5 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Boston

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Posted February 14, 2014 by Heather Kapplow in Downtown Boston
Sweet Honey in The Rock

Wondering how to celebrate Black History Month in Boston? The annual observance is an important time to both reflect on our nation’s past and look at the progress we have made and still must make in the area of civil rights.

The city of Boston played a significant role in African American history, so even though Black History Month is a time to celebrate a culture that has made vast contributions to American society, it is also an opportunity to learn more about our historical city. Though Boston was on the Underground Railroad as part of the abolitionist movement, like other northern port towns, it was not completely untainted by the slave trade. Take some time out this February to get a more nuanced view of the past, the future, and the fun of African American culture and history in Boston.

Abiel Smith School at Museum of African American History

Abiel Smith School at Museum of African American History. Photo courtesy of the Abiel Smith School

Looking Back

There is no better way to celebrate Black History Month in Boston than to visit the Museum of African American History in the heart of Beacon Hill. Its current exhibit, “Freedom Rising,” celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the first black soldiers to serve on the Union’s side of the Civil War—including the Massachusetts 54th “Glory” Regiment. Some pieces in this exhibit have made their way here from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, so be sure to catch them before they leave in March.

Housed in the first American schoolhouse for black children and a meetinghouse that was the main gathering place of Boston’s African American community in the 19th century, this museum is an evocative testament to the strength of that community and its talented builders and designers. Admission includes access to special activities for children during school vacations, so bring the whole family!

Looking Forward

Are you more interested in present-day advancement of African Americans during this month? On February 17, Mayor Marty Walsh will promote Black History Month in Boston by joining a team of other presenters in discussing “Boston Means Business: The New Political and Economic Landscape of Boston,” with a special focus on communities of color and inclusive economic development. Other presenters include Steven Rogers, a professor of entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School, and state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry. Attendees are invited to participate actively in the discussion as well.

If you’re concerned that a local policy discussion might be too dry a way to celebrate Black History Month, let me reassure you by letting you know that this event is sponsored by a bar.

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Boston African American Heritage Trail Map for self guided tours. Photo courtesy of National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Design Center

If you’d like to celebrate Black History Month in Boston outdoors, try taking a walking tour. The Freedom Trail Foundation has a 90-minute, guided African American Patriots Tour twice every weekend in February. The tour involves period costumes and a peek into the lives of historical figures such as Crispus Attucks, Prince Hall, and Phillis Wheatley, among others. It’s the same Freedom Trail you might walk when learning about Paul Revere or John Hancock, but it has a completely different definition of freedom.

The National Park Service has a ranger-guided Black Heritage Trail tour of Boston in warmer weather, but for now, use its map, gather a few friends and take the self-guided version.

Onstage

If you’d like to explore something a little more experimental to celebrate the month, find your way to Hibernia Hall, Dudley Square’s beautiful, historic theater. It is hosting Mad River Theater Works’ Everybody’s Hero: The Jackie Robinson Story, a “play with music” about the first African American in Major League Baseball, Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson.

Or, see the musical version of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, performed by the SpeakEasy Stage Co. at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion.

Out Loud

Finally, if you just want to celebrate the old fashioned way—with some swinging music—hold out until March 2 and go see Sweet Honey in the Rock perform as part of its 40th anniversary tour. It’s the perfect way to wrap up your Black History Month!

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