February marks Black History Month, a nationwide celebration of African American culture and history. New Yorkers will have plenty of opportunities to honor the contributions made by the black community, with live performances, guided tours, comedy shows, art installations, and more events happening across the city. From the Apollo Theater’s open house celebration to spoken word performances at Brooklyn barbershops, pay tribute to the achievements of black Americans this February, as well as all year round.
As part of the city’s plan to diversify public art and recognize figures overlooked by history in New York City, Central Park is getting another statue, as the New York Times reports. The privately-funded monument will commemorate Seneca Village, the predominantly black community that was thriving until the 1850s in what became Central Park. Once again, however, the city’s commemorative statue planning has fallen afoul of historians. The proposed structure won’t be located at the site of Seneca Village, which for nearly three decades stretched between West 83rd and 89th streets in Central Park. Instead, the monument’s home will be in the park, but 20 blocks to the north on 106th street.
“Harlem Street Scene Showing Local Businesses,” 1939, Photographer: Sid Grossman, Street Scenes Collection, Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
“A Ballad for Harlem,” the new exhibit now on view at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, explores the history of the neighborhood and celebrates Black placemaking in 20th and 21st century America. The exhibit uses photographs, manuscripts, objects, art and sculpture from the Schomburg’s collection to revisit “Harlem’s places, people, and moments—both known and underrepresented—that capture the realities of community and hardship experienced by Black Americans.” Ahead, hear from curator Novella Ford to learn more about the show.
New York’s famous 369th (Old 15th) Infantry Regiment arrives home from France. Via the National Archives
In the earliest hours of May 15, 1918, Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts of the 369th Infantry Regiment, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black American unit serving under French command in World War I, were keeping guard over a frontline trench in France’s Argonne Forest, about 115 miles east of Paris. Suddenly, two-dozen German soldiers charged out of the pitch-black no-man’s-land. Despite being stabbed 21 times and shot at least twice, Johnson killed four German soldiers, repelled the other 20, and saved his injured comrade Roberts from capture, using little more than a nine-inch bolo knife. Days later, the French Army stood at attention as Johnson and Roberts became the first Americans ever awarded the Croix de Guerre, France’s highest military honor. Johnson’s metal included a Golden Palm, for extraordinary valor.
Johnson and Robert’s decorations were the first of 171 individual Croix de Guerre medals awarded to members of the Harlem Hellfighters. By the war’s end, the Croix would be awarded to the unit as a whole, in recognition of its incredible contribution to the war effort: The Hellfighters spent a stunning 191 days at the Front, more than any other American unit. In that time, they never lost a trench to the enemy or a man to capture. Instead, they earned the respect of both allies and enemies, helped introduce Jazz to France, and returned home to a grateful city where hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned out to welcome home 3,000 Hellfighter heroes in a victory parade that stretched from 23rd Street and 5th Avenue to 145th Street and Lenox.
To celebrate Black History Month, ride-hailing company Lyft is offering one free ride to black-owned businesses, history museums, and memorials in New York City. According to the company, 82 percent of Lyft drivers identify with a minority group, which makes the company “see the importance of celebrating the diversity that we have right around us.”