How to celebrate Black History Month in NYC
Every February the country commemorates Black History Month as a celebration of African American culture and history. In New York City, you can honor the accomplishments and influence of Black Americans with art, film screenings, music, dance, lectures, and tours all month, and year, long.
Before there was Central Park, there was Seneca Village, the largest community of African American property owners in New York. Stretching from West 82nd Street to West 89th Street, Seneca Village was founded in 1825. By 1850, the village had 50 homes, three churches, a burial ground, and a school. To make way for a large landscaped public park, the government acquired the land of Seneca Village and beyond via eminent domain, displacing some 1,600 people by the end of 1857.
Throughout February, the Central Park Conservancy is hosting tours of the historic site within the park. Participants can learn about the remote physical landscape of Seneca Village and how it likely offered refuge from poor conditions and racial discrimination found in other parts of the city at that time. The 90-minute tours take place on February 17, 19, and 25 and cost $25 (or $20 for Conservancy members). Reserve a spot here.
A major exhibition featuring over 100 artworks from Black American, African, and African diasporic artists is opening at the Brooklyn Museum this month. The pieces are from the personal collection of New Yorkers Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz (Kasseem Dean), who have over two decades accumulated an impressive collection of contemporary art made by living artists of color. Opening on February 10 and running through July 7, “Giants: Art from the Dean Collection of Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keys,” includes work from artists like Gordon Parks, Kehinde Wiley, Esther Mahlangu, Barkley L. Hendricks, and Lorna Simpson, among others.
For Black History Month, the Museum of the City of New York will host a screening of several short films that explore topics like unemployment, police surveillance, and Black joy. Taking place on Saturday, February 10, the event includes showings of films like “Black Faces” (1970), “We Need A J-O-B So We Can E-A-T,” Kameron Neal’s “Down The Barrel (of a Lens)” (2023), and Zkonqu’s “RADIANT” (2024). A conversation with Neal and scholar Johanna Fernández, moderated by Kazembe Balagun, will follow the screenings. Admission is $10.
A new exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black History highlights the relationship between Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and photographer Griffith J. Davis, as well as the connections Hughes made with Black creatives and intellectuals. On view through July 8, “The Ways of Langston Hughes: Griff Davis and Black Artists in the Making,” photos taken by Davis are complemented with archival material from the Schomburg’s collections of letters showing decades of correspondence.
“Langston Hughes and my Dad, Griff Davis, were best friends for 20 years. Their friendship spanned the African diaspora,” Dorothy M. Davis, president of Griffith J. Davis Photographs and Archives, said. “The photographs and personal letters between them in the exhibition provide a rare insight into how these two men supported each other in their pursuit of their respective dreams against all odds. Having the exhibition at the Schomburg is like bringing my Dad back to his Harlem neighborhood to see an old friend.”
Nearly 90 years ago, a concert curated by H.T. Burleigh that featured Black artists and composers took place at Julliard. The 1934 concert featured notable Juilliard students like Anne Wiggins Brown and Ruby Elzy. On Tuesday, February 27, the performing arts school will honor that historic moment by revisiting the original program from 90 years ago, including a new arrangement of Burleigh’s “Sinner, Please Doan Let This Harvest Past” by Damian Sneed, along with two student compositions commissioned for the event. “Claiming Your Space: A Celebration of Black Music at Julliard” was curated by ethnomusicologist and music history faculty member Dr. Fredara Mareva Hadley and includes a special exhibit that will run at the same time as the performance. The concert is free to attend but tickets are required.
This trolley tour at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery will explore the accomplishments of many famous Black Brooklynites buried at the 478-acre historic landmark, from artist Jean-Michel Basquiat to abolitionist Elizabeth Gloucester. The two-hour tour includes visits to monuments and the chance to learn about the legacy these prominent New Yorkers left behind. The tour takes place on February 10 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and costs $30.
A Brooklyn nonprofit dedicated to promoting African Diaspora dance and music is celebrating Black History Month with a weeklong festival. Hosted by the Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation, “Rhythms & Movements of African American Culture Festival,” running February 12 through February 18, includes 16 performances, featuring a fusion of African music genres and dances from Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, and Cuba. Enjoy performances like “Hip Hop Kingdom,” a musical celebrating the 50th anniversary of the genre, “Ghana: The Place Where the Chief Sleeps,” a revival of a ballet that explores the significance of the Ghanaian Empire, “Visions of Africa: A Multi-media Musical Journey,” a musical retrospective featuring Ghana and Nigeria in the 1960s and 70s, and more. All performances take place at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side. Tickets for each show are available here.
One of the most influential Jazz musicians of the last few decades will perform at the 92NY this month. Eight-time Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride and his 17-piece big band will take the stage at the Kaufmann Concert Hall on February 15. With his band, McBride, who has collaborated with artists like James Brown and Sting, blend “hard swing, infectious grooves, funk, swagger, and joy,” according to the event page. Tickets start at $45.
92NY is also presenting several in-person and virtual talks and roundtable classes throughout February, on topics like soul musician Isaac Hayes, the last slave ship to bring captive Africans to the U.S., the 1860 presidential election, racism in American science and medicine, and more.
Not only is February for Black History Month but also New York Fashion Week. This event hosted by the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum connects the two events by exploring the connection between Black Americans and fashion with a lecture by Elizabeth Way, associate curator of costume at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The free event will be streamed on Zoom on February 28 at 6 p.m. Learn more and sign up here.
On February 8, the Center for Brooklyn History will host a screening of “The Sun Rises in The East,” a documentary following a pan-African institution in Central Brooklyn that became a center of Black Power and Black Arts Movements in the 1970s. The event will include a discussion with filmmaker Tayo Giwa, The East members Lumumba Akinwole-Bandele and Fela Barclift, and Brooklynites Paperboy Love Prince and Zakiyah Ansari, moderated by HuffPost editor-in-chief Danielle Belton. Reserve a spot here.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture will once again present the Harlem Chamber Players’ 16th Annual Black History Month Celebration. The free concert will feature harpist Ashley Jackson, guest artist Nathalie Joachim, and multi-disciplinary performing artist Helga Davis. The concert, which takes place on Thursday, February 15 at the Schomburg Center, is free to attend but an RSVP is required.
There are only a few weeks left to see The New-York Historical Society’s exhibition “Running for Civil Rights.” On view through February 25, the exhibition explores the history of the New York City Marathon with a focus on two African American runners, Ted Corbbitt and Joseph Yancy, who helped open up long-distance running to all.
On February 25, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will debut “The Harlem Renaissance and Transatlantic Modernism,” a new exhibition exploring how Black artists portrayed modern life in cities like New York and Chicago in the 1920s through 1940s. The sweeping presentation includes some 160 works, from collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Schomburg Center, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition marks the first museum survey of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City since 1987.
Here’s a chance to explore the United Nations through an African lens. In this special tour, visitors will get an up-close look at the Ark of Return, a permanent memorial honoring the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. The memorial, located on the Visitors Plaza, was designed by Haitian American architect Rodney Leon. The tour includes a look inside the Security Council Chamber, the Trusteeship Chamber, and the General Assembly Hall. The tour is offered throughout the year and costs $26 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, and $15 for children. Purchase tickets here.