KC celebrates African-American History Month

Region showcases legacy, achievements of African-Americans during February

Kansas City, Mo. — 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 list of special celebrations in February and ongoing exhibits that commemorate KC’s rich black history.

Special Exhibits/Performances

American Jazz Museum

  • Feb. 2 – “Marc Rice on Bennie Moten,” features scholar Marc Rice, who will speak about significant Kansas City Jazz musician Bennie Moten, whose ensemble eventually became the Count Basie Orchestra. Reception at 6 p.m.; program begins at 6:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 3 – “Jazz Storytelling: Featuring Lisa Henry, storyteller Brother John, bassist Tyrone Clark and drummer Michael Warren,” is an educational session introducing children to new music and cultures. Held the first Friday of every month. Free. 10 a.m.
  • Feb. 10 – “An Evening with Artist Rashid Johnson,” is a program hosted in conjunction with the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, whose upcoming exhibition, Hail We Now Sing Joy by Rashid Johnson. Free. 6:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 11 – “Pieces of a Dream,” is a performance at the Gem Theater that features pianist James Lloyd and drummer Curtis Harmon, two of the original members of the Pieces of a Dream trio that emerged out of Philadelphia’s music scene in 1976. 8 p.m. $45.
  • Feb. 16 – "Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool 60th Anniversary," celebrates Davis’ album “Birth of the Cool,” which was released in 1957. The show will be held at the Gem Theater with band members including Hermon Mehari, Marcus Lewis and Phil Dunlap, among others. Reception opens at 6 p.m.; program begins at 6:30 p.m. $5 students/$10 adults.
  • Feb. 17 – “Birthday Beats,” celebrates the birthdays of local, national and international jazz musicians. Come for cake and live music—and learn more about Kansas City’s unique jazz sound. February celebrates American jazz composer, arranger and pianist Tadd Dameron. Free. 6 p.m.
  • Feb. 19 – “10th Anniversary Screening of the 100 Best Black Movies Ever,” written and produced by Fox 4 film critic Shawn Edwards, the documentary covers the history of black film, with commentary from Danny Glover, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and many others. Show at Gem Theater begins at 3 p.m. Free.
  • Feb. 21 – “On Race & Privilege,” is a discussion featuring two of the nation’s foremost experts on structural racism and white privilege, Dr. John A. Powell and Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. This critical dialogue, which takes place at The Gem Theater, will engage on the specific actions needed to create a just and equitable society for tomorrow. 6 p.m. Admission is $20. Click here to purchase tickets.
  • Feb. 24 – Black History Month Luncheon with Pulitzer Prize winner Michael D’Antonio, author of “The Legacy of Barack Obama: A Consequential President.”

For full list of events or for more information, call 816-842-1414 or visit americanjazzmuseum.org.

Black Archives of Mid-America

  • Feb. 2 – “Mbembe Milton Smith Poetry Series featuring Jessica Care Moore,” welcomes internationally renowned poet and playwright Moore, who will discuss her latest work, "We Want Our Bodies Back," along with an artist talk concerning how poets can successfully navigate the business end of publishing, performing, etc. Free. 6:30 p.m. RSVP to emiel@blackarchives.org.
  • Feb. 25 – “Crisis in Education,” is the theme of the second annual Black History Month Luncheon presented by The Black Archives of Mid-America. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II will be the keynote speaker at Pierson Auditorium on the UMKC Campus. Tickets begin at $50. 11:30 a.m.

For more information or purchase tickets, go to blackarchives.org or call 816-221-1600.

Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center and Museum

  • Through March 11 – “African-American Inventors,” is an exhibit that showcases the contributions of black women and men in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Free.
  • Ongoing – The following exhibits are on display: "Making a Difference: African-Americans Leading by Example" and "A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter." Free.

For more information, go to brucewatkinscenter.com

Kansas City Public Library

  • Feb. 1 – “Ferguson’s Fortune 500 Company: Structural Racism in Missouri’s Most Notorious City,” is a discussion by Harvard University historian Walter Johnson of how a Fortune 500 company doing $24 billion a year in business is not far from where Michael Brown was fatally shot and how racial tensions exploded with Brown’s killing. Co-presented by UMKC’s Center for Midwestern Studies, Bernardin Haskell Lecture Fund, History Department, and High School/College Partnerships program. Reception at 6 p.m.; program begins at 6:30 p.m. Plaza Branch.
  • Feb. 12 – “The Buffalo Soldiers: Their Epic Story and Major Campaigns,” is a discussion of Park University historian Debra Sheffer’s book, which includes the impetus for the earliest black military service and its legacy through the era of the 19th century. Begins at 2 p.m. at the Central Library location.
  • Feb. 17 – “Brother John’s Jazzamatazz Jam,” is a series of interactive activities by KC storyteller and vocalist “Brother John” Anderson that explores jazz and its different styles. For all ages. Begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch.
  • Feb. 15 – “The Mothers,” by Brit Bennet discusses her writing in a presentation co-presented by Rainy Day Books. Hailed by the Washington Post, this novel revolves around a smart, pretty 17-year old who endures her mother’s suicide, becomes pregnant by the son of a local pastor and opts for an abortion—secrets that reverberate through her life and the largely African-American community around her. Begins at 6:30 pm. at the Plaza Branch.
  • Feb. 28“To Make a Poet Black, and Bid Him Sing,” is a discussion by KC’s 18th & Vine District poet laureate Glenn North as he shares passages from his recently published “City of Song.” Co-presented by the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee, and co-sponsored by the Charlotte Street Foundation. Reception begins at 6 p.m.; program at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library location.

