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.

 

The nation’s capital is also full of year-round ways to honor the African American experience at museums and memorials, as well as a collection of Black-owned restaurants and Black chefs.

 

 

Photo credit: @uspostalservice

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.
@acr27b

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.
Kennedy Center

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – Feb. 1-6
The preeminent modern dance company 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, including Revelations, as well as new works. Get ready to be united by the power of dance.
Tickets
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566
Atlas Performing Arts Center

Dear Mapel – Feb. 2-13
Written and performed by Psalmayene 24, a prominent local voice in hip hop theater and Mosaic’s Andrew W. Mellon playwright-in-residence, this joyful, coming-of-age story will take audiences from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Washington, DC. Psalm’s adolescence and life milestones are often accentuated by the absence of his father, Mapel. In a series of letters, both imagined and real, you will come to understand the power of the written word and how it can connect us to our family, our past and our future.
Tickets
Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002

 

Toyin Ojih Odutola

Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory – Through April 3
The Hirshhorn features this stunning narrative work through next April. Toyin Oljih Odutola’s A Countervailing Theory features 40 large-scale monochromatic drawings in low-lit galleries. The series is presented as if each drawing was unearthed at an archaeological site in Nigeria. Panel by panel, these pastels reveal a myth conceived by Odutola, reminding one of a mammoth graphic novel. The installation spans the entirety of the Museum’s circular inner galleries on its second floor.
Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. |  Free admission |  Safety guidelines
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue & 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20560
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

Abigail DeVille: Light of Freedom – Through April 17
The Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden hosts this 13-foot-tall, mixed-media installation that serves as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement within the larger context of America’s long relationship to the idea of liberty itself. Sculptor Abigail DeVille is widely recognized for works that mine the overlooked, often traumatic histories of Black America to spotlight cultural contradictions and inequities. The piece’s proximity to the U.S. Capitol Building and the National Mall is not accidental.
Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. |  Free admission |  Safety guidelines
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue & 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20560

 

National Gallery of Art

James Van Der Zee’s Photographs: A Portrait of Harlem – Through May 30
The National Gallery of Art showcases more than 40 images by legendary photographer James Van Der Zee, a prolific chronicler of life in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood during the 1920s, ‘30s and beyond. Van Der Zee captured special occasions and other local happenings through carefully composed photographs that provided insights into the personalities and aspirations of his subjects. He also photographed nightclubs and storefronts as well as religious, social, political and athletic community groups in his signature style. Marvel at a master’s work in this revelatory exhibit.
Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily |  Free admission |  Safety guidelines
National Gallery of Art, 6th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC

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