The best ways to celebrate Black History Month 2021 in NYC

February 4, 2021

“Alphas Hold the Line.” Photo by Michael Young. 

During the month of February, the nation observes Black History Month as a way to celebrate and honor African American history and culture. While this year’s commemoration will be different because of the pandemic, many New York City organizations and institutions are hosting virtual events, lectures, and exhibitions. Learn about the achievements and influence of Black Americans with an online walking tour featuring Black artists of Greenwich Village, a concert honoring composers of the Harlem Renaissance, a class on Black archaeology in New York City, and much more.

Music Division, The New York Public Library. (1963). Singing in small group with Lorraine Hansberry and Nina Simone; Courtesy of NYPL Digital Collections

NYPL’s 100+ virtual Black History Month events and exhibitions
The New York Public Library and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture are celebrating Black History Month with over 100 virtual events for adults, kids, and teens. Some highlights of the month-long commemoration include a discussion with author Ibram X. Kendi and historian Keisha N. Blain on Four Hundred Souls, a conversation with columnist Charles Blow on his book The Devil You Know, an exploration of “racism’s hidden costs” with Heather McGhee, storytime, arts and crafts, musical performances, and much more. The Schomburg Center is also hosting several online exhibitions, including “Subversion & The Art of Slavery Abolition,” “Traveling While Black: A Century of Pleasure & Pain & Pilgrimages,” and “Femmetography: The Gaze Shifted.” See the full lineup of events here.

Plus, library experts curated a series of reading lists that build on Schomburg Center’s Black Liberation Reading List released last summer. Learn about the lives of Black figures and the history of Black America by checking out biographies and memoirs, books about Black women in history, and children’s picture books.

“Black History Trilogy” presented by Flushing Town Hall 
Flushing Town Hall this month presents “Black History Trilogy,” a three-part virtual series featuring Broadway performers celebrating Black artists and leaders. On February 5 at 7 p.m., Alton Fitzgerald White of Broadway’s Ragtime and The Lion King will read a speech by late civil rights leader John Lewis and then discuss the speech during a question-and-answer session. On February 18, Tony Award-winning actress and singer Lillias White of Dreamgirls will talk about the legacy of jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and on February 26, Hadestown star André De Shields explores the achievements of Frederick Douglass and his keynote address “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”

History of Black LGBT in New York City, curated by NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Learn about New York City’s Black LGBT community with maps of significant places curated by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. One collection of sites focuses on “influential” African American writers and activists involved in the civil rights and gay rights movement, including Ernestine Eckstein, Billy Strayhorn, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and many more. The second features neighborhood institutions and residences of people and organizations that played a role in the Harlem Renaissance, with an emphasis on “the importance of sexual identity in more fully understanding a person’s work and creative process,” according to the Project.

Free virtual events and talks courtesy of 92Y
The 92nd Street Y is releasing a number of free archived and new talks and events online in honor of Black History Month. On Monday, February 8, watch retired U.S. Generals Ty Seidule and Dana Pittard in discussion with General David H. Petraeus about confronting history, racism, and the “dangerous myths of the old Confederacy.” Previous talks that can be viewed on 92Y’s YouTube channel include a discussion with then-Senator Kamala Harris and Cleo Wade, a reading of God Help the Child by Toni Morrison, a conversation between Lizzo and Phoebe Robinson, and many more talks related to politics, music, art, and literature. Explore the complete collection here.

Kamau Ware leading group tour for Fighting Dark, Photo Credit: Elliott Ashby

The Shed’s audio walking tour exploring the 1863 race riots in NYC
The Shed this month is presenting a new audio tour and film that explores the 1863 race riots that took place in New York City. Created by artist Kamau Ware, founder of Black Gotham ExperienceFighting Dark includes a self-guided tour of 11 sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn with narration by the artist with a film debuting later in the coming weeks. The project explores Black resilience in the face of violence. The Shed commissioned the project in conjunction with Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water, an exhibition that explores the “brutality of racism and the healing power of art.”

“The insurrection that took place in the streets of New York City the week of July 13th, 1863, less than two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, was a blueprint for disenfranchising Black people before the Reconstruction Amendments were drafted,” Ware said in a press release. “This racial violence has been hiding in plain sight with the incorrect label of ‘draft riots’ for over a century and a half.”

