Black History Month is a national celebration that recognizes the achievements and countless contributions of African-Americans throughout the history of the United States. Locally, this celebration pays tribute to African-Americans who helped shape KC’s cultural institutions, from the founding of the Negro National League in 1920 to a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Past, present and future, the African-American community is vital to Kansas City’s story. Below is a list of special celebrations in February and ongoing exhibits that commemorate KC’s rich black history.
- Feb. 3 – The Color Purple. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Presented by Film Society KC and the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet. 4 p.m. $7. Tickets.
- Feb. 1 – Jazz Storytelling: Featuring an internationally renowned cast, vocalist Lisa Henry, storyteller Brother John, bassist Tyrone Clark and drummer Michael Warren, this event introduces children to new music and cultures. Held the first Friday of every month. 10 a.m. Free.
- Feb. 1 – First Fridays on the Vine: A cultural experience of music, art, food and shopping—all in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District. 4 p.m. Free.
- Feb. 17 – Black History Month Program: Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African-Americans: Dr. Randal Maurice Jelks will discuss Black Migration and Shifting Black Faiths, exploring the roles and changing dimensions of religion in black communities during the Great Migration and beyond. Presented by the American Jazz Museum and the Greater Kansas City Black History Study Group. Reception at 2 p.m., with the lecture beginning at 3 p.m. Free. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Feb. 25 – Spencer Cave Black History Month Lecture: The Life and Legacy of Jackie Robinson: A discussion led by Dr. Arnold Rampersad in recognition of Jackie Robinson’s 100th birthday this year. 7 p.m. Free. Gem Theater.
For full list of events or for more information, call 816-842-1414 or visit americanjazzmuseum.org.
- Feb. 16 – African-American Inventors with an Entrepreneurial Spirit: This annual fundraiser features Carroll G. Lamb, founder, the Institute of Black Invention & Technology, as the keynote speaker. Pierson Auditorium on the UMKC Campus. 11:30 a.m. Tickets begin at $50.
For more information, to RSVP or purchase tickets, go to blackarchives.org or call 816-221-1600.
- Through Feb. 3 – Looking Over the President’s Shoulder: A play based on the real-life story of the grandson of a freed slave, Looking Over the President’s Shoulder is told from the unique perspective of the Chief Butler, who served four U.S. Presidents and their families: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. In collaboration with the Black Repertory Theater of Kansas City. Tickets $40. Purchase.
- Through March 30 – The Vintage Collection: A series of exhibits from the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center’s permanent collection, featuring iconic photographs of Jazz Greats and a unique display of Civil Rights pioneers highlighting signs from our past. Free.
For more information, go to brucewatkinscenter.com
- Feb. 28 – Setting the Stage: The Moving Story of African-American Dance: A visual journey through African-American dance history. Against the backdrop of a large-screen narrated slide presentation, Setting the Stage is performed by talented local and national artists demonstrating the evolution of American dance styles since the Middle Passage and chronicles historically important dancers and choreographers including Katherine Dunham and Alvin Ailey. 7 p.m. at the Gem Theater. Free.
For more information, kcfaa.org.
- Feb. 16-March 3 – Kansas City Black History Tour: Tour by trolley through Kansas City to explore and learn about the people, places and experiences of the city's African-American community and culture. Tickets $30. Purchase.
- Feb. 4 – The Piano Lesson: Members of the Kansas City’s Equity Actors’ Readers’ Theatre deliver a script-in-hand performance of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which emphasizes the importance of cultural heritage as a source of strength and unity. Begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch. Free.
- Feb. 6: An Evening with Tyehimba Jess: Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Jess discusses and reads from his works in an event celebrating KC’s UNESCO Creative Cities Network designation for music. Co-presented by the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Architecture, Urban Planning + Design and co-sponsored by the Beta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., of Kansas City. 6:30 p.m. Central Library. Free, RSVP required.
- Feb. 8 – Brother John: Songs of the Black Pioneers: Kansas City storyteller “Brother John” Anderson celebrates the lives and accomplishments of many of our country’s African-American trailblazing heroes in this interactive presentation. Begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza branch. Free, RSVP required.
