Celebrating Black History Month with State Humanities Councils

January 31, 2014
Frederick Douglass mural, Washington, DC
Photo caption

Frederick Douglass mural, Washington, DC. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer.

Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Every February, Americans take the time to raise awareness and honor the contributions of African Americans to our civilization and culture. What started with a week-long celebration in February 1926 has now grown to a month-long celebration that recognizes the importance of Black history to the American story and encourages Americans to bring that awareness to their daily lives. State humanities councils, like many other humanities-based organizations, use the increased awareness of Black History Month to highlight the stories and histories important to their own states and to the citizens they serve, weaving their community stories in to the national fabric of Black History Month.

Take the time this February to dive in to see some of what these vibrant organizations have to offer!  

  • Colorado Humanities will offer a Chautauqua presentation of Malcom X for Black History Live, scheduled for ten presentations during the week of February 3rd. All host sites have received reading lists, including one for children, and additional reading from the Autobiography of Malcom X for teachers to use to prepare students for the performance and discussion afterwards. For more information visit 
  • In Connecticut, Pioneers of the Liberty Race: The CT 29th Colored Infantry, an exhibit supported by Connecticut Humanities, will be on view from February 1st through March 31st,  coinciding with both Black History Month and Women’s History Month (March). The exhibit focuses on the role African Americans and women played in the American Civil War, with particular attention on the formation of the CT 29th infantry and Private Leverett Holden, an Avon, CT native who served in the regiment. Two outside events will accompany Pioneers of the Liberty Race. On February 4th, the Avon Historical Society will present The Spirit of Frederick Douglass, a presentation by Michael Crutcher, Sr., in the Sanctuary of the Avon Congregational Church. This first person portrayal of Douglass will bring to life the principles of freedom, equality, religion, and self-esteem during a time changes for Civil Rights. On February 22nd, join the Avon Historical Society and Connecticut Humanities for the Re-dedication of Private Leverett Holden's grave at the East Avon Cemetery. Following the re-dedication, Tom Acri, an author and scholar, will make a presentation at the Avon Congregational Church about the CT 29th infantry. Additional guests will be Pvt. William Webb, CT 29th CVI, portrayed by Kevin Johnson and Dr. Ben Hawley, descendant of Pvt. Orrin Hawley, CT 29th CVI who was from Woodbury, CT.
  • On February 4th, join the Maryland Humanities Council for the council-supported conversation Beyond Slavery: Frederick Douglass and the Quest for Universal Rights at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. The conversation, moderated by WAMU talk show host Kojo Nnamdi, will feature writer and educator Colum McCann, in conversation with University of Maryland professors Ira Berlin, Patrick O’Shea, and Professor Emerita Lee Thornton, who will discuss the influence Douglass had on religious freedom, gender issues, and slavery. Then, starting on February 5th, the Maryland Humanities Council supported Trayvon Martin Moments premieres. Trayvon Martin Moments is a Center Stage (Maryland’s State Theatre) program featuring four local artists partnered with four Baltimore organizations who have joined together to create performance pieces and moderated discussions around the Trayvon Martin incident and gun violence. 
  • In Massachusetts, the New Bedford Historical Society, with support from Mass Humanities, is hosting the Fourteenth Annual Frederick Douglass Community Read-a-thon at the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford on February 9th. The community will read the first autobiography of Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845). This event honors Douglass, an early advocate for African American civil rights and the rights of women, as one of the great mean of the 19th century, and celebrates Douglass’s journey to New Bedford and the beginning of his life as a free man.
  • In Natchez, Mississippi, the Mississippi Humanities Council, in conjunction with Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is sponsoring 60 Years & Counting: Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, a film and literary celebration. The events, scheduled over a three-day period, from February 20th through 23rd, will feature programs by scholars, historians, writers, film experts and others who will explore the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on the South, and on the world. Activities will include films, documentaries, discussion groups, concerts, book signings, exhibits, and guided tours. For more information, visit the Mississippi Humanities Council website
  • This February, the Missouri Humanities Council supported Dred Scott Exhibit, featuring images of documents, photographs, and objects from the collection of the Missouri Historical Society, will be on view at the David L. Underwood Library at the St. Louis Community College at Florissant. The Dred Scott Exhibit tells the story of enslaved blacks and their quests for freedom in 19th century St. Louis.
  • From February 1st through March 11th the Humanities Texas traveling exhibition Road to the Promised Land: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement will be on view in two locations in Texas – the M.P. Baker Library at Panola College and the Patrick Heath Public Library. This exhibit, which surveys the Civil Rights Movement from the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 through the 1990’s, features photographs, facsimiles of landmark documents, and quotations by Dr. King and others engaged in the struggle for civil rights.

State humanities councils provide rich, humanities-based content to their constituents year-round. Find your state council here and start exploring!