Guide to the best Black History Month events around Washington

Fritz Hahn Washington Post Feb 3 2023

Black history is Washington’s history, every month of the year. The city is home to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, but numerous museums showcase Black excellence. The Mall bore witness to important events, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the inauguration of America’s first Black president, but the streets are rich with stories: Frederick Douglass, Carter G. Woodson and Mary McLeod Bethune all lived in D.C. Duke Ellington and Charles Drew were born here. Howard University was founded here. Black Broadway thrived here.

In February, the nation’s official Black History Month, there are ample opportunities to celebrate historical figures and walk in the footsteps of great men and women, both famous and unheralded. “Black Resistance” is the theme of this year’s commemorations, and it’s a through-line connecting many of the events around town.

The occasion also serves as a chance to learn more about the art being created by neighbors and the history in our own backyard. It’s a chance to acknowledge the contributions of remarkable Black Americans and come away inspired to carry their legacies forward.

Photographer Dee Dwyer’s “Wild Seeds of the Soufside” is on view at the Phillips Collection’s Phillips at THEARC from Feb. 18 to May 13. Dwyer discusses her work at a Feb. 24 reception. (Dee Dwyer)

Art and film

Black Voices film screenings at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema: A month-long program at the area’s Alamo theaters features films showcasing the talents of Black actors, directors and producers. The lineup includes such feature films as “Boyz n the Hood,” “Love & Basketball” and “Moonlight” and documentaries “Hoop Dreams” and “Wattstax.” Through March 1. Times and prices vary.

Artist Talk: ‘The Radical Voice of Blackness Speaks of Resistance and Joy’ at the Banneker-Douglass Museum: The Annapolis museum’s current exhibition includes paintings, photographs, videos and other works from prominent Black Maryland-based artists. Hear from Devin Allen, Wesley Clark and Chrystal Seawood, who have works included in the exhibit, during a discussion moderated by guest curator Myrtis Bedolla. The exhibition remains on display through Sept. 30. Artist talk, Feb. 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. Free; registration required.

‘Wild Seeds of the Soufside’ opening at Phillips at THEARC: Photographer Dee Dwyer’s images of people and everyday life in Southeast Washington are featured in a new exhibition at the Phillips Collection’s gallery at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Congress Heights. Dwyer discusses her work at the opening reception; the exhibit is on view through May 13. Opening reception, Feb. 24 from 5 to 9 p.m. Free; registration required.

Singer and banjo player Jake Blount performs at the Library of Congress on Feb. 23 as part of a celebration of African American folk music. (Tadin Brown)


A2B at the Eaton Workshop: The Eaton’s A2B series, which finds musicians, DJs and journalists playing and discussing records that hold deep personal meaning, examines “Black history and future through music” in the hotel’s library throughout February. Sessions include filmmaker and former Post journalist Chris Jenkins covering Public Enemy’s “Fear of a Black Planet” on Feb. 9 and Panama Jackson of TheGrio delving into Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun” on Feb. 16Thursdays through Feb. 23. 7 to 9 p.m. Free; RSVP required.

Mamie Smith, Bessie Smith and the Centennial Year of Race Records with Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra at the National Museum of Natural History: 1923 was a momentous year for music, featuring the first recordings from Bessie Smith, later dubbed the “Empress of the Blues.” The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra explores the trailblazing output of Bessie Smith and “Queen of the Blues” Mamie Smith (no relation) during this concert. Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. $25.

Live! At the Library: African American Folk Music with Jake Blount at Library of Congress: Roots musician Jake Blount drew from historical recordings housed at the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center when creating his acclaimed 2022 album “The New Faith,” and Blount returns to the library for this after-hours party, where the gifted banjo player will perform and discuss how African American traditions have shaped Americana music. Before or after the event, visitors can also view the temporary exhibit on “Black Resistance,” which draws from library collections. Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. Free; timed entry passes required.

Soul and Blues Music Maker Foundation Showcase at National Gallery of Art: In conjunction with the exhibit “Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South,” the National Gallery of Art’s East Building hosts a day featuring live performances of blues, bluegrass and gospel. Feb. 26 from noon to 4:30 p.m. Free.

