February is Black History Month. Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.
Origins of Black History Month
The story of Black History Month begins in 1915, half a century after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States.
That September, the Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and the prominent minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent.
Known today as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the group sponsored a national Negro History week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The event inspired schools and communities nationwide to organize local celebrations, establish history clubs and host performances and lectures. (via the History Channel).
Events around Nashville
Nashville Public Library
The Nashville Public Library Main Branch, located downtown, has a Civil Rights room that you and your family should visit. It is a space for education and exploration of the Civil Rights Collection. The materials exhibited here capture the drama of a time when thousands of African-American citizens in Nashville sparked a nonviolent challenge to racial segregation in the city and across the South.
In February 1960, a group of students from the city’s four black colleges—American Baptist, Fisk, Meharry, and Tennessee A&I—set out to confront segregation at lunch counters, movie theaters, and other places of public accommodation.
The Civil Rights Room overlooks the intersection of Church Street and Seventh Avenue North, where nonviolent protests against segregated lunch counters took place
The Civil Rights Collection contains various forms of information that pertain to Nashville’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
Also be sure to check out other events throughout the libraries in town, featuring new literature by African Americans, and spotlighted this month.
The National Museum of African American Music
Located downtown, adjacent to Fifth and Broad and across from the Ryman, this is a newer museum in the city. Here you can discover the central role that African Americans played in shaping and creating all genres of music.
Get ready for a highly immersive experience! For an additional dollar, guests can receive an RFID bracelet to register with your email address. As you move through the museum, hold your RFID bracelet over each interactive station’s sensors to save playlists, videos, and more. Download your media when you get home and enjoy your museum visit all over again!
Visit NMAAM for FREE Wednesday (no ticket necessary). Thank you to Nissan for supporting NMAAM to help make these experiences happen!
Tennessee State Museum
The Tennessee State Museum is a great educational resource for all events in Tennessee history, and admission is completely free! During the month of February, on Saturdays, they are hosting tours that will highlight the diverse culture of African Americans, while acknowledging the oppression they faced from various forces in Tennessee’s history.
There are also many exhibits that are beneficial in understanding the history, such as the Civil Rights and Reconstruction exhibit, and the Change and Challenge exhibit.
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
In honor of Black History Month, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum would like to honor and highlight a handful of the countless significant and influential accomplishments of African Americans in the world of popular music. From the revolutionary Fisk Jubilee Singers, to the creation of the Four on the Floor Disco beat by Philadelphia Sigma Sound musician, Earl Young, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum pays homage to these important moments in both Black history and Music history through educational exhibits celebrating the fantastic musicians who created them.
Through exhibits dedicated to Motown, Stax Records, Sun Studio, B.B. King, and Jimi Hendrix, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum aims to promote the education of significant music history moments while also providing credit and praise to the deserving musicians and visionaries who created them. With Black History Month being an important and noteworthy time of year, the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum is honored to celebrate and highlight a handful of the countless accomplishments achieved by African American musicians.
United Street Tours
United Street Tours offers a series of 5-star rated, historical Nashville walking tours that are led and curated by locals. The Nashville walking tours embrace those pieces of black history in Nashville that have been ripped apart and buried beneath the bricks of the mainstream. They will unearth the fragments and piece them together with extraordinary stories that leave you more educated and inspired to become bridge builders in your community.
- Nashville is home to four Historically Black Colleges & Universities that gave educational opportunities for many African Americans who were once legally denied an education – American Baptist College, Fisk University, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University.
- Fisk Jubilee Singers- Fisk treasurer George Leonard White assembled a group of nine members in 1871 and booked a tour to raise money for the school. It introduced the world music Black Americans made for themselves. They had raised $50,000 for the university and with it, they constructed Jubilee Hall, the South’s first permanent structure built for the education of Black students, the Fisk Memorial Chapel, completed in 1892, and more. A century and a half later, the group still survives, rejuvenating itself with new student members each year. After hearing the Fisk Jubilee Singers perform at a show in Great Britain in 1873, Queen Victoria coined the title “Music City.”
- In 1951, Nashville lawyers Z. Alexander Looby and Robert Lillard were the first African Americans to be elected to the city council since 1911. Looby also represented the students arrested during the Nashville sit-ins.
- Jefferson Street was the heart of Nashville’s African-American community. From the 1940s to 1960s, Jefferson Street attracted musical artists from all over. Artists like Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles played at the clubs Del Morocco, Club Baron and Club Steal-Away. And just over on Charlotte, Etta James recorded a live album at New Era Club.
- In 1893, Dr. Georgia E. Lee Patton became the first African American woman to graduate from Meharry Medical College, making her the first African American woman to become a licensed surgeon and physician in Tennessee.
- The first Nashville sit-in took place at Harvey’s Department Store — formerly located at Sixth and Church — and was led by civil rights activist James Lawson.
- On May 10, 1960, Nashville became the first city in the segregated South to desegregate its lunch counters, thanks to the many efforts of civil rights activists like Diane Nash.
- In January of 1794 an enslaved man, Robert “Black Bob” Renfro, was permitted to sell liquor, making him Nashville’s first African American entrepreneur. He would remain legally enslaved until Nov. 10, 1801.
- While in high school, Oprah Winfrey received a full scholarship to Tennessee State University after winning an oratory contest. She began working in the local media and became the youngest and first African American female news anchor on Nashville’s WLAC-TV — now WTVF-TV.
- In 1992, Jesse Russell received a patent for his work in the area of digital cellular base station design, inventing the digital cellphone.
Ways to Get Kids Involved (via the Boys & Girls Club)
Black History Month Activities for Toddlers and Younger Children
- Incorporate great books on Black history into your reading time – for toddlers, they don’t need to be history-related, but look to add books to your shelf that showcase the everyday lived experiences of Black kids and families.
- Lots of museums, libraries and authors also offer readings of children’s books locally and on YouTube.
Black History Month Activities for Elementary Students and Middle Schoolers
- Make a “Who Am I?” bulletin board featuring photos of historic Black Americans that open or flip to information about each person – shoutout to Boys & Girls Clubs of West-Central Wisconsin for this great idea!
- Get kids moving with this quick YouTube intro to beginner step. Step dance or stepping originates from African dance and can get active learners on their feet.
- Have students make colorful mosaics inspired by artist Alma Thomas.
Black History Month Activities for High School Students
- Have teens select a historic poem, song or speech by a Black icon and rewrite it for modern day.
- Watch a film that highlights the vital role of Black Americans in history – such as “Hidden Figures” – and have a discussion afterward.
- Black history evokes the fight for human rights and voting rights. Teach young people about the importance of casting their ballot and planning to register to vote when they turn 18.
- Research local community plans for celebrating Black History Month and see how your teen can help support efforts.