- Feb. 10 – Through the Photographer’s Lens: Kansas City’s African-American Community: Local photographers William Fambrough and Matthew Washington documented the African-American experience in Kansas City, from church, school and social activities to the realities of segregation and struggle for equality. Historian Delia Cook Gillis highlights the work of these and other photographers and examines the history of KC’s black community through their lenses. Begins at 2 p.m. at the Central Library. Free, RSVP required.
- Feb. 20 – On Writing, on Race: Distinctive writers Anthony Grooms and DaMaris Hill join local novelist Whitney Terrel in a discussion of their craft and our nation’s fraught dialogue on race. This series is co-sponsored by the Writers at Work Round Table and UMKC English Department. 6:30 p.m. Plaza Branch. Free, RSVP required.
- Feb. 22 – Martika Daniels: One-Woman Stunt Show: Professional entertainer and Kansas City native Martika Daniels delights audiences of all ages as a sword swallower, fire eater and international woman of mystery. 6:30 p.m. Plaza Branch. Free, RSVP required.
For more information on these events or to RSVP, go to kclibrary.org.
- Feb. 1-2 – Störling Dance Theater's UNDERGROUND: Celebrate Störling Dance Theater’s 12th anniversary of presenting the story of the Underground Railroad told like never before. 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased here.
- Feb. 22-23 – Kansas City Symphony Presents The Music of Michael Jackson: This performance takes you through each era of this storied performer’s 40-year career—from “ABC” to “Thriller,” this amazing evening of music is dedicated to the King of Pop.
For more information, go to kauffmancenter.org.
- Through Sept. 15 – Deconstructing Marcus Jansen: Regarded as a pioneer of “urban landscape painting,” Jansen uses his upbringing in the U.S., Germany, and places he was stationed during his time in the army, as influence for his paintings.
For more information, go to kemperart.org.
- Feb. 13-March 3 – Anansi the Spider: The storytelling of four classic tales from Africa and the Caribbean featuring 19-year-old puppeteer Zach Garner. Performance dates and times vary. Performances held at Mesner Studio, 1006 E. Linwood Blvd. Tickets start at $7. Click here to view times and purchase tickets.
- Feb. 9, 16, 20, 23, 28 – Cotton, Rag Dolls and the Underground Railroad: Kansas City’s connection to the Underground Railroad runs deep. Hear stories about the people who helped escaped slaves travel to freedom in the North and discover the importance rag dolls played in the journey. All ages. Various branches and times. Click here to register.
- Feb. 4, 12 and April 25 – Underground Railroad: The Who, What and Where Did it Go?: Cultural historian Brother John shares the secret codes, symbols, agents and songs of the Underground Railroad as well as added insight into this chapter in America's history. Dates and times vary by location. To register, click here.
- Feb. 2, 9, 10 – Tommy Terrific’s Wacky Magic Presents: Louis Armstrong: Tommy Terrific's Wacky Magic looks at the fantastical life and accomplishments of jazz pioneer and celebrated musician Louis Armstrong. All ages. Dates and times vary by location. To register, click here.
- Feb. 8 – Glory: The true story of the U.S. Army’s first all-black infantry unit, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers. Various branches and times. To register, click here.
- Feb. 15 – 42: Based on the true story that explores how Jackie Robinson dealt with the threats and pressure from racist fans and fellow players when he broke MLB’s color barrier. Rated PG-13. Begins at 7 p.m. at the Liberty branch. To register, click here.
- Feb. 21-23 – George Washington Carver: America’s Leonardo da Vinci: Join rangers from the George Washington Carver National Monument for a look at Carver’s life, his efforts to help African-American farmers and his contributions to American society. For adults. Dates and times vary by location. Click here for to register.
- Feb. 22 – The Help: A Southern debutante creates an uproar when she publishes interviews with black female servants in her hometown in 1960s Mississippi. Rated PG-13. 7 p.m. Liberty branch. To register, click here.
- Feb. 24 – An Enduring Legacy: Researching your History to Tell your Story: Join the Midwest Afro-American Genealogical Interest Coalition and the Midwest Genealogy Center for a special open house and guest speaker exploring strategies and techniques for uncovering and preserving your family’s story. For adults. Begins at 1 p.m. at the Midwest Genealogy Center. Registration.
All events listed are free. For full list of events, black history online resources, or for more info, go to mymcpl.org/events/black-history-month.
