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Best Local History & Culture in Detroit

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On the grounds of Historic Fort Wayne, this museum documents the first African-American flying unit, the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron, which served in the US Air Force during World War II. There are wonderful collections of aircraft models and fliers' uniforms, the leather bomber jackets with white scarves. Detroit came to host the museum because former Mayor Coleman Young was a Tuskegee Airman. Visiting hours are by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.

This small history museum features interesting exhibits about Detroit's history. Stroll down cobblestone, cedar block and brick streets past scale models of 19th Century shops in the Streets of Old Detroit exhibit. In the Doorway to Freedom exhibit you'll learn about the city's key role in the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves find freedom in Canada. You'll also learn about Detroit's emergence as an automobile manufacturing center, the history of the city's music scene, and so much more.

One of the world's largest museums of African American history and culture, this impressive building opened in 1997 and is named after the local doctor and activist who first established it. With 120,000 square feet (11148 meters) of exhibit space, the Charles H. Wright Museum includes several exhibit galleries, a research library, classrooms and a museum store. The anchor exhibit, “Of the People: The African American Experience,” uses Detroit's own history to tell the story of the African-American experience in the United States. Previously, much smaller incarnations of the museum existed, dating back to 1965.

Ford's iconic Model T set a benchmark for automobiles at the time, and at the Piquette Avenue Plant, visitors get an insight into the fascinating history of car as well as its makers. Built in 1904, Piquette Avenue Plant was the company's second production plant. While numerous other vehicles including models F, N and R were also assembled here, it remains most popular for being the birthplace of the Model T. At the museum, visitors get to know how the car came into being, right from the concept stage. There's beautiful exhibits of vintage car models as well as engines of the time. Private tours are available.

It is just befitting for the former headquarters of Motown Records Corporation to be a repository of this famous label. Motown Museum is an integral part of Detroit's cultural landscape and the country's musical legacy. Chronicling the most reputed African-American record labels in the nation where musical legends such as The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Temptations, Funk Brothers and Gladys Knight became stars, it is a true ode to music that inspired generations of music lovers.

Established in 1995, this grass-roots music museum opened on the northwest side of Detroit, in the heart of gospel music country. The Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to national and local gospel artists. It also highlights the role the gospel tradition played in the development of Motown singers. The museum relies primarily on donations. The museum is open for tours by appointment only.

On Belle Isle, two cannons from the Battle of Lake Erie mark the entrance to this marine branch of the Detroit Historical Museums. A visit affords a fascinating short course in Detroit's maritime history. Ship models on display range from 19th-century sailing vessels to modern hydroplane racing boats. You can also see yachts owned by automobile magnates from the 1920s and 1930s.

Resting along the banks of Detroit River, Fort Wayne is the only remaining fort out of the many that once stood along the river. Fort Wayne is an 82-acre (33.18 hectares) site that includes the fort, barracks, a garrison, a huge parade ground, and a restored commander's house. Having aged spectacularly over decades and decades, the fort has been enlisted on to the National Register of Historic Places. Having played an integral role as an instruction camp during the course of the Civil War, this star-shaped fortification has braved many ravages of time, yet standing strong as an important landmark of Michigan. Whispering secrets of its storied past, this historic fort lends stirring insights into the country's long-standing maritime history. The premises are also home to the Tuskegee Airmen National Museum.

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