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13 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Washington, DC
Check out events, performances, sites and museum exhibits that honor African American history and culture throughout Black History Month.
African American history and culture are an essential part of DC’s identity, which means that there are numerous ways to celebrate Black History Month in the city. Below, we’ve detailed some of the best ways to engage with DC’s African American culture and community this February.
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Visit Shaw and the Howard Theatre
Walk through the historic Shaw neighborhood, once home to prominent African Americans including jazz legend Duke Ellington, whose statue resides in front of the historic Howard Theatre. You can also walk the theater's Walk of Fame, which begins near the United Negro College Fund Headquarters and continues for two blocks, right up to the facade of the Howard.
The Shaw neighborhood was named for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a member of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry of black soldiers who fought during the Civil War. The area earned the nickname, “The Heart of Chocolate City,” as escaped slaves settled there and eventually started businesses catering to the large population of African Americans. Once you are done admiring its history, check out Shaw’s awesome dining scene.
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Stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
The National Mall has been the site of vital African American history, including the March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963 and the first Million Man March in 1995. You can also admire the spot where King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech during the aforementioned March, as the spot can be found etched onto the Lincoln Memorial steps.
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Pay homage at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Situated on a four-acre, crescent-shaped site in West Potomac Park, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial features a 30-foot statue of Dr. King carved into what is known as the Stone of Hope, which stands past two other pieces of granite known as the Mountain of Despair (both are references to his “I Have A Dream” speech). Visit the Inscription Wall to read incredible quotes from King’s speeches, sermons and writings.
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Learn about Mary McLeod Bethune at two National Park Service sites
Situated near Logan Circle, the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House is the home of the organizer and national political leader who founded the National Council of Negro Women. Her home is now a National Historic Site where interpreters share stories of her life and legacy every Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Across town in Capitol Hill, you can also visit a statue dedicated in her honor.
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‘Gun & Powder’ – Through Feb. 23
This musical details the incredible story of Mary and Martha Clarke, two light-skinned African American twins forced to pass as white in order to pay off their mother’s sharecropper debt. Loyalty is tested when the twins find love: one with a white man, one with a black man. Race, identity and family are central topics in this tale of two bold women who use gun and powder to become legends.
Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206
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'Delita Martin: Calling Down the Spirits' – Through April 19
Delita Martin aims to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual in her awe-inspiring large-scale works. The connection between the past and present, symbolism and personal memory are also vital to Martin’s art, which often contains a multitude of layers and techniques, including drawing, sewing, collaging and painting. Witness her mastery through seven pieces that showcase African American tradition, iconography and history.
Hours & Admission
National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005
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'One Life: Marian Anderson' – Through May 17
A singer, diplomat and muse, not to mention a strong fighter against segregationist policies, Marian Anderson was an iconic figure of mid-20th century America. Her historic performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 was a monumental moment, but this National Portrait Gallery exhibit dives much deeper, displaying paintings, photos, personal effects and archival materials that highlight Anderson’s stirring and influential career.
11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. | Free admission
National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, DC 20001
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'We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I' – Through June 14
This temporary exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture consists of 4,200 square feet, three sections, 26 themes, nine media pieces, a photo gallery and interactive elements throughout. The life experiences of African Americans during the World War I era (1913-20) are detailed, including those who enlisted in the military. Many expected to return to a changed America more accepting of them; instead, the status quo prevailed, and many African Americans set about re-shaping the country, which inevitably led to the revolutionary Civil Rights movement.
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. | Visit
National Museum of African American History and Culture, 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560
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Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words – Ongoing
You may know Rosa Parks thanks to her incredibly courageous act on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. on Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white man in the midst of Jim Crow segregation in the South. However, Parks’ life and contributions to the Civil Rights movement went well beyond that incident, as she helped free the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s and assisted in operating the office of the NAACP in Montgomery in the 1940s and 50s. This exhibit at the Library of Congress provides an in-depth look at Parks’ life and activism through rare materials, illuminating one of the most important figures in American history.
8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. | Free admission
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20540
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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Feb. 4-9
The preeminent modern dance company, which was founded by African American artist Alvin Ailey, returns to the Kennedy Center with a program that celebrates the company’s illustrious history and aims to bring audiences together in joy. The production will feature some of Ailey’s most famous compositions, as well as programming from artists around the world. Get ready to be united by the power of dance this February.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Perfroming Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566
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Intersections Festival – Feb. 19 - March 1
Atlas Performing Arts Center hosts the Intersections Festival annually, masterfully combining theatre, dance, poetry, music, film, writing, sculpture, photography and arts of all kinds into two weeks’ worth of intellectual excitement that incorporates the city’s African American culture. Witness the finest creativity that DC can offer, and do so at one of the city’s most prestigious venues located in one of its most vibrant neighborhoods. Check out the full list of events and make sure to purchase a festival pass, which allows you to reserve tickets to the events of your choice.
The Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002
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'Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition' – Feb. 29 - May 24
The Phillips Collection examines the relationship between the work of 20th and 21st century African American artists and the European modernists of the early 20th century. The exhibit will feature pieces by Romare Bearden, Renee Cox, Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Carrie Mae Weems and many others. Experience the complex influence of European modernist art on the work of black artists, a cross-cultural dialogue that makes for fascinating study.
Hours & Admission
The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW, Washington, DC 20009
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Attend a Washington Wizards game – Feb. 1, 3, 7, 9, 11, 21, 24, 26
While Bradley Beal and the Wizards are struggling in the standings, the team is as exciting as any to watch, with supporting players like Ish Smith, Davis Bertans, Jordan McRae and rookie Rui Hachimura powering an offensive machine. The organization will celebrate Black History Month during its games throughout the month of February. The slate includes matchups against the Dallas Mavericks (Feb. 7), the Milwaukee Bucks (Feb. 24) and the Brooklyn Nets (Feb. 1 and 26).
Capital One Arena, 601 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004