It is February 2021 and many Black History Month events are in place across the country despite COVID 19. Read on to find an unusual and varied selection of events highlighting Black History Month 2021.
Illinois Holocaust Museum
February 20 – September 12, 2021
Special Exhibitions Gallery
Mandela: Struggle for Freedom traces the history of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela as one of its central figures. With immersive environments, Mandela promotes human rights with a clear message: all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
Nelson Mandela was one of the most famous human rights defenders of the 20th-century and the face of a movement against racial injustice. His unbreakable will inspired people around the globe to mobilize for human rights and contributed to a worldwide crusade demanding racial equality. A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, Mandela devoted his life to fighting apartheid and creating a more just society.
Among its many dramatic features and original artifacts, the exhibition replicates the eight-foot by seven-foot cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in jail, before emerging at age 71 to continue negotiating democratic change with his former enemies. Visitors entering the cell will find themselves in a multimedia theatre, with projections telling stories of repression and resilience on the walls.
Adult Virtual group tours of this exhibition are available! Click here to request a virtual group tour.
Student Virtual field trips are available as well! Click here to request a virtual field trip.
NOTE: Free days are February 27 & 28.
BLUES POETRY OPERA
New blues poetry opera chronicling iconic writer’s cultural impact and significance in Black history will air on PBS this spring,
with advance streaming available starting Feb. 10
during Black History Month
A live multimedia theatrical presentation, “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre”:
The Travelin’ Genius of Richard Wright from Natchez to Chicago – A Blues Poetry Opera honors the life and creative legacy of Richard Wright
A new Indiana University grant-funded project, a blues poetry opera honoring the life, art and legacy of world-renowned author, noted playwright and poet Richard Wright (1908-1960) will air its performance at The Cabaret in Indianapolis on PBS later this spring. Prior to the airing, the performance will be available to stream via YouTube beginning February 10 in conjunction with Black History Month. Register to view
“The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre”: The Travelin’ Genius of Richard Wright from Natchez to Chicago – A Blues Poetry Opera is a live, multimedia theatrical presentation chronicling the story of Wright from his migration from Mississippi to the decade he spent in Chicago from 1927-1937. The performance involves a nine-piece ensemble featuring spoken word poetry, singing, saxophone, piano, upright bass and drums. Musical interludes enhance and animate the element of spoken word poem performances as part of the 90-minute piece broken into six movements.
The work derives its title from a lost short story published by a 15-year-old Wright, and aims to contextualize Wright alongside culturally significant aspects of history including the Great Migration, the evolution of Black literature and protest writing, protracted struggles against White supremacy and anti-Black racism, the Black Freedom Movement and Black Radical Tradition. The performance, a poetic mediation on Wright, aligns with creative and political themes featured so prominently in his work – most especially his commentary on the beauty, pain and complexity of the Black experience in the United States.
“Richard Wright was a giant, and one of our most enduring national treasures who continues to cast a long, wide shadow and make a deep impact,” said Dr. Lasana D. Kazembe, who first conceptualized the project in 2015 following his decades-long interactions with Wright’s writings. “My central motivation for developing this project is to elevate the legacy of Wright’s work and ideas and expand conversation around his accomplishments and contributions to our history.”
“The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre”: The Travelin’ Genius of Richard Wright from Natchez to Chicago – A Blues Poetry Opera is a 2020 recipient of Indiana University’s New Frontiers for Creativity and Scholarship grant program. Its four components include the live performance, a public exhibition at a later date, publication of a cultural essay, and creation of a language arts curriculum designed for elementary and middle school teachers to educate students about Wright and the Great Migration. “To address and dismantle our cultural illiteracy, we must help our teachers to be more reflective and culturally informed, and to challenge students to think more deeply about themselves, about others and about the diversity of the children they may one day teach,” said Kazembe, who is currently testing the curriculum and plans to provide it as a giveaway to teachers in the fall of 2021.
