Black History Month 2022

As the National Museum of American History recognizes Black History Month this February, we also remember the original intent of historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson when he drove the creation of Negro History Week in 1926 to create a platform to promote Black history when it was ignored in most history books. We agree with recent calls in the field of public history that "museums are not neutral" and that our memory of the past has power to affect people’s lives—both in the present and in the way they navigate the future.

We believe Black History Month is an important opportunity to revisit our shared past in a way that is inclusive of all people in the United States. As we celebrate the achievements of African Americans, we also acknowledge the important work necessary to mitigate the harms of the past and commit to using history to empower people toward a more compassionate future.

 
Over the month of February 2022, the museum will present a variety of programs in honor of Black History Month, in addition to sharing material from our incredible African American history collections on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Wiki Focus: Black Women in Food History 2.0 

February 1

Virtual Program

Join us for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon to create and add to entries about Black women in food history on the site.

Wikipedia is an openly editable resource, meaning that you can improve the quality and accuracy of Wikipedia entries. As one of the web’s most visited reference sites, Wikipedia serves as a starting point for many individuals looking to learn about art, history, and science. During this training, attendees of all experience levels will learn the basics of how to edit Wikipedia by updating articles related to Black women in food history in the United States.

This event is planned in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, a multiyear undertaking to document, research, collect, display, and share the history of women in the United States.

Duke Ellington’s “Cotton Tail”: A Performance by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Quintet 

February 2

Video

The Duke Ellington composition “Cotton Tail” was originally recorded on May 4, 1940, for his orchestra, the Blanton-Webster Band, from 1940 to 1942. The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Quintet pays tribute to Ellington and Webster with this rendition of “Cotton Tail," recorded at Blue House Productions on November 11, 2021.

Artists include Scott Silbert, producer, on tenor saxophone; Kenny Rittenhouse on trumpet; Tony Nalker on piano; Amy Shook on acoustic bass; and Ken Kimery, executive producer, on drums.  

To hear the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra’s recording of “Cotton Tail” go to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings at folkways.si.edu. More information about Smithsonian Jazz can be found at smithsonianjazz.org.

HistoryTime: Elizabeth Keckly

Week of February 7

Video

Looking for Black History Month resources for your youngest learners? HistoryTime videos are designed for children ages 5-8 and adults in their lives. Each video features an object or objects in the museum’s collection as a launching pad for exploring historical concepts that are relevant to young children. The videos are available on YouTube and are also linked to resource collections on the Smithsonian’s Learning Lab platform. Learning Lab collections can inspire lesson plans or help learners explore the videos’ topics further. Videos with a direct link to Black History Month include:

Our latest HistoryTime video will launch during the week of February 7 and will feature the story of dressmaker, businesswoman, and philanthropist Elizabeth Keckly. We will use Keckly’s story and examples of her work as Mary Todd Lincoln’s modiste to explore February’s guiding questions:

  • How do people make sense of other cultures in the world?
  • How do we understand different people from the world?
  • How do our actions today affect our relationship with others in the future?

Innovative Lives: Nathaniel Mathis

February 9, 4–5:40 p.m. EST

Virtual Program

The 2022 Innovative Lives series kicks off with Nathaniel “The Bush Doctor” Mathis, an inventor, barber-stylist, and winner of international hairstyling competitions. Maryland-based Mathis popularized Afros and cornrows, hairstyles that are synonymous with Black identity and empowerment. He also patented several useful tools for barbers, including a specialized apron and utility shelf. This lively discussion during Black History Month will be moderated by Fath Davis Ruffins, a National Museum of American History curator in the Division of Cultural and Community Life who specializes in African American history. Mathis’s work is documented in the National Museum of American History’s Archives Center.

History Film Forum: Muhammad Ali

February 9

Video

The 2021 documentary Muhammad Ali brings to life one of the most indelible figures of the 20th century, a three-time heavyweight boxing champion who captivated millions of fans across the world with his mesmerizing combination of speed, grace, and power in the ring and charm and playful boasting outside of it.

The film offers an inside look at the many layers of Ali’s life, tracing his rise from his Louisville roots to his career as a celebrated athlete who captivated America with his boxing braggadocio to his lasting image as a symbol of Black pride.