Black Bohemia: A Virtual Village Walking Tour
A virtual walking tour hosted by Village Preservation explores the Black artists who influenced Greenwich Village as we know it. On February 23 at 6 p.m., join tour guides Derrick Edwards and Eric Chase as they discuss icons and Village residents like Alex Haley, Audre Lorde, and Lorraine Hansberry and their impact on the neighborhood and beyond. Register for the Zoom event here.

Courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual virtual tribute to MLK
The Brooklyn Academy of Museum’s tribute to Martin Luther King is now available to view online. The 35th Annual Brooklyn Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was hosted virtually for the first time on January 18 and will be available to enjoy for free through February 28. Alicia Garza, the author of The Purpose of Power and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Movement, gave the keynote address along with performances by PJ Morton, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Sing Harlem!, poets Timothy DuWhite and Ashley August, and others.

Virtual classical concert from the Harlem Chamber Players
The Brooklyn Public Library and the Harlem Chamber Players are once again teaming up to put on the 13th annual Black History Month celebration concert. Streaming on Sunday, February 28, the concert features composers of the Harlem Renaissance as well as contemporary Black composers. Watch it online for free via YouTubeFacebook, or register on Zoom.

A class on Black Archaeology in Early NYC
In 1991, ahead of the construction of a 34-story office tower in Lower Manhattan, a preliminary archaeological research excavation found intact human remains about 30 feet below Broadway. The excavation ultimately revealed remains of 419 Africans and 500 individual artifacts from the 17th and 18th centuries. Now officially memorialized as part of the African Burial Ground, the site is the nation’s earliest and largest African burial ground rediscovered. The Brooklyn Brainery, known for its wide-ranging affordable classes, is hosting an online lecture on February 4 about Black archaeology in the early days of New York City, including the “transfer of the city from Dutch to British authorities, the slave rebellions of 1712 and 1741, the 1788 Doctors’ Riot, and the Revolutionary War.” The class costs $7, with a portion of the ticket price donated to The Equal Justice Initiative and the Whitney Plantation Museum.

 “Black Lives Matter,” 29 X 39 3/4, mixed media on board, 2020 by Gregorio Velez

NYC Parks celebrates Black History Month
The city’s Parks Department has put together a series of virtual events that center around the Black experience in New York City and feature parks that honor Black culture figures. The Poe Park Visitor Center, which has moved its gallery online because of the pandemic, is presenting a virtual exhibition for Black History Month that includes paintings, photography, and multi-media art that interpret what the Black experience means to them. Other events include lectures on Central Park’s forgotten Seneca Village and the Negro League baseball stadium in Manhattan called Dyckman Oval. The Urban Park Rangers are hosting a few in-person events with limited attendance, including a February 27 talk at Cedar Playground in the Bronx about the birth of hip hop and a tour of Brooklyn Bridge Park on February 20 that explores the borough’s Underground Railroad ties.

Black History Month events at the Museum of Food and Drink
The Museum of Food and Drink is hosting a series of online programs that relate to its upcoming exhibition African/American: Making the Nation’s Table. Online events include lectures and discussions on the history of African American BBQ (Feb. 10), the culinary history of rice and its impact on Black culture (Feb. 16), the overlooked history of African American whiskey distillers (Feb. 17), the ancestral history of farming and cooking in Georgia (Feb. 23), and the legacy of food activism (Feb. 25).

Artist Afrocentrickeyy and her artwork; Photo courtesy Da Spot

Black Creatives & Culture Market at City Point BKLYN
A market featuring over 20 Black-owned businesses is taking place on February 20 and 21 from 12 p.m. to 8.m. at City Point in Brooklyn. Curated by DA SPOT NYC in partnership with City Point, a mixed-use building home to local shops, Target, and Trader Joe’s, the market will include vendors like Aech and Babu, Alexis Denise Floral Design, Askan NYC, Avalah, Pop Pins NYC, and more. Plus, artist Afrocentrickky will lead an interactive art walk and live painting with a collection of work from local artists available for purchase. DJ Ikonik One will play R&B, Reggae, and Old School music from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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