12 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month
Here are just some of the things to do, read, and see to immerse yourself in the rich history of black culture.
National Museum of African American History & Culture
If you have a bucket list for every state in the United States, add a visit to this museum in Washington DC. As part of the Smithsonian, it’s filled with collections and exhibits that will move and inspire you. You’ll see art and artifacts that span our nation’s history. The museum directors believe that this museum is for all Americans to better understand our nation’s history through the African American lens.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’
You may have been assigned to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous letter in your high school English class. There’s no better time to read it again. The letter is considered a key document in the Civil Rights Movement, but it’s also a great work of literature. In the letter, written in 1963, Dr. King argues movingly for nonviolent resistance to racism. His letter is all the more powerful because it’s written from a jail cell—King had been arrested during a peaceful protest against segregation. These inspirational quotes from Dr. King will restore your faith in humanity.
This beloved movie (based on a New York Times bestseller) follows the stories of three black women scientists working at NASA during the Civil Rights era. You’ll see their amazing contributions from within a culture of discrimination and inequality. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae shine as the science and math whizzes who play key roles in America’s space race. Here are more inspiring movies that celebrate women.
Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad’
Whitehead’s riveting, can’t-put-it-down novel won the National Book Award, the Man Booker Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s just that good. Whitehead sets his story during the 1800s in the American South. Everything is just how you’d expect, only skewed weird and slightly different. The story follows an escaped slave on her terrifying journey north. The “underground railroad” she traverses is a literal series of below-ground trains. This is a searing and chilling must-read portrait of American history.
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Watch this acclaimed drama about the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia. Interracial marriage was still illegal in some states until 1967. The movie follows the real-life couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who were sentenced to a year in jail for marrying. Ruth Negga was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Joel Edgerton plays her devoted husband in this inspiring love story set within profound injustice. Check out more bizarre marriage laws you might be breaking.
Ron Wimberly’s ‘Black History in Its Own Words’
This awesome art book features pop art and comic style portraits of black artists and activists, like Angela Davis, Ice Cube, Shirley Chisholm, bell hooks, and others. The book features a series of portraits with a noteworthy quote chosen for each selected black artist or luminary. The Jimi Hendrix page, like all of them, captures his own words: “There’s a whole lot of changes happening, but now it’s time for all these changes to connect.” Wimberly’s style captures the wisdom, strength, and genius of black icons and leaders across history. Check out inspiring movies that let you revisit the heroes of the Civil Rights era.
‘I Am Not Your Negro’
Raoul Peck’s acclaimed documentary is an absolute must-see. It’s based on one of writer Jame’s Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts, but it shines a light on the racism throughout America’s history. Baldwin lived and wrote during the Civil Rights era, and the film explores his experience with friends and allies such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Samuel L. Jackson narrates this powerful portrait of Baldwin’s towering intellect and the time in which he lived and wrote. It’s an essential history lesson with a huge impact. You can’t see it and remain unmoved. Check out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s favorite books—Baldwin made the list!
Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
Published in 1937, Hurston’s novel is a masterwork of American literature and the Harlem Renaissance. It follows heroine Janie Crawford’s harrowing love life but transcends simple melodrama and heartache. Janie’s journey shows the strength and dignity in black women’s experience. Hurston writes with originality and lyricism in language that demonstrates extreme artistry that wasn’t recognized during her lifetime. So give it a go now. You won’t be sorry. Here are the strongest female literary characters of all time.
National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
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This Baltimore museum aims to educate and motivate by focusing on great leaders in African American history. You’ll see exhibitions spanning black history from roots in Africa to the Harlem Renaissance to Civil Rights to Inventors and Modern Leaders and everything in between. You’ll see life-size wax figures of Harriet Tubman, Billie Holiday, and many other historical figures who bring history to life in an environment that inspires. Perfect for the whole family or school-age groups.
Misty Copeland is the first African American principal ballerina in the American Ballet Theatre. Copeland was discovered as a child prodigy and was dancing professionally within one year of her first ballet lesson. Check out her website to see images and video of her remarkable talent. You’ll find yourself awestruck, inspired, and absolutely enamored with ballet as an art form.
The Motown Museum
“Motown Sound” transformed the music scene in America during the 1960s with such artists as Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and the Supremes. Motown also launched the careers of the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder, infusing rock n’ roll with black music culture and the styles of jazz and gospel. If you visit the interactive museum in Detroit, you can sing along in Studio A and see exhibits and memorabilia that celebrate and honor Motown influence and history. Some original Motown records are worth a fortune today.
‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’
Michele Alexander’s acclaimed bestseller examines the ways that discrimination persists in new forms in our contemporary time. We may think we live in an age of colorblindness, but this important book explains how the criminal justice system perpetuates institutionalized racism. Alexander is a legal scholar and civil rights advocate who persuasively sheds light on aspects of racism that need examination and reform. Don’t miss these history lessons your teacher probably got wrong.