The nation’s first Black History Week was held in 1926, and the celebration of African-American culture has since evolved into a month-long observance.
Here in Philly, there are seemingly countless ways to pay respect to the history of Black Americans, who played such a crucial role in shaping this city.
Below you’ll find a host of book events, trivia contests and lively discussions that are all a good start. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t state the obvious: February shouldn’t be the only time we consider the contributions of Black Americans—nor should it be the end of our work to turn around our nation’s shameful—and continued—legacy of racism.
Let this be a start to a year of making lasting change, long after February has come and gone.
Things to do during Black History Month in Philly
When Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel initially reached the stage in 1917 it was the first all-Black performance in front of an integrated audience. Now, in 2020, it’s back at Quintessence Theatre Group just in time for Black History Month—and the third annual Philly Theatre Week. Keep in mind that, because of strong language describing racial violence, the show is recommended for people aged 11 and up. January 29–February 23, $20–$44, Quintessence Theatre Group, 7137 Germantown Avenue.
Enlighten your kids on the heroism of the Haitian revolution and the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade at this Cobbs Creek Publishing reading and book-signing for Fridays with Ms. Melange: Haiti by Jenny Delacruz (pictured). After the story, play Black history trivia games or purchase a copy of the book, which benefits orphans in Haiti, for your own home. The event is open to all, but the story is written for kids aged 5 to 12. Saturday, February 1, 2-4pm, free, Urban Art Gallery, 262 S. 52nd Street.
Four performances, four secret locations, 12 gifted Black artists and numerous musical genres. See for yourself the talent that Philadelphia has to offer in these one-of-a-kind Sofar Sounds concerts taking place in neighborhoods like University City, East Kensington and Callowhill throughout Black History Month. February 1, February 7, February 23 and February 27, various times, prices and secret locations.
In a city where children’s literacy levels haven’t had a significant increase in 18 years, the 28th annual African American Children’s Book Fair provides a space to learn about and celebrate award-winning multicultural stories for every kid’s enjoyment. Explore the fair to earn prizes and browse selections, such as Lupita Nyong’o’s new picture book, Sulwe. Saturday, February 1, 1-4pm, free, Community College of Philadelphia, 17th and Spring Garden streets.
Enjoy a cheese danish and macchiato while participating in a reading and discussion of Zetta Elliott’s Say Her Name, a book of poetry inspired by the #sayhername social movement. Stick around for a book-signing opportunity following the event. Saturday, February 8, 2-3pm, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, 5445 Germantown Avenue.
Listen to compelling stories of Black resistance from the American Revolution to the 21st century in “History After Hours: Black History Untold.” The panel discussion, performances and movie screening are presented in partnership with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Tuesday, February 11, 5-8pm, $10, Museum of the American Revolution, 101 S. 3rd Street.
Who was the first African-American woman to travel in space? If you know the answer, or you want to find out, check out this game night of Black History Month Quizzo hosted by the Free Library. Thursday, February 13, 4pm, Falls of Schuylkill Library, 3501 Midvale Avenue.
Learn about the life of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass (who, contrary to what our President has said, is very much not alive) in this one-day exhibition that utilizes original manuscripts, photographs and more to convey the impact that his life had on the African-American community. RSVPing is recommended. February 19, 2-3pm, $10, The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street.
Dr. Richard Bell presents his book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home at this reading and book-signing at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The story follows five young African-American men who were kidnapped from Philadelphia in the Reverse Underground Railroad in 1825 and their subsequent return home. February 21, 6-7pm, free, African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street.
Learn about African-American women—or “sheroes”—who helped shape the future through presentations from sheroes of today. Reconcile Productions and the Sword of the Spirit Church and a lineup of lady speakers invite you to help them salute pioneering figures like Ida B Wells, Diahann Carroll and Lena Horne. Be sure to spiff up a bit; guests are encouraged to wear their “best evening attire.” February 29, 7pm, $15–$20, Sword of the Spirit Church, 71 S. Union Avenue, Lansdowne
Want more? Check out our guide to Black History Month All-Stars to learn about a new African-American pioneer from Philadelphia every day during the month of February.