Celebrate African-American History in North Carolina

From the Appalachians to the Atlantic, North Carolina is rich in African-American history, art, and achievements. February is African-American History Month, a time to celebrate the leaders, artists, and activists who shaped the history – and continue to shape the future – of the Tar Heel state.

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Poet Maya Angelou, singer and actress Lena Horne, Grammy winner Roberta Flack, singer and activist Nina Simone, bebop pioneer Max Roach, basketball star Michael Jordan, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, and artist Romare Bearden are just a few famous names who called North Carolina home.

Here are a number of celebrations and historical experiences taking place this month in NC:

The International Civil Rights Center & Museum

On Feb. 1, 1960, four African-American students from N.C. A&T State University sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter in Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, in protest of the strict segregation laws of the time. The non-violent protest has been called a catalyst in the civil rights movement. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond started a sit-in that would lead to change. The International Civil Rights Center & Museum is located in the former F.W. Woolworth retail store that held the lunch counter. The museum is an archival center, collecting museum and teaching facility devoted to the international struggle for civil and human rights.

National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Sites

It may be a bit chilly for a February adventure, but for those looking for some fresh air paired with history, Halifax County has three designated National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom sites, recognized by The National Park Service. The walking trails and sites in Halifax County are located near the Roanoke River, which was used by many freedom seekers as an escape route. At the cozy Roanoke Canal Museum and Trail, an exhibit shares how the Roanoke Navigation Company bought and sold slaves that helped build the canal, and how that same canal was used as an escape route for freedom seekers.

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture

The Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte reopened its doors with new exhibitions on Feb. 3, after a brief closing to switch exhibitions. The center hosts both permanent and traveling art, so every visit can be a new experience. The center (formerly the Afro-American Cultural Center, and named for Charlotte’s first African-American mayor) celebrates the contributions of Africans and African-Americans to American culture and serves as a community epicenter for music, dance, theater, visual art, film, arts education programs, literature and community outreach. Visit here for exhibit details.

22nd Annual Cary African-American Celebration

The town of Cary, NC, hosts a free annual event celebrating the African-American experience. The 22nd Annual Cary African-American Celebration happens on Feb. 24 at The Cary Theater. Each year offers a different focus, and this year’s theme is centered on health and healthcare: “Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well: Working to Improve Equal Opportunities for Health in the African-American Communities.” A panel discussion with local healthcare professionals will provide advice and resource suggestions. Music, interviews, and youth performances round out the day. For more information, visit here.  

The North Carolina Museum of History

New York Times bestselling author and distinguished scholar Carole Boston Weatherford hosts “Poetry and All That Jazz” on Feb. 25. The celebration focuses on the poetry of music and musicians, and the local North Carolina legends who inspired millions with their words and songs. North Carolina–born jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and entertainer and activist Lena Horne are among two of the performers that will be discussed. The North Carolina Museum of History also offers docent-led tours every weekend in February, highlighting the contributions of African-Americans to North Carolina history. Visit their website for dates, times, and more information.

Looking for something else? The NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources features information on a broad range of programs, tours, and historic places divided by location. Activities in the Eastern, Western, and Piedmont regions cover everything from lectures to music, all offering a look at the vivid, complicated, and heroic heritage of our state.

How are you celebrating African-American History this month? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments. 

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