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20 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Memphis 2017

Photo: Bailey Clark
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Photo: Bailey Clark 

February is celebrated across the country as Black History Month, and Memphis has played an important role in the development of black culture in the United States.

From music and the arts to the Civil Rights Movement, the history and development of Memphis, and even our culinary tradition, black Memphians have had an impact that stretches far beyond the bounds of our city.

Here are some places you can go and things you can do to experience that impact and honor Black History Month:

Stax Records

Photo: Noah Glenn

Stax Museum of American Soul lets you connect to the music that helped shape the Civil Rights Movement and soul music for decades in the United States. Explore Memphis’ contribution to the civil rights movement with a combo ticket that includes admission to the Stax Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Withers Collection Museum.

The National Civil Rights Museum is an iconic place that tells the story of a people who faught for racial equality and rights. Located at the Lorraine Motel, this should be one of your first stops during Black History Month where you can learn about the struggle for civil rights. See all their upcoming events here, or you can take a tour on Mondays from 3-5pm for free with a state-issued ID. Explore Memphis’ contribution to the civil rights movement with a combo ticket that includes admission to the Stax Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Withers Collection Museum.

Ernest C. Withers (1922-2007), was a photojournalist, in Memphis who formed close personal relationships with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and James Meredith. Withers was often the only photographer to record key civil rights events, as they weren’t of interest to the mainstream press. Explore Memphis’ contribution to the civil rights movement with a combo ticket that includes admission to the Stax Museum, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Withers Collection Museum.

In one of the largest forced migrations in history, millions of Africans crossed the Atlantic from the 16th to the 19th centuries through the horrific “Middle Passage.” Take a walk through this antebellum home and discover the history of this time. $10 admission. Go here to read about our Year One writer’s recent visit.

In the area’s heyday, it wasn’t uncommon to find iconic Soulsville musicians hanging out on the porch at 1130 College Street. That was the home of famed blues singer and pianist John “Peter” Chatman, better known to friends and audiences worldwide as Memphis Slim. That house, once full of laughter and song, unfortunately fell into disrepair in the years after his death in 1988. Thanks to investment from Memphians, it has now been redeveloped and re-imagined by Community LIFT, so that future generations of Soulsville musicians will have a place to gather, rehearse, learn and create legendary music once again. Funding was provided by the Kresge Foundation, ArtPlace America, The Assisi Foundation of Memphis, and Hyde Family Foundation. Partners also include Visible Music College, UofM Music College and Stax Music Academy. Today, Soulsville USA Music District is the center of a community revitalization, with the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Soulsville Academy keeping the area’s sound and legacy alive and well. See their upcoming events here, and become a member.

Art Village Gallery will celebrate Black History Month with feature films beginning February 7.  Opening night will feature the documentary “War Dance” at 4:30 pm. Tickets cost $15 each and you must be 21 years or older. Look out for other showings including “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” on February 14, “The Color Purple” on February 21, and “Crooklyn” on February 28.

Also, join Art Village Gallery for Out of Africa, an emotive art exhibition that showcases the works of five Nigerian artists at the forefront of contemporary art: Adedoba Afolabi, Tayo Adenaike, Adewale Adenle, Stacey Okparavero and Upjohn Aghaji; all featuring beautiful and important works, which also illustrate Nigeria’s rich culture. The exhibition offers socio-political commentary as the artists allow viewers the opportunity to challenge society by bringing new meaning to the way we perceive the world. The exhibition will remain on view until Saturday, February 18, 2017.

Every Tuesday of February, you can gain historical insight across West Tennessee by riding along with Heritage Tours’ “Day Trippin’ Bus Tour. The bus will travel to historical sites such as the Alex Haley House Museum & Interpretive Center, Bethlehem Cemetery, and the National Register listed Canaan Baptist Church. The bus leaves 8:30 am each Tuesday in February and returns at 4 pm. The tour costs $40, but the first 5 seats are free. Contact heritagetours@bellsouth.net to reserve your seat.

ballet on wheels

Ballet On Wheels Dance School & Company is partnering with the City of Memphis and the Memphis Public Library & Information Center to host an inspiring exhibit, Groundbreakers: African-American Ballerina Stories of Triumph And Struggles. Free and open to the public February 1-28 in the Goodwyn Gallery at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, the exhibit will include beautiful photos and historical facts about the first African-American Ballerinas and fun facts about Ballet On Wheels Dance School & Company. The month-long celebration will not end with this exhibit; there will also be 3 events that will complement the exhibit:

  • Documentary Screening of First African-American Ballerinas Thursday, Feb. 9, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. (First Floor Meeting Rooms)
  • Read, Write & Move Dance Class (For kids ages 3-7) Saturday, Feb. 18, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Ballet On Wheels Dance School & Company Live Performance Saturday, Feb. 25, 11 a.m. – noon (Goodwyn Gallery)

peace of my mind

The National Civil Rights Museum will host a discussion on peace that stems from John Noltner’s book compilations and exhibition, A Peace of My Mind, on Wednesday, February 1, at 6pm.  An award-winning photographer, Noltner is in Memphis to share the stories collected from his 40,000-mile drive across America in pursuit of common ground, humanity and answers to the question, “What does peace mean to you?” Since 2012, Noltner has interviewed Holocaust survivors, political refugees, former prisoners, artists, teachers, veterans, immigrants and everyday Americans to gain insight on how citizens can work toward common good to create a more just society and a greater sense of community.  He has collected 58 testimonials from people of diverse backgrounds in an exhibition and two books. The foreward in his second book, A Peace of My Mind: American Stories, is penned by Museum President Terri Lee Freeman.

