Smithsonian Celebrates Black History Month

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The Smithsonian celebrates Black History Month in February with a series of films, lectures and performances at museums around the Institution. All programs are free unless otherwise indicated.

Feature Event

The Institution will kick off Black History Month at the National Museum of American History Saturday, Feb. 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with its “Black History Month Family Day” celebration. The full day of activities is inspired by the exhibition, “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963.” It includes dramatic performances, hands-on activities, gallery tours and a preview screening and discussion of the new documentary by Stanley Nelson, Freedom Summer.


The National Museum of American History will present “Join the Student Sit-Ins” Saturday, Feb. 1, at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., and Friday, Feb. 7, 14, 21 and 28, at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Visitors will meet a civil rights activist in 1960, just after the historic Greensboro, N.C., student sit-in began. The audience will take part in a training session based on an actual civil rights manual and prepare for its first sit-in. The 15-20-minute interactive performances introduce the story behind the museum’s Greensboro lunch counter.


The National Museum of American History will present a special preview screening of Freedom Summer, a documentary by Stanley Nelson, which will be broadcast on PBS’s American Experience series in June 2014. This documentary recounts the 1964 efforts to ensure voting rights and improve education for blacks in Mississippi. A discussion with Freedom Summer veterans will follow. The screening will take place Saturday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m. in the museum’s Warner Bros. Theater. Tickets are required. Reservations are available here.  

The Anacostia Community Museum will screen Brother Outsider (84 minutes, 2003), Thursday, Feb. 27, at 11 a.m. This award-winning documentary follows the career of Bayard Rustin, the openly gay architect of the 1963 March on Washington. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Andrew Young, actress Liv Ullman and others who knew Rustin provide insightful commentaries. A discussion follows the screening. For more information or to attend, call (202) 633-4844.

Tours and Lectures

The Smithsonian American Art Museum will lead special docent-led tours in celebration of Black History Month. No single style or approach can define African American art; the artists discussed—from 19th-century landscape painter Robert S. Duncanson to the imaginative contemporary artist Nick Cave—represent a complex mingling of influences and experiences, including spirituality, music and folklore. “African American Artists in the Collection” tours will take place Tuesdays, Feb. 4, 18 and 25 and; Thursdays, Feb. 6, 13, 20 and 27, at 12:30 p.m. No reservations are required. Participants meet in the F Street lobby.

In recognition of the National Park Service’s annual Frederick Douglass Day, the Anacostia Community Museum will host an exhibition tour of “Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia.” Participants may join museum educator Tony Thomas as he discusses Frederick Douglass’ enthusiasm for baseball. Space is limited. For more information, call (202) 633-4844.

For Children

The National Portrait Gallery will host “Portrait Story Days” Saturdays, Feb. 1 and 22, from 1 to 4 p.m.; and Sundays, Feb. 2, 9 and 23, from 2 to 5 p.m. Young visitors and their families may drop in anytime to listen to a story about a portrait subject and take part in a related hands-on activity. Rosa Parks is the subject Feb. 1 and 2; George Washington Carver on Feb. 9; Marian Anderson on Feb. 22; and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Feb. 23.

The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will host “African American Pioneers in Aviation” Saturday, Feb. 22, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors will discover the contributions of African Americans to flight and space exploration through presentations, hands-on activities, reenactments and stories of challenges and accomplishments. The event is held throughout the center. Admission is free, but parking is $15.

S. Dillon Ripley Center will present Lion of Industry, Mothers of Invention, an original interactive play honoring the creativity and genius of African American entrepreneurs and inventors. They include beauty-product magnate Madame C.J. Walker; agricultural chemist and “peanut man” George Washington Carver; education giant Booker T. Washington; and George Crum, the cranky chef who accidentally created the potato chip. The production inspires the dreamer and achiever in all people. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Tickets required. Call (202) 633-3030 for prices and reservations. Presented by Discovery Theater.

The National Museum of Natural History will host Before the People Came: An African Fable Thursday, Feb. 13, at 10:15 and 11:30 a.m. African rhythms, vivid masks and costumes, and life-size puppets add up to a delightful mini-spectacular in the spirit of The Lion King. When a drought leaves animals weak from thirst, a rabbit discovers a juicy pear tree—and the tiger that guards it. They learn to work together in a most unexpected way. The story’s lessons about sharing and diversity are artfully woven into a blend of spoken-word poetry and jazz, blues, funk and pop music. Recommended for ages 5 through 10. Tickets are required. Call 202-633-3030 for prices and reservations. Presented by Discovery Theater.

All programs are subject to change. For more information about the Black History Month programs, visit: or email For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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