Written, directed, and produced by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, the film reveals the compelling and complicated character of this American legend and why his story still resonates today.

Join Fath Davis Ruffins, a National Museum of American History curator in the Division of Cultural and Community Life who specializes in African American history, for an intriguing conversation with the filmmakers about the making of the documentary.

Who Counts as a Philanthropist? A Conversation About Black Philanthropy

February 10, 3:00 p.m. EST

Virtual Program

In celebration of Black History Month, join historians Tanisha C. Ford, Ph.D., and Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Ph.D., in discussion with National Museum of American History curators Amanda B. Moniz, Ph.D., and Modupe Labode, Ph.D. Drawing on their groundbreaking scholarship, Ford and Freeman will speak about the historically overlooked philanthropic contributions of African Americans and how narrow interpretations of philanthropy have contributed to a false perception of African Americans as solely recipients of philanthropy.

As fellows of the museum’s History of African American Fundraising Collecting Initiative, Ford and Freeman will talk about the intertwined history of philanthropy, business, and social justice and what they hope can be accomplished through the initiative.

Through scholarship, education and outreach, the museum’s new History of African American Fundraising Collecting Initiative aims to challenge and change the false perceptions of the African American community as solely recipients of philanthropy. The program will feature a Q&A with the audience.

The Philanthropy Initiative is made possible by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and David M. Rubenstein, with additional support by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees' Initiative, a grantmaking program of Fidelity.

Cooking Up History: Bakers Against Racism: The Power of Community Activism through Food

February 22, 6:45–8:15 p.m. EST

Virtual Program

Chef Paola Velez, co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, kicks off our first program. Velez will share a recipe from her home kitchen that reflects and embodies her identity as an Afro-Latina chef rooted in her family’s Dominican heritage. She will discuss her organizing efforts through Bakers Against Racism, an international movement that swept across social media in 2020, and her belief that no matter how small, every effort counts—including small-scale bake sales—in raising awareness and garnering support to end racism. This program is part of our spring Cooking Up History series, featuring women chefs in the Washington, D.C., area and drawing from the new exhibition Food for the People at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum.

Collected

Debuts February 24

Podcast

Collected, a new podcast from the African American History Curatorial Collective at the National Museum of American History, debuts its first season, “Black Feminism Rerooted,” on February 24. Hosted by Drs. Krystal Klingenberg and Crystal Moten, the six-episode season breaks down core Black feminist ideas like intersectionality, self-care, and identity politics. Klingenberg and Moten interview notable Black feminists including Barbara Smith, Brittney Cooper, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and offer accessible understandings of social justice concepts for listeners interested in working towards a more inclusive, equitable society. 

Joe Wilder: The Pretty Sound

February 24 at 7 p.m. EST

Virtual Program

American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and NEA Jazz Master Joseph Benjamin Wilder (1922–2014) left a broad footprint that still resonates in the world of music today. Wilder received accolades for his performances with Jimmie Lunceford, Noble Sissle, Count Basie, and many other fellow greats in jazz. He became a favorite with vocalists and played for Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis, Harry Belafonte, and Tony Bennett. Wilder recorded throughout his career, starting with Wilder ’n’ Wilder in 1956 through Among Friends in 2003.

Celebrating Wilder’s unique talents during what would be his 100th year, the SJMO’s small band performs songs from Wilder’s debut album, his 1959 cult classic The Pretty Sound of Joe Wilder, and much more.

This program is produced in partnership with Smithsonian Associates.

From Our Blog

Sepia-toned photo of young African American man in U.S. Marine Corps uniform

In 2012, World War II veteran Calvin Curtis was presented with a copy of the Montford Point Congressional Gold Medal for his part in the beginning of the desegregation of the United States Marine Corps, the last branch of service to accept Black recruits.

Conservator sews linen thread along the spine of the Caramelo Deportivo album
In preparation for an exhibition, all objects undergo a thorough assessment of their condition by conservators. That was the case for Caramelo Deportivo, a 15-page album on newsprint paper bound with staples in 1940s Havana, Cuba.
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