An eloquent depiction of a hypothetical meeting between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Hattiloo Theatre’s The Meeting illuminates the ongoing debate between the two most towering figures of the Civil Rights Movement: how to achieve the same goal – equality for their people – through very different means. King’s unflappable commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience is repeatedly challenged by Malcolm’s belief that only provocation and retaliation can fundamentally shake the foundations of America’s racist society. The men’s mutual respect of the other, especially the willingness to martyr themselves for the cause, foreshadows the iconic positions the men hold in American society today. Recommended ages: 11+. Run time: 60 minutes.

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Join Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition and the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter during Black History Month for their Social Justice Fair. Come out and learn about the work your local social justice organizations are involved in and how you can support or get involved. The social justice fair will be from 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM and will feature organizations in Memphis that are involved in work in a number of areas, including: reproductive justice, education, economics, criminal justice reform, prison abolition, immigration reform, and poverty eradication. In addition to the fair, please join us at 2:00 PM for a panel discussion, “The Crisis in Black Education,“ featuring high school students, teachers and administrators, education reform organizers, and members of the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter.

“The Black Experience” The Rebirth of Black History Month, focus is to redefine the meaning of Black History Month. Although we’ve had a black president for 8 years, and created historical achievements and accomplishments in the black community like in the Olympics, arts, and entertainment. We still don’t celebrate Black History Month beyond the use of predictable images and icons such as, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King (Understandable), George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks. The show is to celebrate show African American History old and new. Artists: Jamond Bullock, Lurlynn Franklin, Dani Harris, Chuck Johnson, Terry Lynn, Jerry Lynn, Lawrence Matthew, Lester Merriweather, Carl E. Moore, Angela Myers, Darlene Newman, Frank Robinson, Lonnie Robinson, Vitus Shell, Eso Tolson, Jason Williams. Sponsored By Caritas Village in Collaboration with Orange Mound Gallery.

ENSLAVED, A Visual Story of Modern Day Slavery, documents the lives endured by slaves and celebrates the freedom they never dreamed possible. It is a powerful statement about one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. The images capture the experience of a moment lived in slavery, allowing the viewer to peek into the lives of those who are enslaved. What we see are two undeniable truths – the extreme brutality of the situation, and the resilience of the human spirit. The exhibition portrays survivors who are now rebuilding their lives and helping others to freedom. ENSLAVED shows how more than 30 million people are currently trapped in slavery. In fact, there are more slaves than at any other time in human history. Victims are forced to work in brothels, factories, mines, farm fields, restaurants, construction sites and in homes. These people, more than half of them women and children, are paid nothing, they toil under threat of violence and are unable to walk away. That’s the bad news. The good news is also documented in the searing images. The percentage of people enslaved on the planet is the smallest ever and it is possible to end slavery in our lifetime.

St. Jude and National Pan-Hellenic Council Memphis Metropolitan Area are hosting St. Jude Spirit of the Dream in honor of Black History Month at Domino’s Event Center at St. Jude on February 9th with doors opening at 7 PM. You can enjoy art, a live performance from Will Graves & Soul, and a surprise national recording artist. You can get your tickets here with proceeds benefiting St. Jude.

Celebrate Black History Month with readers across the world, Saturday, February 18, 2017, from 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM CST. Join Katina Rankin, Memphis Challenge, and others, to read literature by African American authors. Light refreshments will be served. Call 901-674-9375 if you want to read a passage, poem, or song lyric.

The IRIS Orchestra presents “Celebrating the Past: Creating a Future,” an intergenerational, community-building Family Concert celebrating the music and memories of the Civil Rights Movement at Clayborn Temple. Participants include IRIS Orchestra’s IRIS Artist Fellows C3Strings (Mariama Alcantara, Ashley Vines, Ajibola Rivers), the school orchestras from Overton and Kingsbury High Schools, and community partners Art for Life’s Sake, Carpenter Art Garden, and Facing History and Ourselves. Speakers will include Dr. Hattie Isen, president of Art for Life’s Sake. Narration will weave together musical performances and oral histories by early civil rights movement participants with full-house Freedom Song sing-along to create an evening of remembering and celebrating who we are and who we hope to become as a community.

Memphis artist Tia “Songbird” Henderson will be giving us smooth blend of soul and R&B. Be prepared for another great night. Come hang with some of Memphis’ coolest movers and shakers. Doors open at 7pm. Hosted by ESO and DJ SiphneAaye on the 1’s and 2’s. Cash Bar and Great Food available. Cover is $10.

The National Bar Association, Ben F. Jones Chapter and the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender are sponsoring a screening and panel discussion of one of the most talked about films of the year, the ‘13TH’. The event will be held in the theater of the Brooks Museum of Art in Overton Park on Saturday, February 25th at 2pm. Doors will open at 1:45pm. The screening and discussion are free and open to the public. Panelists are Tennessee Representative Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and Prof. Demetria Frank of the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. A participant from the program, Lifeline to Success, will also answer questions about incarceration and the struggle to re-enter society.

Join this fundraiser benefitting the Empowered Abroad Students who will be traveling to Havana, Cuba this summer. Your admission of $20 includes one drink ticket.

Join this forum for conversation on criminal justice, education, and jobs. The goal is to examine the problems in our community and explore policy initiatives and transformative programs to combat those problems. This is the third stop in the neighborhood community forum series.

Seek out opportunities to support black owned businesses in Memphis and contribute to the economic health of black communities.

Know of another way to honor and celebrate Black History Month that we missed? Email us at contact@choose901.com.

See more February events here.

Well, ok, not everything, but we try to keep a close pulse on the great things going on in the city, and it is our joy to share those things with you, three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). No spam, cross our hearts.