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 DC’s African American culture and community.
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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.
Honor the legacy of Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was a prominent civil rights activist and organizer who stood up against racial and gender discrimination. The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, situated near Logan Circle, is where the national political leader founded the National Council of Negro Women. Although the house is currently closed due to COVID-19, check its website for the latest updates. Its typical hours are Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Across town in Capitol Hill, you can also visit a statue dedicated in Mary McLeod Bethune's honor.
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 newest Smithsonian museum details African American life, history and culture in incredible detail. This National Mall landmark is one of the city’s most popular attractions, so make sure to obtain your tickets to this free museum in advance.
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. This 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.