Things to Do

16 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month Around DC

Concerts, book talks, history lessons, exhibits, and more.

Photograph by Dan Swartz.

There are many ways to celebrate Black History Month around DC: Expand your mind with a talk on Afrofuturism, watch a powerful chorus concert, or cook Gullah Geechee-style crab fried rice while you learn about the southern culture. Here are a few ideas for how you should spend your time this month.

On history:

Dinner included: Learn about the food and culture of the Gullah Geechee community in this virtual talk presented by the Museum of Food and Drink and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Chefs Amethyst Ganaway and Benjamin Dennis will make crab fried rice, and cooks at home can follow along with an included recipe. Wednesday 2/3 at 8 PM; $15, buy tickets here.

Sky’s the limit: Learn about Maryland’s Croom Airfield, which was one of the first Black-owned airfields in the country, in “Uncovering the History of Black Aviation in Prince George’s County,” an online lecture from the county’s department of parks and recreation. Saturday 2/20 at 11 AM; Free, register here.

The lecture: Professor William G. Thomas researches the efforts of enslaved people who tried to sue their way to freedom in his book A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery From the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War. In the online Profs and Pints lecture “When the Enslaved Sued,” Thomas will focus on Prince George’s County, where enslaved families sued the Georgetown Jesuits, Congressional lawmakers, federal judges, and others to fight the legality of slavery. One notable Supreme Court case he’ll discuss is Queen v. Hepburn, in which Mima Queen petitioned for her freedom with help from Francis Scott Key, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Thomas will also speak about the discovery that he has ancestral connections to some of the people involved in that historical decision. Wednesday 2/24 at 7 PM; $12, buy tickets here.

Getting creative: Janelle Monáe. Solange. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Learn about the artists and culture makers of Afrofuturism in a virtual chat hosted by Mosaic Theater Company. “Afrofuturism: Past-Future in Art and Performance” will explore the Black sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic that originated with works by Octavia Butler and Sun Ra and continues in the 21st century with movies like Black Panther. Thursday 2/25 at 7:30 PM; Free, watch it on Facebook here.

More than a moment: Explore the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement with a night of poetry and history from staff across three organizations—Oxon Hill Manor, Newton White Mansion, and Prince George’s Ballroom. Hear about the protests of the past and the demands for the future in the internationally influential social justice movement. Sunday 2/28 at 6 PM; Free, get tickets here.

Author talks:

Visionary verse: Tune into a reading on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War from recent US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith and poet Maurice Manning hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library. First, walk through a virtual tour of Lincoln’s Cottage, then hear from Smith, whose book Wade in the Water focused on Black soldiers in the war and the brutality of slavery, and Manning, who writes from the imagined voice of a posthumous Lincoln in Railsplitter. Thursday 2/11 at 7:30 PM; $5-$15, buy tickets here.

Museum talks: Explore the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s “Historically Speaking” event series. Hear about Jesse Jackson’s life in a conversation with the reverend and his biographer David Masciotra, who recently released I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters. Another talk focuses on the impact of the pandemic on the economy and the African American community. Jackson: Tuesday 2/16 at 7 PM; Free, register here. Covid: Tuesday 2/23 at 7 PM; Free, watch it here.

Getting personal: In The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about his upbringing in Baltimore during the ’80s as the son of a Black Panther and Vietnam veteran. Coates is releasing a young adult edition of his memoir, which he’ll discuss with YA novelist Nic Stone in a virtual book talk from Politics and Prose. Wednesday 2/24 at 7 PM; $5-$25, buy tickets here.

Writing about a legend: Pulitzer winning journalist Les Payne spent years meticulously researching the life of Malcolm X with his daughter and co-author Tamara Payne. He died before they published their collaborative biography, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X. In the DC Public Library event “Witness to History: Les Payne and the search for Malcolm X,” hear Tamara Payne chat about Malcolm X’s enduring influence and the importance of Black journalism with those who knew her father, including Errin Haines, founder of The 19th, writer Rochelle Riley, and journalism professor DeWayne Wickham. Thursday 2/25 at 6PM; Free, watch it on the DCPL YouTube channel here.

Art talks:

Changemakers: Walk through “Men of Change: Taking it to the Streets,” a new outdoor exhibit dedicated to prominent Black leaders and thinkers, from historic figures (James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin) to modern celebs (LeBron James, Kendrick Lamar). The Anacostia Community Museum is kicking off the installation’s opening with a panel discussion about how Black men can feel empowered to make a difference in their communities and industries. Led by CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, the event includes Jonathan Jackson, an architect for the project from the Brooklyn design studio WeShouldDoItAll, and the artist-subject pair of Tariku Shiferaw, who portrays ER physician Rob Gore. The exhibit is open through May 31. Panel event: Saturday 2/6 at 1 PM; Free, register here.

Portraits and prose: The DC Public Library and the National Portrait Gallery are hosting a discussion about the connection between the portrait of Alice Walker by Bernard Gotfryd and the book Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker. Published in 2018, the collection of short stories focuses on the experiences of Black women living in DC. Tuesday 2/9 at 5:30 PM; Free, register here.

Get outdoors:

In their footsteps: If you’d rather stay in the car, try exploring a self-guided Black history driving tour in Alexandria. Learn about local historic sites as you steer through eight different locations. One  stop is on Cameron Street to see Olalekan Jeyifous’s sculpture installation, “Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies,” about Alexandria’s history as a crucial port in the Atlantic slave trade. Free and available anytime, learn more here.

Stepping back in time: Join a walking tour of Frederick Douglass’s life in Capitol Hill. Led by local reporter John Muller, the tour starts at the Library of Congress and visits sites such as Douglass’ Capitol Hill home and Lincoln Park, where the Freedman’s Memorial to Abraham Lincoln is located. Saturday 2/6 at 9 AM; $12.50-$17.50, buy tickets here.

Watch a performance:

Classical: Grammy-nominated violinist Regina Carter will perform in “Gone in a Phrase of Air,” a live concert in Reston. The jazz violinist will share music, poetry, and visual art to capture the too-common experience of displacement across America, particularly in Black communities, due to “urban renewal” efforts. Note: the concert will be indoors at Reston’s Hunters Woods Community Center, so please consult the venue’s Covid-19 protocols. Saturday 2/6 at 8 PM; $20-$40, buy tickets here.

Singing together, apart: The Washington Performing Arts Gospel Choirs and Choral Arts will present a virtual concert to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead of performing together, each singer will be recorded separately before the audio is combined in this “Living the Dream…Singing the Dream” event. Archival footage from past concerts will also be used. Friday 2/19 at 8 PM (available to stream through Thursday 2/25); Free, register here.

Elevating Black music: Join the local Heritage Signature Chorale for a virtual concert of African American choral music, including traditional spirituals. The ensemble, founded in 2000, puts a special focus on African American composers within classical music from around the world. Sunday 2/21 at 6 PM; Free, register here.

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Web Producer/Writer

Rosa joined Washingtonian in 2016 after graduating from Mount Holyoke College. She covers arts and culture for the magazine. She’s written about anti-racism efforts at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, dinosaurs in the revamped fossil hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, and the horrors of taking a digital detox. When she can, she performs with her family’s Puerto Rican folkloric music ensemble based in Jersey City. She lives in Adams Morgan.