Things To Do: Celebrate Black History Month / Historical sites celebrating African American heritage
We sadly won’t be toasting a Cowboys Super Bowl victory this year, but February is still full of reasons to celebrate. The month especially offers an abundance of opportunities to celebrate black heritage and begin an ongoing conversation with your kiddos about the African-American experience. We’ve assembled the top kid-friendly ways — from touring historic homes to meeting Buffalo Soldiers — to commemorate black history and culture.
What is now known as Uptown was once the heart of North Dallas’ black community, settled by freed slaves in the 1850s. Remnants of this town are on display in the Facing The Rising Sun exhibit at the African American Museum of Dallas. The exhibit shows children what life was like through photographs, which include pictures of headstones from Freedman’s cemetery, which was excavated in 1989 and re-plotted between Lemmon Avenue and Hall Street, and video presentations. While there, explore the largest collection of African American folk and decorative art, including a quilt made by a 16-year-old slave girl in 1824. Admission is free but we recommend purchasing the self-guided tour.
Cost: Self-guided tour: $2 per adult, $1 per child; guided tours for groups of 10 or more, $5 per adult, $3 per child ages 4–17
When: Tuesday–Friday, 11am–5pm; Saturday 10am–5pm
Where: 3536 Grand Ave., Dallas, 214/565-9026
Help the Dallas Black Dance Theater mark 40 years of history-making movement during its Cultural Awareness series at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. This month, the company premieres Interpretations, a collection of dances choreographed by nationally acclaimed African-American artists and former company members, including Darryl B. Sneed’s popular And Now Marvin set to the tunes of Marvin Gaye. While the themes may be too advanced for some kiddos, Awassa Astrige/Ostrich, originally choreographed in 1932 by Asadata Dafora, one of the first Africans to introduce African drumming to U.S. choreography, will mesmerize littles with movements that mimic the flightless African bird.
Cost: Tickets start at $32.50
When: Feb. 17–19, Friday–Saturday 7:30pm, Sunday 2:30pm
Where: 2400 Flora St., Dallas
Celebrate the 115th birthday of Dallas native and civil rights activist Juanita J. Craft at her former home, now the Civil Rights House, on Feb. 9. Enjoy a slice of cake as you stroll through the South Dallas craftsman bungalow filled with memorabilia from Craft’s life — one of Texas’ most influential females. She helped desegregate both the University of Texas Law School and North Texas State University and organized 185 branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Craft’s fight for civil rights eventually earned her Dallas’ highest civic honor, the Linz Award. Show the kids the picket signs made by children in Craft’s youth councils who advocated for voting rights and fought the Jim Crow laws. Call to reserve your place at the birthday party or book a 40-minute guided tour, and be sure to ask about the civil rights collage art project for families.
When: Monday–Friday, 9–5:30pm
Where: 2618 Warren Ave., Dallas
Deep Ellum was once the rich and bustling epicenter of 1920s African-American culture in Dallas and where the Knights of Pythias Temple, an office park designed by renowned African-American architect William Sidney Pittman, still sits. Now, however, it’s a rundown gray building on the corner of Elm Street and Good Latimer Expressway. But it used to be home to black physicians, dentists and artists. Before heading to family favorite Glazed Donut Works (just down the road from the Temple), download the free Pegasus Urban Trails app to take a walking tour of the neighborhood that was one of Dallas’ original freedman colonies. You and the kiddos will learn about the Temple, the district’s musical roots and how Deep Ellum got its name.
Where: 2551 Elm St., Dallas
With the help of Encore Park, First Presbyterian Church and a growing list of donors, historic 508 Park Ave. in downtown Dallas will be restored to the arts and culture hub it was in the 1930s. A replica of the recording studio where legends like African-American blues musician Robert Johnson recorded is underway (with era-appropriate equipment to boot), but a sculpture wall, community garden and amphitheater are now open to the public. Celebrate the city’s cultural heritage by participating in the free Walk The Wall tour led by Encore Park executive director Pat Bywaters. As you take in the 40-foot-long bronze relief sculpture wall titled “Birth of a City,” Bywaters narrates the less-told stories of Dallas’ history and points out the sculpture’s notable figures such as Johnson playing his guitar. Call in advance to RSVP for both a tour of the wall and 508 Park building.
Cost: Free; donations accepted.
When: Monday, Feb. 20, 10am and 1:30pm
Where: 508 Park Ave., Dallas, 214/906-0865
Rally your art critics in training and head to the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum for the 4th Annual Juried Art Show, a celebration of Black History Month in tandem with the Tarrant County Black Historical & Genealogical Society. From Feb. 1–28, explore the African-American experience through paintings and sculptures created by professional and student artists alike. Also check out exhibits including The Jim Crow Era, a look at how the Jim Crow laws affected housing, parks and schools in Fort Worth, and The History of Black Schools in Fort Worth, where kids learn about the effects of segregation. Before you leave, let the kids research their genealogy in the upstairs computer lab.
When: Feb. 1–28, Tuesday and Thursday 10am–3pm
Where: 1020 E. Humbolt St., Fort Worth
Peruse original works and prints from local black artists at the Fort Worth Library’s Ella Mae Shamblee branch this month. As you wander the family-friendly Kaleidoscope of African American Art exhibit, see if the kids can point out Muhammad Ali among John Johnson’s colorful scenes of urban life and portraits of African-Americans, and don’t miss Ken Carter’s pattern-packed paintings of animals and people. After filling up on artistic inspiration, check out a book from the African-American Authors Fiction Collection or the African-American Heritage Collection to continue to explore black history at home.