The live performance ensemble will include artists widely known in the Central Indiana music scene and beyond:
- Lasana D. Kazembe – spoken word
- Rob Dixon – musical director
- Keesha Dixon – narrator
- Allison Victoria – vocalist
- Brandon Meeks – bass
- Steven Jones – piano
- Kenny Phelps – drums
- Shamira Wilson – visual artist
- Okara Imani – vocalist
“Few Black writers have been able to capture and convey the epic, sentient, overlapping stories of the Black experience,” said Kazembe. “With passion, grace, anger, and deep cultural insight, Wright used his literary gifts to open windows into the souls of Black folk. His artistic, political, and cultural inspiration is profound and enduring, and that is the basis for this project.”
WIRTZ CENTER, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
FEBRUARY 5-7 Available On-Demand via Vimeo $10 individually. Free to full-time Northwestern University students with registration “For a time I thought I was about to move into another world, the so-called ‘integrated’ world … but that’s a lie.” With race riots outside his apartment in 1964 Harlem, artist and sophisticate Bill Jameson paints his view of Black womanhood. While searching for his final model, a woman he describes as “as close to the bottom as you can get,” he thinks he has found a match in Tommy. But Tommy soon tests his toxic assumptions. Rarely staged since its debut in 1969, Alice Childress’ masterwork examines the intersection of race, gender and class in Civil-Rights-Era America.
COMING UP NEXT WEEKEND FEBRUARY 12-14 Available On-Demand via Vimeo $10 individually. Free to full-time Northwestern University students with registration A woman tries to feed her husband a fried drumstick. Dragons roam a flat earth. The last Black man in the whole entire world dies again. And again. Careening through memory and language, Parks explores and explodes archetypes of Black America with piercing insight and raucous comedy. A riotous theatrical event, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World hums with the heartbeat of improvisational jazz.
Georgia & South Carolina’s Underground Railroad Multi-Adventure Tour
Biking, Hiking & Kayaking from Savannah to Charleston
Discover landscapes once crossed by the historic Underground Railroad. Dive into the rich history and culture of the region’s Black communities. Explore the Combahee River, where Harriet Tubman once guided a regiment of Union soldiers. And wander the colorful streets of Charleston and Savannah, with their complex past. Keep the story of the Underground Railroad alive.
A One-of-a-Kind Historical Adventure
This trip is run in conjunction with Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro, the nation’s leading network for celebrating and inspiring Black connections and leadership in nature. We’re proud to work with Rue and her incredible organization to foster more diversity and inclusion in the world of outdoor, active adventure.
A portion of every trip sold will go to charities dedicated to helping Black youth in Georgia and South Carolina access the outdoors and enjoy the same active adventures we love at Backroads.
“I can’t think of a better way to learn about American history than to see it up close and actively,” said Tom Hale, Backroads Founder and President. “We’ve been supporters of Outdoor Afro for many years and believe in their mission of expanding access to nature among the Black community. We were thrilled to work with Rue Mapp and her staff to create this new trip and look forward to bringing history to life when the trip launches in October.”
The tour was created in conjunction with Outdoor Afro regional leaders who live and work in the South Carolina and Georgia areas. The Backroads Historic Underground Railroad Multi-Adventure tour will run October 3-7, 2021, and is available for booking now. More information here.
If Martha Stewart was Black you might not know her name. In honor of Black History Month, is it time to shine a light on the titans of the home décor and lifestyle sector? These Black women are deserving of recognition for their design industry contributions. Did you know Barbara Smith, Sheila Bridges, and Robin Wilson each created multi-pronged lifestyle brands?
As we celebrate Black History, we can turn a light on these women who have created brands with their high standards, unique vision, original creativity and hard work.
Barbara Smith (widely known as B. Smith), was a legend in the lifestyle sector who passed away in 2020. She was not able to get venture funding for the growth of her business, TV show or magazine – even though she was a contemporary of Martha Stewart. She used funds from her first career in modeling (she was the first Black model to be featured on a Mademoiselle cover in 1976!), television, and stage performances of the mid-1960s. The B. Smith with Style Home Collection, debuted at Bed Bath & Beyond in 2001 as the first line from an African-American woman to be sold at a nationwide retailer and included bedding, tabletop and bath products.
