Negro History Week was first conceived in 1925 by historian, author, and journalist Carter G. Woodson and the organization he founded, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
The week was expanded to a month-long celebration in 1976, the year of the nation's bicentennial; President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."
A noble urging, but one that unfortunately still needs to be reiterated every year, every day, and, especially, during the month of February. We urge you to check out these area Black History Month events, ranging from film screenings to plays to poetry.
Black Panther screening party
Fri. Feb. 16
$35/general admission $60/VIP
Ages 13+ only, ages 13-17 must be accompanied by adult 21 years of age
Northwoods Stadium Cinema
2181 Northwoods Blvd.
According to Variety, advance tickets for Marvel's Black Panther set a new record in January for Fandango as the top seller among Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in the first 24 hours. In addition to Chadwick Boseman, who stars as protagnoist T'Challa, a king and warrior who takes over the nation of Wakanda after his father dies, Black Panther features an impressive lineup of actors including Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, and more.
This screening party at Northwoods Stadium Cinema celebrates the "monumental release" of this film as well as "the doors Black Panther will open for black actors in Hollywood" using the screening as a "platform to create awareness within our own communities here in Charleston."
The screening is hosted by two local creative women, Kenya Cummings and Felita Pinckney, who say in a press release, "This needs to be a celebration of epic proportion. We deserve an opportunity to celebrate among our people."
Tickets to the event will be sold until sell out or until Feb 9. A general admission ticket to the event gets you a medium popcorn, medium drink, and a special red carpet photo opp — attendees are encouraged to wear African dress or Hollywood style garb. VIP tickets get you all of the above, plus a Black Panther T-shirt. If you want to get the best seats available come out early; red carpet will open 30 minutes prior to showtime.
All event proceeds will go to Fresh Future Farm, a local nonprofit that employs Charlestonians living in underserved areas. According to the event press release, the proceeds will help bring a kitchen to the farm. "The kitchen will process food and teach more food and wellness classes." Cummings and Pinckney are also accepting sponsorships from Black owned businesses and organizations.
George Washington's Boy
Sat. Feb. 17
$15/adults, $10/seniors & students.
West Ashley High School
4060 W. Wildcat Blvd.
Prolific playwright Ted Lange focuses on stories that give a voice to unknown Black Americans. In Lange's George Washington's Boy, we meet Billy Lee, one of George Washington's slaves. While many American citizens could roughly outline the ascent of Washington's role in American politics, how many of us know the man behind the man? The slave in the shadows?
This particular story was the third play from Lange's published series, "The Footnote Historian's Trilogy." During his research process, Lange traveled to the slave quarters of Mount Vernon, collected 46 books, and discovered an image of Lee in the background of a well-known portrait of Washington, painted by John Trumbull. The picture shows Washington standing on a bluff above the Hudson River, with Lee on horseback behind him. According to metmuseum.org, Trumbull painted this portrait from memory, five years after serving as Washington's aide-de-camp early in the Revolutionary War.
The Chaleston Black Theatre (CBT) will perform a stage reading, directed by CBT president and executive producer Yvonne Broadus, of George Washington's Boy at West Ashley High School in the spirit of Black History Month. The CBT describes themselves as "not just theatre, we are theatre with a twist." The CBT has conducted workshops for an international group of writers and has even popped up as a flash mob at the Avery Research Institute, performing excerpts from Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again."
Gullahs of Achievement
Tues. Feb. 20
St. Helena Library
6355 Jonathan Francis Senior Road
Saint Helena Island
It's a bit of a hike from the Charleston area, but if you truly want to understand, acknowledge, and celebrate important Black achievers, attending a lecture by Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation Queen Quet should be on your must-do list.
During Gullahs of Achievement, Queen Quet will talk about Saint Simons, Ga. born Robert Abbott, one of the first African-American self-made millionaires. Abbott acquired his fame and fortune by founding The Chicago Defender, which he started in 1905 with an initial investment of only 25 cents. The Defender would become one of the most widely circulated black newspapers in the country in the early 20th century, with, according to PBS, "a circulation of over 100,000, the first to have a health column, and the first to have a full page of comic strips."
Also according to PBS, the terminology in the paper referred to African Americans not as "Negro" or "Black" but instead as "the Race." The paper had to be smuggled into the South because "white distributors refused to circulate The Defender and many groups such as the Klu Klux Klan tried to confiscate it or threatened its readers."
Celebrate Black Poets
Tues. Feb. 20
477 King St.
The Unspoken Word, a literary nonprofit that hosts open mics and poetry slams around town, presents Celebrate Black Poets at PURE, bringing together the community for an evening of spoken word from featured poet Glenis Redmond, as well as an open mic with readings of poems by black poets.
Redmond is the poet-in-residence at The Peace Center for Performing Arts in Greenville, S.C., and at State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. In Feb. 2016, at the request of the U.S. State Department, Redmond traveled to Muscat, Oman to teach a series of poetry workshops for Black History Month.
Redmond, who has said "poetry has followed me all the days of my life," has traveled across the country, bringing spoken word to diverse venues from prisons to universities to camps to rallies.
You can almost hear Redmond in front of you as you read her measured verse, her sage words; in "Carolinese," Redmond writes, "Grandma taught me to, Watch as well as pray/ See there's always more to words than their saying /Some call it a backwards tongue, I call it a knowing."
In addition to Redmond, any and all poets are invited to speak during the open mic portion of the evening. Poets are asked to read poems from black poets — be it Maya Angelou or your neighbor down the street — and interested speakers can sign up online.