To RSVP for any event listed, go to kclibrary.org.

Kauffman Center for Performing Arts

  • Feb. 3-4 – “Underground” celebrates Störling Dance Theater’s 10th anniversary of presenting "Underground" in Kansas City. This performance was chosen as one of the “Top 10 Performances of the Decade,” and tells the story of the Underground Railroad like never before. Tickets start at $20.
  • Feb. 8 – Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a four-time GRAMMY wining group, will perform in Muriel Kauffman Theatre. With deep respect for both their cultural and personal history, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is ever-evolving with an eye toward their long musical legacy. Begins at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased here.

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

  • Feb. 9 – May 21 – “Hail We Now Sing,” features a new body of work by Chicago-born, New York-based artist Rashid Johnson, a chapter following his acclaimed exhibition “Fly Away.” This exhibition includes Johnson’s “Anxious Audience,” large-scale panels of white ceramic tile covered with dozens of agitated faces scrawled in black soap and wax.
  • Permanent - 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.

For more information, go to kemperart.org
Mid-Continent Public Library

  • Feb. 11 & 25 – “Cotton, Rag Dolls, and the Underground Railroad,” illustrates how Kansas City’s connections to the Underground Railroad run 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. Then make a rag doll with creative touches that make it all your own. Ages 7 and up. Begins at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the Midwest Genealogy Center and 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 25 at the Antioch Branch. Admission is free. RSVPs are requested.
  • Feb. 12 & 13 – “The Life of Harriet Tubman,” is a discussion about the remarkable Harriet Tubman, led by Kristen T. Oertel, author of “Harriet Tubman: Slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights in the 19th Century.” For adults only. Begins at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Midwest Genealogy Center and on Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. at the Lone Jack Branch and 7 p.m. at the Claycomo Branch.
  • Feb. 18 – “Tales from the Black West,” is an interactive musical that debunks the myths of cow punching, but also explores the life and times of the nearly 10,000 African-American cowboys and cowgirls of the Old West. Ages 7 and up. Begins at 2 p.m. at the Blue Ridge Branch. See website for March and April dates.
  • Feb. 18 – “Underground Railroad: The Who, What and Where Did It Go,” features cultural historian Brother John sharing the secret codes, symbols, agents and songs of the Underground Railroad, as well as adding insight into this chapter in America’s history. Ages 8 and up. Begins at 10 a.m. at the Lee’s Summit Branch. See website for April dates.
  • Feb. 25 – “Finding your Slave Ancestors,” is a workshop presented by the Midwest Genealogy Center and the Midwest Afro-American Genealogical Interest Coalition that shows how African-Americans can locate their enslaved ancestors. Led by Sherri Camp, a genealogy speaker, author and librarian, participants will learn how to complete a survey, determine where their ancestors were enslaved and find out who their owners were. For adults. Begins at 1 p.m. at the Midwest Genealogy Center.

All events listed are free. To register or for more info, go to mymcpl.org/blackhistory.

The National Archives at Kansas City

  • Feb. 1 – “Althea,” is a portrait/biography of Althea Gibson, who in 1950 became the first non-white person to compete for the U.S. National Tennis Championship. A post-film discussion will be led by local tennis coach/pro Daniel Wellington. This program is in partnership with the Greater Kansas City Black History Study Group. Reception begins at 6 p.m.; film at 6:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 23 – “Birth of a Movement,” based on Dick Lehr’s book, “The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a National Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights,” this film captures the backdrop to the prescient clash between human rights, freedom of speech and a changing media landscape. A discussion will follow the screening. This program is presented in partnership with Kansas City Public Television and PBS Independent Lens. Reception begins at 6 p.m.; film at 6:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 27 – “New Directions in the Study of the Underground Railroad,” is a moderated conversation with Dr. Spencer Crew and Dr. Matthew Pinsker. “The Spencer Cave Black History Month Lecture Series” is named for Spencer Cave, who was born a slave at the start of the Civil War and worked for Park University for more than 70 years before his death in 1947. Reception begins at 6 p.m.; program at 6:30 p.m.

All events are free unless noted. Reservations are requested by phone at 816-268-8010 or email at kansascity.educate@nara.gov.

National World War I Museum and Memorial

  • Online – “Make Way for Democracy!” is an online exhibition portraying the lives of African-Americans during the war through a series of rare images, documents and objects. This online 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 a number of war industries, including munitions production.

For more information about upcoming events and to access these exhibits, go to www.theworldwar.org.  

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

  • Through June 11 – “Nick Cave: Property,” transforms about 1,000 found objects, laden with symbolic, personal and autobiographical meanings into a highly charged, socially responsive sculpture. Property includes caricatured figures representing racial stereotypes. Admission is free.
  • Ongoing – “Goodnight Irene,” a Charles White painting that once belonged to legendary performer and activist Harry Belafonte, has been acquired for the permanent American collection. This acquisition highlights The Nelson’s seminal works of African-American art.
  • 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.

For more information, go to nelson-atkins.org.

Available Year-Round

American Jazz Museum

  • The American Jazz Museum is 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.com

Mid-Continent Public Library

  • 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. Visit mymcpl.org/blackhistory to view these resources.

Mutual Musicians Foundation

  • Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, 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. thefoundationjamson.org

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

  • 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

Quindaro Ruins

  • 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

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