Sheila Bridges started her brand in 1996 and has become a leading designer who has built a firm with signature looks for wallpaper and textiles in toile. Sheila’s home furnishing collections have been sold to design-conscious consumers online, through trade showrooms, mail order catalogs and at national retailers. She was recognized and was named “America’s Best Interior Designer” by CNN and Time magazine and she has also been included in House Beautiful’s “Top 100 Interior Designers” as well as Elle Décor’s 2011- 2020 A-List, which recognizes interior designers who exemplify continually relevant design. She is a regular contributor role on a morning news show and widely recognized for designing President Clinton’s Harlem office.
Robin Wilson launched Robin Wilson Home in 2000 and created a conglomerate that covers eco-design, licensed products, interior design and real estate development. Her brand has generated over $82 million in wholesale revenue from sales of cabinetry and textiles. She became the first Black woman with a line of hypoallergenic textiles sold nationwide at Bed Bath & Beyond now in Wal-Mart, among other retailers. Her book, CLEAN DESIGN: Wellness for your Lifestyle was #1 on Amazon and focused on the eco-friendly design and hypoallergenic products for consumers.
She has worked on interior design for the White House Fellows, specifically during the Obama administration. And on the Harlem offices of resident Bill Clinton. She recently furnished the famous Esalen Retreat with eco- based luxury room textiles, products and furniture. INC magazine included Robin in their 2020 Top 100 Female Founders. Robin is an Ambassador to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America.
These women stand together as leaders in the global design industry. Let’s celebrate and recognize their achievements. Isn’t it time that each is given consumer support, venture funding and partnership deals?
The Field Museum
The Museum will be hosting a variety of online programs throughout February that highlight and amplify Black voices and stories. The live and pre-recorded events include a mix of Black History-themed behind-the-scenes tours, virtual exhibition viewings, and panel discussions with museum scholars for museum fans, educators, and students to enjoy.
“For the second year, we managed to come together remotely and select some captivating events to inspire and educate viewers. We’ll celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of Black Diaspora in STEM education and the past and present careers of our staff to highlight Black history throughout the Field,” says Reda Brooks, budget coordinator in the Field’s Exhibitions department, who guides the Museum’s Black History Month efforts. “With events available to watch or replay and several social media posts and blogs, it will be easy to enjoy and share our programming at your leisure from the comfort of your home.”
Viewers of all ages can join a virtual tour of A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton with Tori Lee, the exhibition’s developer. The exhibition features African-American taxidermist Carl Cotton, starting with his youth in Washington Park on the city’s South Side, where from an early age, he was fascinated with preserving animals. Highlights of the show include taxidermy, interviews, and archival footage and images. “Though we opened last year, Carl’s story didn’t get a chance to fully shine since the gallery was closed due to COVID restrictions. Now, come see his story for yourself or join me for a virtual tour starting February 5,” says Lee.
Museum fans seven years and older can learn more about Carl Cotton’s taxidermy through the Museum’s educational series, Discovery Adventures. This online event will take you on a live tour throughout the Museum, featuring Cotton’s permanently displayed work. During his nearly 25-year career, he produced more than just taxidermy and brought to life many dioramas with his detailed replicas of lily pads, plants, and complete habitats, including his signature piece, the Marsh Birds of the Upper Nile.
Furthermore, attendees of all ages can join scholar Christopher Philipp on a virtual behind-the-scenes tour of the Africa collection with a special focus on the history and significance of some of the 3000 items from Cameroon’s many cultures.
Museum enthusiasts can meet some of the staff that created the Africa exhibition through a panel discussion and viewing of a vintage behind-the-scenes documentary. The film highlights the planning, development, and production of this pioneering exhibition that opened during the Museum’s centennial year in 1993.
Educators, students, and professionals can join the A. Watson Armour Seminar Series to learn about STEM education and career opportunities. The weekly lectures will include museum staff and guests including Chicago Public Schools teachers, graduate students, and established science professionals who will enlighten attendees about African-Americans’ achievements in science and Africana anthropology.
Schedule of events
Every Wednesday in February at 12pm – The A. Watson Armour Seminar Series via Zoom, pre-registration is required for each session.
