In 1926 Carter G. Woodson founded the first Black History Week, selecting the second week of February to commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose birthdays were the 12th and 14th, respectively. In the 1940s, efforts began to expand the week to a month, with West Virginia Blacks inaugurating the change.
Known then as Negro History Month, the expanded commemoration began to spread and by the mid-1960s had taken root in Chicago, where cultural activist Frederick H. Hammaurabi, who founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, made the change. Later in that decade, young Black college students all over the country (starting with Kent State in Ohio in February of 1969), who were becoming more politically conscious and active, began changing the name to Black History Month.
In 1974 then-President Gerald Ford met with civil rights leaders Vernon Jordan, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Height, and Jesse Jackson and two years later made the celebration of Black History Month official. As he said at the time: “We can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
As the Association for the Study of African American Life and History notes on its website about the adoption of Black History Month: “Since the mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme.”
Nashville is celebrating the holiday this month at events throughout the city. Listed below include just a few.
Nashville Public Library
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.
National Museum of African American Music
The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) officially opened to the public in January 2021. 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 initially follow a weekend schedule and will be held on Saturdays and Sundays 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. Throughout the month of February, the Tennessee State Museum will honor the stories of some of Tennessee’s most noteworthy historic Black businesses with ‘The Legacy of Black Entrepreneurship in Tennessee’ series. Each Thursday as part of its ‘Lunch & Learn’ program, a guest will join the museum’s curator of social history, Tranae Chatman, for a conversation on how they continue the legacy of their family businesses.
United Street Tours
United Street Tours offers a series of five-star rated, historical Nashville walking tours that are led and curated by locals. Tours show the hidden culture that many find difficulty to discover on their own and are educational, interactive, and inclusion-focused. The focus is on slavery, freedom, civil rights, culture, and social justice. Great for all age groups.
Frist Art Museum
Nigerian Belgian artist Otobong Nkanga creates tapestries, drawings, videos, sculptures, and performances that feature narratives of wounding and healing, making metaphorical links between the landscape and the traumatized human body. Mapping new paths toward recovery, Nkanga’s work conveys the necessity of acknowledging the violence caused by exploiting natural and human resources if we are to overcome the damaging legacy of extraction under colonialism and global capitalism. This exhibition is part of the Tennessee Triennial for Contemporary Art, a statewide series of exhibitions and performances coordinated by consulting curator María Magdalena Campos-Pons of Vanderbilt University’s Engine for Art, Democracy & Justice that explores the theme of repair and healing, particularly with regards to the Global South and its colonial history.
OZ Arts Nashville
Compagnie Hervé Koubi: ‘What the Day Owes to the Night.’
With gravity-defying athleticism and mesmerizing grace, 12 high-velocity performers astound in a lyrical, explosive marriage of traditional Sufi dance and contemporary hip-hop. French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi, who trained as both a medical doctor and dancer, grew up in France unaware of his Algerian heritage. When he learned about it at age 25, the revelation launched a personal and artistic journey that led to the founding of his contemporary dance company. Compagnie Hervé Koubi is a brotherhood of dancers primarily from North Africa, most with backgrounds in street dance. The internationally-acclaimed performers combine expertise in capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop, and contemporary styles. Performances are February 3-4 at 8 pm; $25-$40/ticket.
Urban League of Middle Tennessee
On Tuesday, February 7, friends and supporters of the Urban League of Middle Tennessee (ULMT) will gather to honor the work of the league over the past 55 years. Despite the various challenges facing our community, the League has continued to serve and support those in need. This annual event is the organization’s time to reflect on and celebrate the power of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and brings together the largest gathering of business, community, and civic leaders to explore issues affecting our community and to celebrate the successes of the past year of African Americans and other minority communities across Middle Tennessee.
Dancing in the Street – The Music of Motown: the
Nashville Symphony Motown extravaganza, featuring smash hits made famous by Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and more. Songs include ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There,’ ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ ‘My Girl,’ ‘Superstition’—and, of course, ‘Dancing in the Street.’
The symphony will be performing with Gladys Knight on February 14.
Nashville Black Market
The Nashville Black Market is back with a Black History Month event at the Fairgrounds, spotlighting more than 100 Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. Dance, drink, and shop—all while empowering Black businesses:
Sat., Feb 11, 11 am-7 pm
Sun., Feb 12, noon-6 pm