When: Through Feb. 24. Library hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday 10am–6pm; Tuesday noon–8pm
Where: 1062 Evans Ave., Fort Worth
Aspiring thespians will love the authentic costumes and set designs on display in the Stages of Struggle and Celebration: Black Theatre in Texas exhibit at the Fort Worth Central Library. Compiled by professors at Texas State University, the exhibit uses production images, posters and other objects from shows throughout the state to narrate the African-American experience in theater from the 1800s to the present, from minstrel shows to the great success of contemporary African-American producers, directors and actors.
When: Through Feb. 18. Library hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10am–6pm; Tuesday and Thursday noon–8pm; Sunday 1–5pm
Where: 500 W. Third St., Fort Worth
This month, the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame highlights the contributions of Buffalo Soldiers, who fought in both world wars, and the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American pilots who fought in World War II. Encourage school-age kids to grab a scavenger hunt at the front door and search for clues leading to hall of famers like Charles Sampson, the first professional African-American bull rider. On Saturdays, children of all ages can attend the free storytelling and arts and crafts session from 1–3pm to learn about figures in African-American history like Cathay Williams, who in 1866 disguised herself as a man to serve in the 38th infantry.
Cost: Free for storytelling and arts and crafts sessions; museum admission is $6 for adults; $3 students; free for ages 5 and younger
When: Museum hours: Wednesday–Saturday, noon–4pm
Where: National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum and Hall of Fame, 3400 Mount Vernon Ave., Fort Worth
In 1912, William Sidney Pittman, African-American architect and son-in-law of author and educator Booker T. Washington, began designing Fort Worth’s oldest and largest African Methodist Episcopal Church. Completed in 1914, the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church served as a safe haven during the Jim Crow era. The Gothic revival structure continues to offer Sunday worship and Bible studies in its 100-foot auditorium that seats 1,350. Visit on a sunny day when the sunlight shines through the elaborate stained-glass windows and see the bell tower which suffered extensive damage from a lightning strike in 2011.
When: Call to reserve a time to visit.
Where: Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 116 Elm St., Fort Worth
For a picture of the local African-American experience from emancipation to the civil rights movement, visit the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center in Irving when it’s open to the public on the second Saturday of the month. Walk through the Masonic Lodge and the J.O. Davis House to learn about the Bear Creek neighborhood (an African-American community during the era of segregation) through animatronic figures and everyday artifacts such as kitchen items, lamps and laundry boards. Then tour the restored Green House, once home to community leader Sam Green, to let the kids get a taste of life in the 1920s.
When: Feb. 11, 1–4pm. The museum opens to the public on the second Saturday of every month.
Where: 3925 Jackson St., Irving
See the medicine cases of Dr. Edwin B. Moten, Denton’s first black doctor, and dive into the stories of other Denton County African-Americans at the African American Museum, housed in the Quakertown House at the Denton County Historical Park. Docents give you and your little historians a guided tour of the 1904 house, which was originally part of the African-American neighborhood of Quakertown, a thriving community that was forced to relocate in the 1920s to make way for a city park. Working to restore more of the neighborhood buildings to their original location, the Denton County Office of History and Culture has recently acquired the Woods House, currently located at 1015 Hill St. in Denton. On Archaeology Day on Feb. 24, kids can watch archaeologists excavate the grounds around the Woods House before it moves to the historical park.
When: Museum open Wednesday–Saturday 10am–2pm; Archaeology Day at the Woods House: Feb 24, 1–3pm
Where: 317 West Mulberry St., Denton
Even if you can’t make it to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., this month, take a tour by poster at Denton’s Courthouse-on-the-Square. A Place for All People, a series of posters designed by the Smithsonian to showcase the museum’s first exhibitions, features drawings of the never-realized National Negro Memorial, photos of plantation life in the 1860s and images of clothing, artifacts and art. Take advantage of discussion prompts available on the Smithsonian website to spark conversations with your kiddos during your tour. Before you leave, let the littles get up close with President Lincoln at The Mask of Lincoln exhibit, a series of 10 portraits of the beloved president and author of the Emancipation Proclamation. (A Place for All People is also on view at the Irving Arts Center through March 26.)
When: Monday–Friday 8am–4:30pm, Saturday 11am–3pm
Where: 110 W. Hickory St., Denton
Hop in the car and take a mini road trip (just under three hours) to the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City for February’s First Saturday Hands-On History program (on Feb. 4). After a kid-friendly introduction to African-American history, kids of all ages celebrate Black History Month by making quilt squares, coloring pictures of African-American leaders and snapping photos in the photo booth. Be sure to peruse the center’s current exhibits (don’t miss Tipi with Battle Pictures, an enormous teepee decked in colorful drawings) and take the quarter-mile Red River walking tour before heading home.
Cost: First Saturday program is free with admission: $4 for students; $7 for adults; free for ages 5 and younger. Family passes for up to six people are $18.
When: First Saturday program: Feb. 4, 1–4pm; museum open Monday–Saturday 10am–5pm
Where: 800 Nazih Zudhi Drive, Oklahoma City
Kids meet real-life Buffalo Soldiers (costumed interpreters, that is) at Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum in Lawton, Oklahoma, on Feb. 11 (and the second Saturday of every month). In the late 1800s, Fort Sill housed four black regiments who protected settlements from Native American raids. Make the two-and-a-half-hour trip to the active U.S. Army post and visit the historical Post Guardhouse, where the Buffalo Soldiers will be armed and ready for the kiddos to fire off questions. Stop at the visitor center for an introductory video and map, and make sure to pick up an audio tour before exploring the restored School of Fire for Field Artillery, Chapel and Cavalry Barracks.
When: Buffalo Soldiers appear on Feb. 11, 1–3pm; museum open Tuesday–Saturday 9am–5pm
Where: 435 NW Quanah Road, Lawton, Oklahoma