Metro area full of rich history, achievements of African-Americans

Since 1976, every U.S. President has officially designated February as National Black History Month. In Kansas City, area neighborhoods like the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District provide a who’s who of some of the greatest African-American legends in jazz and baseball. All around the city, area attractions pay tribute to the contributions of African-Americans this month and throughout the year. Below is list of special celebrations in February and on-going exhibits that commemorate KC’s black history. 

Special Exhibits/Performances

American Jazz Museum

  • Feb. 7 – “Jay’s Riffs – a Riff Blues Workshop”–A diverse group of clinicians and facilitators will lead music students through call and response exercises to increase their blues vocabulary. This day-long workshop is open to instrumentalists of all ages, but students should have intermediate proficiency on their instrument and be able to play major scales in all 12 keys. 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Free. Online registration required.
  • Feb. 7 – “Jazz Storytelling: Featuring Lisa Henry, Brother John, Tyrone Clark and Michael Warren,” 10 a.m. This educational session introduces children to new music and cultures. Free.

For more information, visit www.americanjazzmuseum.org

Black Archives of Mid-America 

  • Feb. 6 – “Soul of Art” Pop Up Art Gallery–From the Black Archives Special Collections, this exhibit will focus on photography from some of KC’s more prolific photographers including Matthew Washington and Charles Williams. 5:30 p.m.
  • Feb. 25 –“Mbembe Milton Smith Poetry Series”–Named after one of KC’s most outstanding African-American poets, this poetry series focuses on the work of those who use poetry as a vehicle to correct distorted depictions of African-American history or shed light on otherwise overlooked African-American figures or events. The inaugural session will feature Frank X Walker, Kentucky’s first black Poet Laureate. Reception starts at 6 p.m., followed by program at 6:30 p.m.
  •  Feb. 28 – Marva Whitney Listening Party–This program will include an informal presentation of the R&B star’s life and contribution by friend and musician Eugene Smiley. The program will also include a discussion of Whitney’s memoir, God, The Devil, and James Brown and a listening party of Whitney’s music. Whitney, a Kansas City native, built a name for herself singing background vocals for King of Soul James Brown and went on to become one of funk R&B’s most revered divas. 2 p.m.

All events listed are free and will be held at The Black Archives of Mid-America, 1722 E. 17th Terr. For more info or to RSVP, go to www.blackarchives.org.
Kansas City Public Library

This month, the Library will host a “Black History Month Book-to-Film Series.” Each program begins with introductory remarks by one of the four experts in the field: Adrienne Walker Hoard, director of UMKC’s Black Studies program; Delia Cook Gillis, director of UCM’s center for Africana Studies; Veronica N. Wilson-Tagoe, teaching professor in UMKC’s Black Studies program; and Suzetta Parks, principal at Parks & Pennington. Unless otherwise noted, receptions start at 6 p.m., and are followed by the program at 6:30 p.m. To RSVP, go to kclibrary.org/blackarchivesfilm

  • Feb. 3 – “Lady Sings the Blues,” Plaza Branch
  • Feb. 5 – “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” UMKC Miller Nichols Library
  • Feb. 10 – “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” Plaza Branch
  • Feb. 17 – “Malcom X,” Plaza Branch. Reception held at 5:30 p.m., followed by program at 6 p.m. 
  • Feb. 19 –“Devil in a Blue Dress,” UMKC Miller Nichols Library
  • Feb. 24 – “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Plaza Branch 
  • Feb. 25 – “Meet The Past with Crosby Kemper III: Zora Neale Hurston”–The latest installment of the Library’s Emmy Award-winning series spotlights one of the preeminent figures of 20th century African-American literature. The presentation will be taped by KCPT for later broadcast.

For more information, go to www.kclibrary.org.

The National Archives at Kansas City

  • Feb. 5 – Screening and discussion of “Malcolm X: Make it Plain,” presented in partnership with Greater Kansas City Black History Study Group scholars and historians Dr. Fred Knight and Garret Felber. This event is part of a program series, “The Civil Rights Century: Milestones in Black History.”  A free light reception will precede the lecture at 6 p.m., with the screening at 6:30 p.m. 

This event will be held at the National Archives, 400 W Pershing Rd. It is free, but reservations are required via 816-268-8010 or kansascity.educate@nara.org.
For more information, go to www.archives.gov/kansas-city

National World War I Museum

  • Feb. 19 – “Birth of a Nation: Reigniting Civil Rights & America’s Civil War”–Author Dick Lehr reintroduces one of the most significant episodes in the 20th century in this lecture and discussion with moderator Dr. Delia Gillis. Free, but RSVP required. 6 p.m.
  • Feb. 23 –“True Sons of Freedom: African-American Soldiers and World War I” –Dr. Jennifer Keene, chair of the history department at Chapman University, details African-American soldiers’ experiences as civil rights activists, symbols of black manhood and veterans. This presentation is part of the University Spencer Cave Black History Month lecture. Free, but RSVP required. 7 p.m.

Events listed will be held at the museum in the J.C. Nichols Auditorium. For more information, go to www.theworldwar.org.

All Year Long

American Jazz Museum

  • Located in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, this is 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. www.americanjazzmuseum.com 

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art 

  • 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. www.kemperart.org  

Mutual Musicians Foundation

  • Located 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. www.thefoundationjamson.org 

National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial

  • The permanent 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 and African-American women who were employed in a number of war industries, including munitions production. www.theworldwar.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. Later this year, the museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Nov. 14 with a gala. www.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. www.wycokck.org

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art 

  • A new addition–“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. 
  • 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. www.nelson-atkins.org

Media Contacts

Derek Byrne
Derek Byrne (KC/Regional Media)
Visit KC
Derek Klaus
Derek Klaus (National Media)

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