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.
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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. Explore the neighborhood's musical and cultural heritage with a Black Broadway walking tour, led by local journalist and author Briana Thomas.
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.
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 Smithsonian museum details African American life, history and culture in incredible detail. Since the National Mall landmark is one of the city’s most popular attractions, make sure to obtain your tickets to this free museum in advance. You can also check out programming for the month of February.
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. The 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.
Visit Awareness: Through An African American Lens at Zenith Gallery
Zenith Gallery celebrates the success of Black artists with a special exhibit and artist receptions in February. Many of the painters have been showcased at the local museum for years; others are making their debut in the exhibit that runs from Feb. 2 through March 2. Visitors will notice distinct styles across a selection of 11 artists. And, on each Saturday of the month, the Gallery hosts two or more artists for in-depth, in-person talks.
See The Sensational Sea Mink-ettes at Woolly Mammoth Theatre
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s new production (Feb. 4 through March 3) follows the Sensational Sea Mink-ettes as the group prepares for its homecoming half-time dance show. Their fellow students, the administration, the alumni and their families all have high expectations, and as the moment draws near, the Sea Mink-ettes have a fair share of drama to sort out. Vivian J.O. Barnes’ hilarious new play about the value of teamwork receives its world premiere.
Witness the mastery of The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
The preeminent modern dance company returns to the Kennedy Center from Feb. 6-11 with a program that celebrates the company’s illustrious history and aims to bring audiences together in joy. The production will feature Ailey’s most famous composition, Revelations, as well as numerous other works by modern masters. Get ready to be united by the power of dance.
Learn DC Black history with Ancestral Places: People of African Descent at Tudor Place
From Feb. 6 through April 21, Tudor Place will be outfitted to showcase the historic house from the perspective of the enslaved and free individuals who worked and lived on the property. Through maps, artifacts, photos and audio recordings, visitors will be educated on the ways these individuals dealt with everyday life at Tudor Place as well as how they practiced resistance and activism.
The Juke Joint
Go on a Black culinary journey at The Juke Joint
Travel back in time and savor a night curated to perfection at The Westin Washington, DC City Center. The Juke Joint offers food and drink pairings that will highlight Black cuisine through the decades; we're talking chicken and waffles, fried catfish, five-cheese mac and cheese, collard greens and much, much more. Your ticket includes a three-course menu packed with culinary greatness.
See Tempestuous Elements at Arena Stage
Arena Stage's February marquee reveals the struggle of Anna Julia Cooper, a Black teacher who fought for her students’ rights to an advanced curriculum. In a scandal concocted by the government, her time as principal of DC's historic M Street School was sabotaged by her colleagues and neighbors. Witness the journey of this formidable Black feminist’s fight for educational equity and legitimacy at the turn of the 20th century from Feb. 16 to March 17.
Groove to Rare Essence for free at the Kennedy Center on Feb. 17
Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center hosts one of DC’s signature bands for a free show. The distinctly DC venue will be perfect for Rare Essence and their inspiring take on go-go, the District’s de-facto, go-to sound. Expect non-stop rhythm, infectious sing-alongs and a party-like atmosphere. Rare Essence knows how to fire up and incorporate a crowd – so much so that they’re known as The Wickedest Band Alive.
Attend the Go-Go Museum Honors on Feb. 18
Four years ago, Mayor Bowser officially designated go-go as the official music of DC. The Go-Go Museum & Café will celebrate that accolade as well as a host of go-go icons during this ceremony and fundraiser. Honorees include the Mayor, Big Tony from Trouble Funk, DC Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Mr. William Julius “JuJu” House and many more. The Experience Band will perform as part of the festivities.
Pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with Living the Dream…Singing the Dream
The Washington Performing Arts and Choral Arts Society of Washington choirs come together for an annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Kennedy Center on Feb. 18. Experience a powerful performance in the spirit of community and honor Dr. King’s lasting impact through music.
Get funky with a Vibes & Vinyl Party
In tandem with BLACK GIRLS ROCK!, the Kennedy Center hosts a one-of-a-kind event that serves as a special tribute the art of DJ-ing. On Feb. 29, BLACK GIRLS ROCK! founder DJ Beverly Bond will be joined by DJ Miss H.E.R., DJ Aktive and DJ OP Miller. Each will spin their signature sets with vinyl integrated into the proceedings. The DJs will also host an all-vinyl jam session with surprise musical guests.
Marvel at the work of Simone Leigh
Discover Leigh’s groundbreaking work in ceramic, bronze, video and installation, with references to the African diaspora. The first comprehensive survey of the artist resides in DC through March 3 thanks to the Hirshhorn Museum. Leigh’s pieces focus on Black femme subjectivity, ideas of race and beauty and the role of community in culture, touching on a wide swath of traditions, histories and forms along the way.
Check out One Life: Frederick Douglass
Activist, writer, speaker, intellectual – Frederick Douglass was one of the most influential people of 19th century America, making him one of the most influential figures in the history of the country. The National Portrait Gallery celebrates the icon, who befriended and advised Abraham Lincoln, through a series of prints, photographs and ephemera, in an exhibit open through April 21.