The southern leg of Alexandria’s African American Waterfront Heritage Trail ends at Jones Point, which is the site of the boundary stone marking the original southern tip of Washington. The trail extension launches Feb. 4. (Carol Jean Stalun/Visit Alexandria)

History and tours

African American Waterfront Heritage Trail extension in Old Town Alexandria: In 2021, the city of Alexandria launched the African American Waterfront Heritage Trail, a self-guided walking tour from the waterfront at King Street north to the Cross Canal neighborhood near Tide Lock Park. This month, the city launches a 19-stop extension of the interactive multimedia tour, which can be accessed on a smartphone, leading from King Street south to Jones Point Park, covering Black history from the 18th century to the present. Trail launches Feb. 4. Free.

African American Voices tour at Washington National Cathedral: The Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. delivered his final Sunday sermon from the pulpit of Washington National Cathedral; Archbishop Desmond Tutu preached there on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Learn more about the cathedral’s relationship with these men and other Black leaders and theologians during themed tours of the building. Feb. 4 at 10:30 a.m. and Feb. 25 at 2 p.m. $25-$30.

Frederick Douglass Birthday Celebration at Capital Turnaround: Cedar Hill, the historic mansion that Frederick Douglass called home, remains closed for renovations, so the annual birthday party for the Lion of Anacostia is moving to the former streetcar barn across from the Navy Yard. The program includes period music from the Jubilee Voices of the Washington Revels, DC Strings, speeches from the student winners of the Frederick Douglass Oratorical Contest and a discussion about which city Douglass really considered his home during his lifetime. Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. Free.

After Emancipation walking tours in Rock Creek Park: National Park Service rangers lead this two-mile tour exploring sites associated with formerly enslaved people who lived and worked on land that’s now part of Rock Creek Park, including Sarah Whitby, whose now-vanished house was excavated by archaeologists. The walk begins near Picnic Grove 28, and no reservations are required. Feb. 12 and 18 at 10 a.m. Free.

Black History Tours from Off the Mall Tours: Off the Mall Tours offers a collection of walking tours covering subjects as esoteric as Civil War madams and the birth of D.C. punk. For February, topics include Queer Black Broadway (Feb. 25), an LGBTQ tour of U Street sites in conjunction with the Rainbow History Project, and the History of Black Georgetown (Feb. 26). Feb. 12-26. Times vary. $25.

Families can explore the Underground Railroad Experience Trail during Black History Month Family Day at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring. (Marilyn Stone/Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission)

For families

Community Day: Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of ‘The Lion King’ on Broadway at the National Museum of African American History and Culture: “The Lion King” debuted a quarter-century ago, with its innovative masks and staging and a soundtrack proudly featuring authentic African music. The production changed the face of Broadway and became the highest-grossing Broadway musical ever. This month, “The Lion King” will be celebrated with a family festival on the Mall, which includes workshops with Disney “theatrical teaching artists” and family activities across the museum. Feb. 20 at 10:30 a.m. Free; registration required. Separate registration for workshops required.

Culture Queen Kids Hour: Magnificent Monuments at the Anacostia Community Museum: One of the most dynamic and joyful children’s performers around, Culture Queen empowers audiences while also educating them, thanks to songs such as “I Like the Me I See” and “I Am the Future of Black History.” Her monthly visits to the Anacostia Community Museum feature crafts, stories and fun, and for Black History Month, participants will discuss people they admire before building monuments to them. Feb. 4 from noon to 1 p.m. Free; registration required.

NMAAHC Kids Learning Together from the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Animated movie and TV heroes serve as the inspiration for online Zoom programs sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Feb. 21 is based on “Doc McStuffins,” so kids can meet a real doctor and learn about staying healthy, while the Feb. 10 event celebrates Frozone of “The Incredibles” and features a figure skater and a science project about ice. Registration is required for each session, and participants will receive information about craft supplies by email before the event. Various times and dates, beginning Feb. 4. Free; registration required.

Black History Month Family Day at Woodlawn Manor: Sandy Spring’s Woodlawn Manor, home to Montgomery County’s Underground Railroad Experience Trail and a museum with exhibits about free and enslaved Black communities, is open for self-guided tours and take-home activities. Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free.

Black Aviators Tour at the College Park Aviation Museum: Learn about the exploits of Black pilots, such as Eugene Bullard, a member of the legendary Lafayette Flying Corps during World War I, and Gus McLeod, the first man to fly over the North Pole in an open-cockpit biplane (on display at the museum), during this tour designed for ages 12 and older. 11 a.m. Feb. 4, 11 and 25 as well as 1 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday through Feb. 26. Free.