Black History Month Events in Los Angeles

L.A. events and cultural attractions are celebrating Black History Month throughout February.

Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their important role in U.S. history. The event was originally the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Following is a list of Los Angeles events and cultural institutions participating in Black History Month.

California African American Museum (February 2019)

Located at Exposition Park in Downtown L.A., the California African American Museum (CAAM) exists to research, collect, preserve and interpret the history, art and culture of African Americans. The museum’s permanent collection houses 4,000 objects that span landscape painting and portraiture, modern and contemporary art, historical objects and print materials, and mixed-media artworks.

Black History Month programs at CAAM include:

  • “Race Relay” (Feb. 8-10) – Presented in conjunction with Los Angeles Freedom Rally, 1963, “Race Relay” is an interactive theatrical production that explores race today.
  • Activating Artists: Know Your Rights (Feb. 12) – Also presented in conjunction with Los Angeles Freedom Rally, 1963, Activating Artists helps participants understand best practices when confronted by police, potential consequences of civil disobedience actions, and other legal issues surrounding acts of creative public activism.
  • Black Composers Songversation (Feb. 13) – Presented in partnership with the LA Phil and the William Grant Still Arts Center, the evening includes live music and a conversation between pianist Aaron Diehl and Ami Motevalli, director of the William Grant Still Arts Center.
  • Star System Jewelry Workshop (Feb. 16) – Inspired by the magical Afro-futuristic themes exhibited in Robert Pruitt – Devotion, attendees will make their own astronomy-based beaded necklace or bracelet and learn more about our place in the universe. Ages 5 and up. Space is limited, RSVP required.
  • On Film, Art, and Music with Gary Simmons (Feb. 16) – LA-based artist Gary Simmons, who created the Fade to Black installation in the CAAM atrium, will be joined by special guests to discuss film, architecture, and American popular culture.
  • What the world needs is… (Feb. 17) – Think about how you would complete the phrase “What the world needs is…” with a symbol or words, then make it into a poster. Presented in conjunction with Los Angeles Freedom Rally, 1963. Ages 7 and up.
  • CAAM Reads! (Feb. 17) – CAAM’s monthly book club continues this winter with titles selected in conjunction with The Notion of Family, which includes artworks from the 19th to the 21st centuries that chart a generational trajectory of African American family and togetherness. February’s selection is The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive and Reconnect with Their Fathers, written by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt.
  • In Conversation: Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Eve Xelestiál Moreno-Luz (Feb. 21) – In conjunction with The Notion of Family, artists Eve Xelestiál Moreno-Luz and Paul Mpagi Sepuya discuss the changing, fluid meaning of family, moving beyond the biological and historical definition to consider the concept and importance of “chosen family,” specifically for LGBTQIA+ communities and marginalized people.
  • Leveraging Influence: Black Celebrity & Activism (Feb. 26) – Legendary hip-hop artist KRS-One and history curator Tyree Boyd-Pates examine how black celebrity and activism have been instrumental in leveraging influence. KRS-One is a longtime activist against police brutality, the over-commercialization of rap music, and other platforms that impact urban communities.

African American Heritage Month (February 2019)

Presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), African American Heritage Month is a City of Los Angeles cultural celebration that runs concurrently with Black History Month. For a complete list of African American Heritage Month events, visit the DCA website.

Los Angeles Public Library (February 2019)

Numerous branches of the Los Angeles Public Library are hosting events for African American Heritage Month, including movie screenings, family storytime, arts & crafts, and panel discussions. Highlights include:

  • “Mama Africa” screening at Ascot Branch (Feb. 2)
  • “Red Tails,” the story of the Tuskegee Airmen at Sunland-Tujunga (Feb. 3)
  • Teen Book Club: “The Hate U Give” at Vermont Square Branch (Feb. 7, 21, 28)
  • Gospel Music Performance at Eagle Rock (Feb. 9)
  • Meet Lt. Col. Robert Friend of the Tuskegee Airmen at Sunland-Tujunga (Feb. 9)
  • “Killer of Sheep” screening at Vernon (Feb. 11)
  • Storytime with The Sunshine Storyteller, Ina Buckner-Barnette at Playa Vista (Feb. 12)
  • “Black Panther” at Central Library (Feb. 12)
  • Body Percussion (College Stepping) at Granada Hills (Feb. 16)
  • Jacob Lawrence & the Migration Series at Watts Branch (Feb. 19)
  • “Trip to Africa” at Junipero-Serra Branch (Feb. 19)
  • Do You Know Your Civil Rights History? at Central Library (Feb. 20)
  • Black History Goes West! at Mark Twain Branch (Feb. 21)
  • Photographer Bruce Talamon at Hyde Park (Feb. 23)
  • Jacques Lesure Jazz Trio at Angeles Mesa (Feb. 23)
  • Black Magic with Magician Greg G at Mar Vista (Feb. 26)
  • Storyteller Michael McCarty at Platt Branch (Feb. 27)
  • African American “Book Tasting” at Central Library (Feb. 27)

For a complete schedule, visit the LAPL calendar.

Hammer Museum (February 5-27, 2019)

Anita Hill famously spoke truth to power, as a black woman recounting before a Senate committee of white men the repeated sexual harassment she endured while working with US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Her testimony set off a political firestorm about gender, race, sexual harassment, and power that still resonates today. On Tuesday, Feb. 5 the Hammer Museum will screen the documentary Anita (2013) followed by a conversation with UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who assisted Hill’s legal team; and writer Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.

As the country’s last standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, United Skates (2018) spotlights a community of thousands who fight in a racially charged environment to save the underground African American subculture of roller skating. This “kaleidoscopically vibrant” (Variety) documentary examines an underappreciated world that has been formative to black music and culture. A Q&A with director Dyana Winkler follows the Feb. 13 screening.

