Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of ‘Negro History Week,’ the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.
Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures.
In the decades that followed, mayors of cities across the country began issuing yearly proclamations recognizing Negro History Week. By the late 1960s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and a growing awareness of Black identity, Negro History Week had evolved into Black History Month on many college campuses.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme.
The Black History Month 2021 theme ‘Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity’ explores the African Diaspora, and the spread of Black families across the United States.
This year’s celebration will be different due to the pandemic, with many events that would normally be held being cancelled or moved to online. Listed below are just a few.
United Street Tours offers a series of 5-star rated, historical Nashville walking tours that are led and curated by locals. The Nashville Black History Walking Tour celebrates the past through storytelling about Nashville’s enslaved population by spotlighting people such as Robert ‘Black Bob’ Renfro. While the Nashville Black History Walking Tour gives you a look into the past, on the Nashville Civil Rights Walking Tour you’ll experience the civil rights story and gain an inspiring new perspective of Nashville. Discover the murals, music, and local community of the Music City with the Nashville Black Neighborhoods Walking Tour. Unearth the fragments and piece them together with extraordinary stories that leave you more educated and inspired to become bridge builders in your community.
Nashville Public Library Civil Rights Room
The Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Public Library is a space for education and exploration of the Civil Rights Collection. The materials exhibited capture the drama of a time when thousands of African American citizens in Nashville sparked a nonviolent challenge to racial segregation in the city and across the South.
Follow in the steps of those who took a stand by taking a seat. The Civil Rights Sit-Ins tour was written and narrated by Fisk University professor Linda Wynn. The Downtown Civil Rights Sit-Ins tour begins at Church Street and Sixth Avenue North and ends at Rosa L. Parks Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Follow online at <nashvillesites.org/tours/civil-rights-sitins>.
The National Museum of African American Music
The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) officially opened to the public on January 30. Discover the central role African Americans have played in shaping and creating all genres of American music. From classical to country to jazz and hip hop, NMAAM has integrated history and interactive technology to share the untold story of more than 50 music genres and sub-genres. Tours will initially follow a weekend schedule and will be held on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am-6 pm.
Tennessee State Museum
Learn more about Black History at the Tennessee State Museum. The permanent exhibitions feature Black History from the early days of the state’s beginnings through the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movements in Tennessee. The current temporary exhibition, ‘Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote’ includes the stories of many African American women who helped American women gain the right to vote. The State Museum is featuring several free online events this month.
Small and Diverse Business Forum
The Music City Center, in partnership with the Nashville Area Chamber, First Horizon Bank, Amazon, and Google, will virtually host the annual Small and Diverse Business Forum on Wed., Feb. 24 from 8 am–1 pm. The attendance cost is $25 per person. The keynote speaker is John Hope Bryant, an American entrepreneur, author, philanthropist and prominent thought leader on financial inclusion, economic empowerment and financial dignity. He has built more than 40 organizations, entities and companies in the U.S. with worldwide reach. The first 100 to register will receive a copy of Bryant’s new book, Up from Nothing.
Black History exhibits
Tennessee State Museum
Black History is Tennessee history, and these stories are featured throughout the exhibitions of the Tennessee State Museum. The Civil Rights display in the Tennessee Transforms exhibition focuses on the struggle of African Americans for equal rights and social justice in the 1960s. Highlights include sections on the sit-ins in Nashville, the legacies of Tennessee students’ role in the movement, and the Memphis sanitation strike. ‘Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote’ highlights the roles of figures such as Ida B. Wells in the effort to gain voting rights.
Adventure Science Center
During the month of February, come learn more about the stories and contributions of Black scientists as we celebrate Black History Month. Each week, see a new and exciting live science show filled with science demonstrations that are inspired by the work of notable Black scientists.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
Throughout the month of February, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage will offer select stories from the ‘In Their Footsteps: Lives of the Hermitage Enslaved.’ These short stories highlight the lives of the enslaved men and women who lived at The Hermitage during the life of Andrew Jackson and beyond his death in 1845. Learn stories of just a handful of the Hermitage enslaved, reflecting the struggle and contributions of individuals and families who supported The Hermitage and the Jackson family with the Stories from the Hermitage Slave Community temporary exhibit.
On February 27, join the annual Black History Month Memorial Service in commemoration of those once enslaved at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Home of the People’s President and throughout the country from 11 am to 12 pm. Held at The Hermitage Church, the service will feature music and special remarks, followed by a procession to the slavery memorial. One hundred and fifty flowers will be laid, marked with the names of all those known to have been enslaved at The Hermitage. Admission is free.
The Nashville Jazz Workshop
The Nashville Jazz Workshop is presenting classes & performances to celebrate the legacies of Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, and Hank Mobley. Join us this February in honoring these artists with instructors Dara Tucker, Will Friedwald, and performer Jovan Quallo.
Nashville Soccer Club
Throughout February, the Nashville Soccer Club and 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee are joining forces to raise funds for educational opportunities for Black male youth in honor of Black History Month. All proceeds from the purchase of the patch will benefit the 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, a non-profit organization providing resources to further the academic and social development of black male students in Nashville and surrounding Middle Tennessee.
Scarritt Bennett Center
Racial Justice Ministries at Scarritt Bennett Center celebrates Black History Month with the video series: ‘A Black History Moment with…’
In this video series, Nashville’s community leaders and members celebrate Black history through music, poetry, prose, and personal reflection. A new video each day of Black History Month, and you’re invited to join the series. Find a new video each day on our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.