New York City has long been a center of African-American life in the United States. It's where the Harlem Renaissance shook cultural norms, where Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier and where Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. The City remains a beacon of diversity, so it's no wonder the five boroughs are home to a strong lineup of Black History Month events. Here are some of our picks.
January 21–February 26
America: The Legacy of African American Public Service
at the Central Park Arsenal
Despite the presence of slavery, segregation and prejudice, an African American was elected to US public office as early as 1768—and many more have followed, including Barack Obama, whose 2008 election made him the first black president of the United States. This exhibition features art celebrating those public servants and their achievements.
Black History Month at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The month kicks off with a discussion on Basquiat (February 1); other events include a talk about the musical version of The Color Purple (February 8); a showing of African-American photography taken from the Kamoinge archives (February 9); and an appearance by music producer LA Reid (February 23).
Louis Armstrong House Museum Celebrates Black History Month at Louis Armstrong House Museum
The museum will spend the month honoring Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five—among the most influential bands in jazz history. All museum visitors will receive a reproduction scrapbook page from the just-opened exhibition Hotter Than That (which runs through mid-October). Visitors can also take house tours that emphasize Armstrong's role as a civil rights pioneer.
February 4 and 18
Black History Month Events at Brooklyn Historical Society
“Why New York? Slavery on Long Island” (February 4) is a panel about slavery's role in Long Island's development. February 18 brings a screening and discussion of The Green Book Chronicles. The film tells the story of (and is named for) Victor H. Green's guidebook, which listed a network of white- and black-owned businesses that welcomed African Americans during segregation and helped ensure safe travel prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
First Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum
The museum's monthly free Saturday night of music, film and other public programming follows a Black History Month theme in February. Among the highlights are a Romare Bearden–inspired art-making activity; a screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution; and performances by Tai Allen, Dasan Ahanu, Latasha Alcindor and Charles Perry.
Say It Loud! Arts & Activism at the Apollo Theater
Celebrate Apollo legends like James Brown and Nina Simone with musical performances from up-and-coming stars such as Chris Rob and Lynette Williams, among others. The Apollo tour director and in-house historian, Billy Mitchell, will also join the fray by co-hosting. The event is free with no RSVP required.
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution at the Apollo Theater
Catch this free matinee screening of the documentary about the rise of the Black Panther Party and its cultural and political impact on American society. There is a panel discussion with director Stanley Nelson and former members of the party, along with a musical performance by IMPACT Repertory Theatre Performances Company. It's too late to RSVP (registration has reached capacity), but you can hope to get in from the standby line.
Celebrate Black History Month: George Washington Carver Workshop at Queens Botanical Garden
Botanist George Washington Carver was known as the Wizard of Tuskegee for his groundbreaking research into the cultivation of and alternative uses for crops like sweet potatoes, peanuts and soybeans. Children attending this workshop will learn about Carver's achievements, paint with plant dyes and plant a peanut seed that they can take home for further observation.
Amateur Night at the Apollo: 2016 Opening Night at the Apollo Theater
The 2016 season of Amateur Night—which has introduced the world to stars like Ella Fitzgerald and Jimi Hendrix—kicks off with all new contestants. Capone, DJ Jess and C.P. Lacey host.
Black History Month Trolley Tour at Green-Wood Cemetery
Learn about the monumental achievements and civil rights activism of noted New Yorkers on this trolley circuit. Stops include the graves of Susan Smith McKinney Steward, the first female black doctor in New York State; the (Brooklyn-born) downtown artist Jean-Michel Basquiat; and Jeremiah Hamilton, New York City's first black millionaire.
Through Winter 2018
Brooklyn Abolitionists/In Pursuit of Freedom at the Brooklyn Historical Society
This show focuses on the lesser-known heroes of Brooklyn's anti-slavery movement—ordinary residents who helped shape the neighborhood and city. It's part of the larger In Pursuit of Freedom exhibition, in partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project.
Through Winter 2018
The Emancipation Proclamation at the Brooklyn Historical Society
A replica of the Brooklyn Historical Society's rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation is on long-term view. The exhibition also tackles the impact the document had—and has continued to have over the past 150 years.
Birthplace of Hip Hop Tours at Hush Tours
Join up with Hush Tours on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for a four-hour journey around Bronx and Harlem sites crucial to the formation of hip-hop and its culture. Stops include the former home of genre pioneer DJ Kool Herc. Bonus: tour guides and guests include old-school MCs from the “Boogie Down” (as the Bronx is sometimes known), Grandmaster Caz and Kurtis Blow among them.
Harlem Heritage Tours
Harlem Heritage Tours offers itineraries that capture the history of jazz, hip-hop, gospel and art in Harlem. The informative, entertaining journeys are conducted by guides who were born and raised in the community, giving participants a uniquely enthusiastic point of view and an insider's perspective on the rich legacy and culture of the area. Participants can enjoy music, dine on delicious soul food and shop Harlem's stores.
Harlem Spirituals Tour
This company's regular offerings include gospel-themed tours and ones combining soul food and jazz. You'll get a new perspective on historic landmarks—including the original Cotton Club and the Apollo—important to Harlem's musical legacy.