free and enslaved African Americans who lived and worked in Georgetown, helping to build the neighborhood and its university, followed by a visit to the National Cathedral. The third day will include a visit to Howard University, a historically Black university, as well as a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
There will also be a three-hour tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian Institution that opened in 2016 to critical acclaim and included a dedication ceremony by then-President Barack Obama. King says this visit will be a highlight of the tour.
But exploring the cultural side of the nation's capital will be just as important as the tour's educational aspects.
Guests will also have a chance to experience "Chocolate City," as D.C. is famously called for being the first major majority-Black city in America, visiting historical neighborhoods and nightlife hubs like U Street, where such jazz greats as Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole once jammed. Dining in renowned Black-owned restaurants like Ben's Chili Bowl and Georgia Brown's are also included, and the tour is capped with a farewell dinner at Busboys and Poets.
A year of milestones
This will also be a year of milestone anniversaries for MLK's legacy and the civil rights movement, the Kings said, making the launch of the tours all the more meaningful.
2023 marks 55 years since the assassination of King and 60 years since he wrote "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and the Birmingham campaign for civil and human rights as well as the March on Washington when King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
"Our hope is to utilize all these anniversaries to really come back to the best of who we are as a people, as Black people, as a nation and as a world, to really rise through all of the discord and the divisions throughout the year," Waters King said.
"There's a huge appetite for people understanding and knowing history," King added, highlighting the demand that has grown for Black heritage tours in the past two and a half years. "It's certainly a great time to provide and create an experience for others to engage in."