February 5 – Virtual exhibition tour of A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton will be available on the museum’s Facebook channel.
February 9 at 1pm – Discovery Adventures live museum tour of Carl Cotton’s work via Facebook and Youtube, pre-registration is required.
February 18 – Behind-the-scenes tour of the Africa collectionwill be available on the museum’s Youtube channel.
February 19 at 12pm – Africa exhibition documentary panel discussion via Zoom, pre-registration is required. Additionally, the documentary will be available starting February 1 on the Museum’s website for viewers to watch before the event.
All online events are free, available for replay, and open to the public through various media platforms. Follow the museum on social media to stay up to date with event information. For more programming details and where required, attendees can register for events at fieldmuseum.org/blackhistorymonth.
On the days when the Museum is open, guests can visit Africa, A Natural Talent: The Taxidermy of Carl Cotton, and Looking at Ourselves: Rethinking the Sculptures of Malvina Hoffman.Visitors interested in coming to see exhibitions in person are encouraged to purchase tickets online. The above shows are included with basic admission. Basic admission to the Field is free every Monday and Thursday through March 15, with the exception of President’s Day on February 15. On Free Days, Illinois residents can only redeem free passes or discounted tickets in person. Proof of residency is required.
THE PEAR THEATRE
Fairfield talks about the inventors and Civil Rights leaders that are responsible for the progress we have made. I just finished reading The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, a play The Pear produced several years ago about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Similarly, I read an article suggesting movies about Black Joy – stories that get us away from looking only at the suffering of the black community in order to celebrate them. There are so many resources out there if you’re looking.
The show streams through February 21st – don’t miss out!
SEE the movie MLK
MLK/FBI is an essential expose of the surveillance and harassment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (labeled by the FBI as the “most dangerous” Black person in America), undertaken by J. Edgar Hoover and the U.S. government. Based on newly discovered and declassified files, as well as revelatory restored footage, the documentary explores the government’s history of targeting Black activists. Directed by Emmy® Award-winner and Oscar®-nominee Sam Pollard, MLK/FBI recounts a tragic story with searing relevance to our current moment. IFC Films released MLK/FBI in select theaters and on VOD platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, AT&T, Comcast Xfinity, DirecTV, and Spectrum, among others, on Friday, January 15, 2021. To find out more info and where the film is currently playing please visit the film’s official website here.
In honor of Black History Month, IFC Films will be screening MLK/FBI across the country with the following organizations and partners:
*AFI Docs Silver Theatre and Cultural Center*
*African Diaspora International Film Festival in the Classroom program in collaboration with the Office of the VP for Diversity and Community Affairs at Teachers College, Columbia University Virtual Screening*
*Austin Film Society*
*Chicago International Film Festival*
*Coolidge Corner Theatre*
*Forum on Life, Culture and Society followed by a Conversation with Sam Pollard moderated by Thane Rosenbaum*
*Howard University Film School*
*Middleburg Film Festival*
*Mill Valley Film Festival / California Film Institute*
*Morehouse CTEMS Program*
*Museum of the Moving Image*
*New Orleans Film Society*
*Newport Beach Film Society*
*New York Film Academy*
*R.A.C.E Matters in Partnership with NYU followed by a Conversation with Sam Pollard moderated by Alrick Brown*
*Salt Lake City Film Society*
*Santa Barbara International Film Festival*
*Seattle International Film Festival*
*Sidewalk Film Festival/Theater*
*SIE Denver Film*
*Soho House (Global) Virtual Double Feature BLACK POWER MIXTAPE and MLK/FBI followed by a Conversation with Goran Hugo Olsson and Sam Pollard moderated by Jelani Cobb*
*University of Southern California*
*Walker Art Center/Film North*
THE JOFFREY BALLET
Blazing the Trail: Celebrating Black Pioneers in Dance
This month, the Joffrey honors Black artists that have shaped the legacy of dance in America and beyond, in tandem with the Joffrey’s participation in Together We Heal, a citywide initiative from the City of Chicago aimed at building racial healing across local communities. Follow the Joffrey on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube for more.