Check out events, performances, sites and museum exhibits that honor Black history and culture.
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 African American culture, community and history in the District.
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Explore 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.
Photo credit: @kevin.barata
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.
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.
Experience Black Lives Matter Plaza
In June 2020, a portion of 16th Street, just north of Lafayette Square, was transformed into a city-commissioned mural emblazoned with the powerful civil rights message in yellow lettering. The site is an ideal space to reflect on not just DC's Black history, but the country's as a whole. The landmark is also a bright beacon for protest, free speech and the push for racial and social equality in America.
Be amazed by the expansive Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Through stunning architecture and four floors containing exhibits and thousands of artifacts, the Smithsonian museum details African American life, history and culture in incredible detail. The year 2023 marks the 200th anniversary of one of the most important documents in the nation’s history, the Emancipation Proclamation. Early copies of the Proclamation and the 13th Amendment are on display in the Slavery and Freedom exhibition on Concourse Three of the museum. Since the National Mall landmark is one of the city’s most popular attractions, make sure to obtain your tickets to this free museum in advance. You can also check out programming for the month of February.
Honor the life of Rosa Parks at The Mansion on O & O Street Museum
During her visits to DC from 1994 to 2003, Rosa Parks, the iconic Civil Rights figure, spent much of her time at The Mansion on O & the O Street Museum. The historic site pays homage to Parks in the form of a dedicated tour, which features a short film that details her relationship with the Mansion (note that Rosa's birthday is Feb. 4). To learn more about its Rosa Parks-themed offerings, visit the Mansion's website.
In recognition of Black History Month, authors Toluse Olorunnipa and Robert Samuels will discuss their book His Name is George Floyd: One Man's Life in the Struggle for Racial Justice on Feb. 1 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Toluse and Robert will converse with award-winning journalist Jummy Olabanji about what inspired the book and their writing process. After the talk, the authors will answer questions from the audience and sign copies of the book for the first 100 guests in attendance. The library will also host the 34th Annual Black Film Festival, with screenings of films such as The Woman King, Lemonade, I Am Not Your Negro, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and many more on Tuesdays throughout the month.
See The High Ground at Arena Stage
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre serves as the backdrop for a riveting new play at Arena Stage from Feb. 10 through April 2. The High Ground focuses on a Black soldier who stands his ground atop Tulsa’s Standpipe Hill, witnessing the Earth-shattering destruction below. Both enemies and friends try to remove him, but the soldier stands strong, leading to a powerful story of resistance and recovery from trauma.
Witness the mastery of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The preeminent modern dance company returns to the Kennedy Center from Feb. 7-12 with a program that celebrates the company’s illustrious history and aims to bring audiences together in joy. The production will feature Ailey’s most famous composition, Revelations, as well as numerous other works by modern masters. Get ready to be united by the power of dance.
Check out I Dream a World at the National Portrait Gallery
The second of a two-part installation at the National Portrait Gallery features photos of Althea Gibson, Odetta, Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey and others from Brian Lanker’s Portraits of Remarkable Black Women. The exhibit will be on display from Feb. 10 to Sept. 10 and honors women who've made an impact through the arts, activism, literature and politics.
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