Talks, Tributes, Concerts, and More to Honor Black History Month
By Anne Levin
Forty-five years ago, historian Carter G. Woodson’s concept of “Negro History Week” was expanded to become Black History Month. Since then, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation designating February as a time to recognize and honor Black heritage and history.
“We must change. It will take time,” President Biden wrote in a proclamation last week. “But I firmly believe the Nation is ready to make racial justice and equity part of what we do today, tomorrow, and every day. I urge my fellow Americans to honor the history made by Black Americans and to continue the good and necessary work to perfect our Union for every American.”
The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the pandemic, and the worldwide protests inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement have made this year’s commemorations especially significant. Not surprisingly, there are more events than ever – talks, exhibits, concerts, workshops, and more – scheduled throughout the month, by organizations in the local area and beyond. Following is a sampling.
Unless otherwise indicated, all are presented virtually.
The Arts Council of Princeton displays “Legends of the Arts: A Black History Month Exhibit” through March 6. Presented by Museums in Motion, it invites visitors to learn about poet Langston Hughes, Princeton native Paul Robeson, actress Lena Horne, and The Supremes, among other influential figures. On February 27, local artist Kenneth Lewis Jr. leads an exploration of the Harlem Renaissance and the collages of Romare Bearden. This is a hands-on workshop in which participants can use basic supplies they have at home. It is designed for all ages, and free. Visit artscouncilofprinceton.org.
Princeton Public Library presents a program Wednesday, February 10 from 7-8 p.m. titled “The Same Principle Lives in Us: People of African Descent in the American Revolution,” offered by the Museum of the American Revolution. Stories will be told, and objects from the collection will be used, to help imagine what the war was like for Phyllis Wheatley, Elizabeth Freeman, and others. Register at princetonlibrary.org. The library also sponsors “Black Citizens in the Age of Jim Crow” on February 25 from 7-8 p.m. Based on the New-York Historical Society’s 2019-19 exhibition, this virtual presentation explores Black Americans’ struggle for equality under the law from 1865 through World War I. Registration is required. Visit princetonlibrary.libnet.info.
Princeton Senior Resource Center has been observing Black History Month with “Perspectives on Church and Race.” The next program in the series is February 12 at 1 p.m. Sushama Austin-Connor, program administrator for continuing education and the Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, will lead a discussion about race. On February 19 at 1 p.m., the Rev. Kermit Moss, interim director of the same department at the Seminary, will head a discussion on the historical, emotional, and educational role the church has played within the Black community. The program on February 24 at 10 a.m. features counselor and minister Kamaria Byrd-McAllister, who shares her journey to find her own path after growing up within the walls of the church. She is a currently a student at the Seminary. All programs are free. Registration is required at princetonsenior.org.
Morven Museum pays tribute to African American composer Frank Johnson on February 16 at 12 p.m. with a concert by John Burkhalter and Sheldon Eldridge exploring the link between Johnson and Commodore Robert Field Stockton, Morven resident. The 19th century composer is now considered one of America’s most prominent musicians during the Federal period, and was the first African American to publish sheet music, perform an integrated concert, and tour with his band to Europe. Johnson composed and dedicated a work to Stockton to be performed on Morven’s grand piano, which is rarely played. Register at morven.org.
Princeton University is sponsoring a range of programs during Black History Month. On February 15 at 5 p.m., Professor William Massey gives a talk, “The Legacy of the Black Scientific Renaissance at Bell Laboratories in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s,” in the Friend Center Convocation Room. Another in-person event is February 16 at 9 p.m., when the “Black Cultural Expression Showcase: A Glimpse of Black History as Portrayed Through the Arts” features student dancers, actors, singers, and poets at Richardson Auditorium. Visit tickets.princeton.edu. Several faculty members take part in “Performing Race: Cross-Cultural Experiences in Higher Education,” a discussion about “acting white” as well as African, Caribbean, and multiracial representation on campus, February 20 at 7 p.m. in McCosh 10. Visit Princeton.edu for a complete list.
The popular Gospel Brunch fundraiser for the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum in Skillman and the Sourland Conservancy in Hopewell is a virtual concert this year, on February 20. Baritone Keith Spencer and pianist Peter Hilliard will perform to raise proceeds for the Sourland Education and Exhibit Center, to be located next to the museum’s home at the Mt. Zion AME Church on Hollow Road in Skillman. Tickets are $30. The concert can be viewed on YouTube. Informational segments and interviews with board members and staff for the museum, which celebrates Black history in the area, are also included. Visit ssaamuseum.org to purchase tickets.
“Open the Door, I’ll Get it Myself: The Great Migration to New Jersey” is the title of a program planned for February 27 at 1 p.m. by history scholar Linda Caldwell Epps, presented by the William Trent House Museum. Epps will explore the factors leading Blacks to take on the challenges and risks of leaving communities in the South for an unknown, but hoped for, better future in the North. She plans to share stories of some of these migrants and discuss how their arrival changed life and culture in New Jersey cities. The program is pay-as-you-wish, with a $10 suggested donation. Visit williamtrenthouse.org. The Trent House is now beginning to collect oral histories of African American families who settled in Trenton during the Great Migration, 1916-1970. To share a family’s story or get more information, email trenthouseassociation@verizon .net.
In a collaboration of the Princeton Family YWCA and the Princeton High School Minority Student Achievement Network, Black History Month is being celebrated with weekly Bingo games on Thursdays at 6 p.m. But instead of calling out numbers, players read short blurbs about the accomplishments of noteworthy Black Americans. During the first week, participants learned about various Black inventors, including Garrett Morgan, credited with three-light traffic light; Mary Van Brittan Brown, the inventor of the home security system; Lonnie G. Johnson, who came up with the Super Soaker water gun; and Sarah Boone, the inventor of the ironing board. The February 11 bingo is focused on Black musicians, the February 18 on Black movie stars, and the final event on February 25 features Black leaders. Winners at the end of each round get a $5 gift card to Pizza Den, a Black-owned pizzeria on Nassau Street. Register at http://bit.ly/3oENCok.
Mercer County Library’s Lawrenceville headquarters’ events honoring Black history include “Famous Inventors,” aimed at children 6-12 on February 17 at 6 p.m.; and “Black Women’s Role in the Suffrage Movement,” for an older audience on February 22 at 7 p.m. Chanelle Nyree Rose, associate professor of history and director of the Africana Studies Program at Rowan University, will examine the long struggle for suffrage, with a particular focus on race and African American women. Visit mcl.org for registration information.
An exhibit at Artworks Trenton running through March 6 is a retrospective of the artist Khalilah Sebree, who “filters the world through the eyes of an African American Muslim woman and educator,” according to a release about the show. Look for a variety of large scale, mixed-media paintings, and drawings. There are several series in the collection, with a contemporary Islamic flavor. Artworks is at 19 Everett Alley.
Dance fans can observe Black History Month with a special program being streamed by New York’s City Center, free throughout the month on YouTube or NyCityCenter.org. Tap artist Dormeshia performs her “Lady Swings the Blues,” choreographer Jamar Roberts dances his “Morani/Mungu (Black Warrior/Black God),” and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Calvin Royal II performs “to be seen” by Kyle Abraham.