Breathing Black History: My Trip from Madam C.J. Walker’s Mansion to the National Museum of African American History in DC


Black history lives and breathes through us each and every day, and though often compartmentalized as something other than American history, it’s vital to know our origins and our “real” story. While we often hear the stories of our struggle, rarely do we see examples of our triumph.

I’ll share a few of those with you in a minute, but first the background.

tnm_bhm_toyotaRecently I was given the opportunity to explore more black history and my answer was a resounding yes. I was more than excited to take part in Toyota’s Let’s Go Places Black History Month Tour , throughout the  Northeast, along with other online influencers and press representatives.

Let’s Go Places was literally what we did over the span of three days as we traveled up and down the east coast and below are my highlights of the trip.

Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro Estate

Our first stop was the massive home of America’s first female self-made millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York. This amazing property, which is a private residence and National Historic Landmark, was one that I wish everyone had access to see.

Madam CJ Walker Sign

Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro Estate in Irvington, NY

The home was built almost 100 years ago at a cost of $250,000.00 by Verner Tandy, the first registered black architect in New York state, when the average home cost was only $2,500.00. Madam Walker also was charged with a “black tax” paying twice the price for the land that her white counterparts had to pay.

Villa Lewaro

Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro Estate in Irvington, NY

I was able to walk in the same footsteps, through the same rooms that others such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey and Langston Hughes have. This powerful moment hit me as we stood in the master bedroom of the home, the room that Madam Walker herself passed away in, at the age of just 51 years old.

As a lover of all things black and a passionate entrepreneur how could I not be moved?

Moved to better.

Moved to do more.

Moved to take what I’m doing to the next level!

Madam C.J. Walker's Organ

Madam Walker’s original Estey organ purchased for $25,000 which was an astronomical price at the time.

This was just more concrete proof that still we rise above obstacles, oppression and hurdles placed in our way.

I spent time reflecting on the power of entrepreneurship while we stood on the property that’s massive, even by today’s standards, and wondering how impressive it must have been nearly 100 years ago when it was built.

After leaving Villa Lewaro, we headed back to the city and took a walking tour of Harlem… capped off by a night at Harlem’s historic jazz house Minton’s for dinner.

Rolling Through Philly

The next morning, we set the navigation and headed down 95 South to the City of Brotherly Love in Toyota’s Crossover SUV the RAV4. As a fan of road trips the drives were an enjoyable lead up to the actual tour stops.

Interior of the 2016 Toyota RAV4

Interior of the 2016 Toyota RAV4

During a day, we made a quick stop at the Liberty Bell and a took tour of a home that functioned as a stop on the Underground Railroad.  However, the highlight was touring the historic Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church on South 6th St.


We had the opportunity to learn about the amazing history of the church and it’s founder Richard Allen, the first Bishop of the A.M.E. church.

The church, founded in 1794, has been on the same plot of land since that time making it the oldest church property in the U.S. to be continuously owned and held by African Americans.

We toured a museum in the church’s basement that did a great job of sharing the history of the church and showcasing artifacts from the past of Mother Bethel.

Also in the church museum is a tomb that houses the remains of Richard Allen, his wife Sarah Allen and the third Bishop of the A.M.E. Church Morris Brown.

There was so much to see at the church and in Philly itself, but the entire group was looking forward to our next stop in Washington, DC!

Stained glass windows inside of Mother Bethel A.M.E.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The final destination on our black history tour was the one I anticipated the most.

Toyota Avalon in DC

After driving from Philly to DC in the super stylish Toyota Avalon, we arrived at the offices of the National Trust for Historic Preservation where Toyota donated $10,000 to assist them with continuing the work that they do to preserve our countries treasures like Villa Lewaro.  


After that we had a private tour of DC’s hottest ticket, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. There was so much to see and do that the best thing I can do is share how you can maximize the opportunity “if” you can eventually get there yourself. I included the “if” because it’s tough to even get one of the free passes that gives you entry to the building. The museum has already seen over one million visitors since opening on September 24th 2016.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Tip #1:

Do get there early! Or at least as early as your passes will allow. There is so much to see that you’ll need an entire day at least. That sounds crazy but just believe me and go with it.

Tip #2:

Have a plan! Since there is so much to see you need to have a strategy to make it happen. While the entire museum was jumping with visitors, some exhibits like the coffin of Emmitt Till had long lines…so it would be best to visit those first.

Nat Turner's Bible at the National Museum of American History

Nat Turner’s Bible at the National Museum of American History

Tip #3: 

Go mobile! To enhance your tour download the museum’s mobile app here. You’ll learn more about the exhibits, the building and more.

Child and adult slave shackles on display at the National Museum of American History

Child and adult slave shackles on display at the National Museum of American History

Tip #4:

Bottom up… then top down! Begin your tour on the bottom floors in the history galleries. The bottom level starts with slavery in the 1400’s and each floor advances from there through segregation and then beyond. Take a break for lunch at the Museum’s Sweet Home Café (the food was good) then travel to the top floor and work your way back down. The top two floors house the culture and community galleries and showcase some fascinating exhibits and pieces.

Tip #5:

Be Determined! What you need to know is that the free passes to enter the museum are not currently easy to get your hands on. Advance online passes are offered three months in advance and last week the tickets for June (yes I said June) were all given out in just a few hours! A limited number of same day and walkup passes are available, but I’m sure they’re hard to get as well.

Whatever you have to do to get to the museum and inside will be well worth it. It was an amazing ending to an amazing trip that allowed me to reflect on both our past and my future as we work in our own business to extend the legacy that has been laid before us.

Thanks to Toyota for making this amazing trip happen, it was definitely one that I will never forget. As the owner of a Toyota, not only was I impressed by the trip itself, but I was also impressed by the updates to the line of vehicles and definitely the improved safety features. Can’t wait until the next trip!

BMWK fam you can create your own Black History road tour with your family too! Don’t wait for February, map out history and make it happen. Tag us on social media to let us know how your trips turn out! If you’ve already visited any of the locations above or plan on visiting let me know in the comment section below. 

About the author

Lamar Tyler wrote 2227 articles on this blog.

Lamar Tyler is co-creator BlackandMarriedWithKids.com. He also is the co-producer of the films Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage, You Saved Me, Men Ain’t Boys and Still Standing.

More available at BlackandMarriedwithKids.com. Link to article https://blackandmarriedwithkids.com/2017/03/breathing-black-history-my-trip-from-madam-cj-walkers-mansion-to-the-national-museum-of-african-american-history-in-dc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breathing-black-history-my-trip-from-madam-cj-walkers-mansion-to-the-national-museum-of-african-american-history-in-dc.