10 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in New York City
Black history has been threaded into New York City history since before New York City even existed. When the Dutch established New Netherland (of which New Amsterdam was the capital) in the 1620s, they almost immediately began bringing enslaved people on ships from West Africa to build their new colony. In the centuries since, New Yorkers of African and Caribbean ancestry have always been key to making this city the vibrant, brilliant, world-class epicenter of talent, vision and innovation that we know and love. This February, here are some ways to pay tribute to the strength, resilience and spirit of New York’s Black communities over the years and honor Black History Month in New York City.
Inhabit Afrofuturism at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Before Yesterday We Could Fly” is The Met’s period room that imagines a room in Seneca Village — the thriving 19th-century community of predominantly Black landowners and tenants that was obliterated through eminent domain to make way for Central Park — layered with works by generations of artists from the African diaspora: from 19th-century beadwork and ceramics that may have filled a Seneca Village home to contemporary art and design, including new acquisitions from Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Fabiola Jean-Louis and video from the Nigerian-British artist and director Jenn Nkiru. The room’s name is inspired by author Virginia Hamilton’s retellings of the Flying African folk tale, and pays homage to Afrofuturism, the cultural movement that seeks to connect the African diaspora to their ancestry by incorporating technoculture to reimagine the past and future through a Black cultural lens.
Fort Greene’s Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts launched in 1999 in a building owned by the Bridge Street AME Church, once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now in sleek new digs as part of the BAM Cultural District, the museum has been able to expand and promote an exciting and interactive rotation of visual and performing artists from the African diaspora.
Find Free Programming for All Ages at New York Public Library
No matter what your age or interests, there really is something for everyone — at locations all over town and online — in the New York Public Library’s Black History Month programming. From crafts, story times and lapsits in their Little Movers series for preschoolers, to an online adult group discussion of Octavia Butler’s The Book of Martha (registration required), to crafts for tweens and teens like unity wreath making, STEAM activities and painting in the abstract style of African American artist Alma Woodsey Thomas, to lectures, to Black trivia and film screenings, the NYPL has dozens of avenues to appreciate and learn about Black history in new ways.
Celebrate Contemporary Black Artists
The Club Room, the Knickerbocker Hotel’s beautiful private indoor rooftop space that shares some of the same jaw dropping skyline views as St. Cloud, is proud to host Young, Gifted and IcoKnick, a Black History Month art exhibition, featuring works from The Bishop Gallery. The exhibition, which will include art by Ronald Draper, Sophia Victor, Tramel Blount, and Quiana Parks, runs from February 1st through April 30th, with an opening reception on February 16th. Make an evening of it by joining us afterwards for Jazz Nights at Charlie Palmer, Tuesdays-Thursdays from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Walk the African American Freedom Trail
Lower Manhattan’s self-guided African American Freedom Trail is a poignant walk through history, including the original Abyssinian Baptist Church on Wall Street (a street named for a wall constructed by enslaved Africans), the Hudson River Pier where Frederick Washington Bailey landed in New York (with help from the Underground Railroad) and rechristened himself Frederick Douglass, and the tragic sites of the Wall Street Slave Market and the 1741 Executions. The tour’s flagship (which can also be a standalone destination) is the African Burial Ground National Monument, the oldest and largest excavated burial ground in North America for free and enslaved Africans that’s both a somber monument to the past and a dynamic, ongoing initiative to try to right history’s wrongs. Admission to the visitor center and outdoor memorial is free and doesn’t require a reservation, however groups of 10 or more can book a ranger-led tour.
Attend the Season Opener of Amateur Night at the Apollo
Since it began in 1934, Amateur Night at the Apollo has launched the careers of artists from Ella Fitzgerald (one of the first winners, she was originally scheduled to dance but switched to singing at the last minute), Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan to Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips and Michael Jackson & The Jackson 5, to Luther Vandross and Lauryn Hill to Machine Gun Kelly… and countless others. Even Covid couldn’t dampen the “Be Good or Be Gone” enthusiasm of Amateur Night’s audiences— during mask mandates, everyone was given fans to hold up during performances: one side read YAAS!!, one read BOO!! The new season starts on February 22nd. Buy your ticket here and you may be among the first to see the next global superstar take the stage for the first time.
Celebrate Black Joy at Brooklyn Children’s Museum Black Future Festival
Bring the kids to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for a weeklong celebration (February 19th-27th) of the African diaspora and Black History Month. The festival includes interactive dance performances, storytelling, genealogy workshops, art-making, food and more. Tickets are required.
Take a Guided Tour of Harlem
Harlem Heritage Tours offers walking and/or bus tours, guided by lifelong residents of the neighborhood. Celebrate Harlem’s rich history by choosing from walking tours centered around Gospel music and Jazz or the Civil Rights Movement; multi-media tours focused on the Harlem Renaissance and Harlem in movies and TV; shopping tours and more.
Get a Taste of the Diaspora
Head to Brooklyn on February 25th for the Taste of Africa Popup Market, featuring traditional African cuisine (including fufu), or try a restaurant that showcases the cuisine of the diaspora full-time. Some Manhattan favorites include Tings Jamaican Jerk Chicken in Chelsea Market, Massawa on the Upper West Side, one of the first Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurants in the U.S., and Voilà Afrique, for quick serve African, Caribbean and Latino cuisine in Midtown.