Black Meetings and Tourism

JAN/FEB 2012

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BY MICHAEL BENNETT enced again. While the events of the global New Year's cele- brations are characteristically a time to look ahead, I was thinking to myself, wow another year gone, I'm getting old – just kidding on that one. What will recorded history tell us about 2011? What will be As remembered 10, 20 or even 50 years from now as significant addi- tions to our culture, heritage and the advancement of mankind. The beauty of living in an age of instant information and mas- sive creativity is the ability to record and share our collective love of history and culture vicariously using heritage tourism as the eyes and ears to our past. For those destinations with great heritage tourism products the coming years should offer a windfall of opportunity like never before as we reach several important milestones in American his- tory. Fifty years ago America was in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement. The heroes and heroines of this era have written their last chapter in our history books and will forever be remembered for their contribution to the greater good – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, the Little Rock Nine, Rosa Parks, President John F. Kennedy and others. Several seminal anniversary events of the Civil Rights era are upon us from Dr. King's August 1963 'I Have a Dream' speech, to the heart wrenching death of four little girls at an Alabama church, to the passage of both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The sesquicentennial anniversary (150 years) of the Civil War is upon us as well. On January 27, 1862, President Lincoln issued a war order authorizing the Union to launch a unified aggressive action against the Confederacy – a war that would forever alter the lives of the American populace. But culture and heritage are more than movements, wars and protests. A quick trip to Harlem and the Apollo Theater reminds us all of the cultural and literary contributions of a community. Our heritage includes the musing, orations and words of authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Frederick Douglas. What about Marian Anderson's watershed performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 or the inventions of George Washington Carver? We have music festivals such as Essence, parades, plays, his- torically Black college football games, business leaders, movies such as the recently released Red Tails inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen. Collectively this is what heritage and heritage tourism is all about. We celebrate the music of Louis Armstrong, the spectacular skills and the willingness to challenge authority embodied in the persona of Muhammad Ali, whose act of defiance defined a gener- ation. I would have loved to interview all those mentioned here. Last year when I wrote this story I referenced an old African Proverb that seems more appropriate now. "Return to old watering holes for more than water, friends and dreams are 32 Black Meetings & Tourism January/February 2012: theWaterford Crystal Ball descended down the flagpole inTimes Square Iwas struck by the final- ity of it all…2011 is no more, never to be experi-

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