- Feb. 11 – Film Screening and Discussion of the Jazz Ambassadors: The untold story of America’s coolest weapon in the Cold War: jazz, and how jazz musicians fought back, winning Civil Rights on the world stage when it needed one most. This documentary screening is held in collaboration with the American Jazz Museum, the Greater KC Black History Study Group, Kansas City PBS and Park University. 6 p.m. in the Jenkin and Barbara David Theater within Alumni Hall on Park University’s Parkville campus. Free, but reservations requested.
- Feb. 22 – Teen Final Friday: The Black Diaspora: In celebration of Black History Month, this teen open mic night will feature tours of artwork by African-American artists in the museum’s collection. Lens 2. 6 p.m. Free.
- Feb. 23 – WIKI Edit-A-Thon: KC’s African-American Artists: An interactive session that teaches participants about Wikipedia and how to contribute to this free online encyclopedia. The session will focus on documenting the rich artistic heritage of KC’s African-American artists by creating, editing and improving Wikipedia articles. Rockhill Room & Spencer Art Reference Library. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free, tickets required.
- Feb. 23 – Film: I Remember 12th Street: Produced by Rodney Thompson and Stinson McClendon, this documentary film about KC’s celebrated 12th Street, as told through first-hand accounts by people who lived through one of the most fascinating periods in the city’s history. Atkins Auditorium. 2 p.m. Free, but tickets required.
For more information, go to nelson-atkins.org.
- Feb. 8-9 – Black History Month: Spoken Word: In honor of Black History Month, a spoken word artist will present. 6 p.m. on Feb. 8; 8 p.m. on Feb. 8. Click here for more info.
- Located in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, where jazz masters such as Charlie Parker, Count Basie and hundreds of others defined the sounds of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s in Kansas City. The museum includes interactive exhibits and educational programs. americanjazzmuseum.org
- Hundreds of historic images as well as notable collections of civil rights activists, the Buffalo soldiers and more are available online through the Black Archives digital gallery. blackarchives.org
- Best known for his portraits of jazz performers, fellow artists and other creative individuals, Frederick James Brown created the Kemper Museum's monumental work “The History of Art” (1994/2000), a series of 110 paintings that lines the walls of Café Sebastienne. The exhibition features paintings from the Kemper Museum's permanent collection, a significant holder of the artist's works. kemperart.org
- The Library offers numerous resources to learn about black history, including several online databases that include African-American History Online; Black Through and Culture; Slavery and Anti-Slavery and Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice, 1490-2007. mymcpl.org/blackhistory
- More than 100 years old, the Mutual Musicians Foundation can be found in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District. The Foundation was originally home to the Black Musicians' Protective Union Local 627 American Federation of Musicians. This national historic landmark hosts fierce late-night jam sessions on Fridays and Saturdays. Facebook.com/MMFInternational
- Online – Make Way for Democracy! This online exhibition portrays the lives of African-Americans during the war through a series of rare images, documents and objects. The exhibit was created in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute and explores efforts to redefine citizenship, while improving social, political and economic conditions.
- Ongoing – The permanent museum exhibit showcases African-American men serving in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer and artillery units, as well as serving as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists and intelligence officers. African-American women are also highlighted, as many were employed in several war industries, including munitions production. theworldwar.org
- The 10,000-square-foot multimedia exhibit is the world’s only museum that chronicles the history and heroes of the Negro Leagues from their origin after the Civil War to their demise in the 1960s. nlbm.com
- Located on the Missouri River, Quindaro began as a boomtown and evolved into a stop on the Underground Railroad. Artifacts are on display at the Wyandotte County Museum. wycokck.org
- Ongoing – “Goodnight Irene”: View this Charles White painting that once belonged to legendary performer and activist Harry Belafonte, which has been acquired for the permanent American collection. This acquisition highlights The Nelson’s seminal works of African-American art.
- “Saint Adrian”: Known for painting President Barack Obama’s portrait, Kehinde Wiley's "Saint Adrian" is an oil on canvas work based on the 16th-century artist Hans Holbein the Younger’s depiction of Saint Adrian.
- Permanent – The museum’s acclaimed African collection comprises approximately 300 objects that are diverse in form and in media. Masks, sculptures, hair combs, headrests, textiles and vessels are among the many types of works represented; media include fiber, metal, wood, beads and clay. nelson-atkins.org