On Feb. 16, artists Kandis Williams and Devin Troy Strother join gallery director Ebony L. Haynes for a discussion about the contemporary tensions of presenting the black body as it relates to sexuality, politics, and history.

Tressie McMillan Cottom’s debut collection of personal essays, Thick, mines for meaning everything from Saturday Night Live, LinkedIn, and BBQ Becky to sexual violence, infant mortality, and Trump rallies. On Wednesday, Feb. 27 McMillan is by joined by one of today’s most astute cultural critics, Roxane Gay, the author of Bad Feminist and Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.

Pan African Film & Arts Festival (February 7-18, 2019)

Now in its 27th year, the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) is the largest Black film festival and largest Black History Month event in the United States. PAFF is taking place Feb. 7-18 at the Cinemark Rave 15 Theatres and the adjacent Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The 12-day festival will feature more than 170 new films and 100 fine artists.

This year’s Opening Night is a red carpet screening of Amazing Grace, the long-delayed documentary of Aretha Franklin’s sessions for her double album of the same name. Recorded live over two nights at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Amazing Grace was released in June 1972 and became the best-selling live gospel album of all time.

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover, Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’net DuBois, and Executive Director Ayuko Babu.

FAME Church (February 10, 2019)

Established by Biddy Mason in 1872, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles is the oldest church founded by African Americans in LA. On Sunday, February 10 First AME church will partner with local politicians to celebrate African American Heritage Month. Senior Pastor J Edgar Boyd welcomes Mayor Eric Garcetti to the celebration, which will be held at the 9:55 a.m. worship service. The theme of the celebration will be “Tracing the paths of the African Diaspora.”

Skirball Cultural Center (February, 2019)

Barracoon: A Tribute to Zora Neale Hurston (February 10) 

In 1927, acclaimed African American novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston interviewed the last living freed slave who arrived on a slave ship from Africa. This remarkable oral history was only published in 2018. In honor of Black History Month, the Skirball Cultural Center presents a tribute to Hurston’s pioneering work with Tony Award winner L. Scott Caldwell and the venerable Bill Cobbs from the Ebony Repertory Theatre performing a staged reading from Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.” Tickets are $20 for General Admission and $15 for Skirball members and full-time students.

Cinema Tuesdays

Cinema Tuesdays, the Skirball’s free afternoon screenings showcase diverse human stories from around the world. Celebrate Black History Month with two modern classics, Killer of Sheep (Feb. 5) and Black Girl (Feb. 12).

Charles White – LACMA (Opens February 17, 2019)

Charles White: A Retrospective is the first major 21st-century museum retrospective on this famed mid-century artist. On view at LACMA from Feb. 17 to June 9, the exhibition traces White’s career and impact in the cities he called home: Chicago, his birthplace; New York, where he joined social causes and gained acclaim; and Los Angeles, where he developed his mature art and became a civil rights activist. The exhibition includes approximately 100 drawings and prints along with lesser-known oil paintings. A superb draftsman, White focused on images of both historical and contemporary African Americans, depicted in ideal portraits and everyday scenes. He extolled their dignity, humanity, and heroism in the face of the country’s long history of racial injustice and encouraged his viewers and fellow artists of color to project their own self-worth.

Two concurrent and complementary exhibitions will be on view in Los Angeles. Life Model: Charles White and His Students (Feb. 16 – Sept. 14, 2019) will be on view at LACMA’s satellite gallery at Charles White Elementary School, formerly Otis Art Institute, where the artist taught for many years; and Plumb Line: Charles White and the Contemporary (March 6 – Aug. 25, 2019) will be presented at the California African American Museum, an institution whose establishment White championed.

Battleship Iowa: Gravely Celebration Experience (February 21, 2019)

There is no better place in Los Angeles to celebrate and commemorate the impact African Americans have had in the United States Navy and to this country than Battleship IOWA, located at the L.A. Waterfront in San Pedro. The “Battleship of Presidents” is the same ship where Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, the first African American to command a Navy warship, served during his illustrious Naval career.

The Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Leadership & Service Award, which is conferred annually by the nonprofit Pacific Battleship Center (PBC), will be presented on Thursday, Feb. 21 aboard the historic ship. This award recognizes African American leaders in Southern California who exemplify the trailblazing service of the late Vice Admiral. This year’s recipients are Bill Coggins, VADM Walter Davis (Ret.), and Judge Mablean Ephriam. Sharing the stage will be Student Essay Contest winners, who have explored VADM Gravely’s motto: “Education, Motivation & Perseverance.” The celebration experience launches on the fantail of the Battleship IOWA with a sunset reception at 5:30pm, followed by the Starlit Award Program at 6:30 PM. For more info and to RSVP, visit the Gravely Celebration Experience website.

Cocktails & Conversation with Connie Orlando – The Paley Center (February 21, 2019)

On Thursday, Feb. 21 The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills welcomes BET’s dynamic Executive Vice President and Head of Programming, Connie Orlando for a conversation about her strategies for success. The powerhouse network has recently announced an ambitious slate of original programs, including the much talked about adaptation of The First Wives Club, a new Soul Train–inspired drama series, and projects from Halle Berry, Lena Waithe, and more.

African American Festival – Aquarium of the Pacific (February 23-24, 2019)

The Aquarium of the Pacific presents the 17th Annual African American Festival, taking place on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23-24. The weekend festival celebrates the rich diversity of African American and African cultures with live entertainment, arts and crafts, and more. Festival performers include Mardi Gras second line dancers, hip hop and break dancers, jazz musicians, interactive drum circles, West African dancers and storytellers. The festival is taking place from 9am to 5pm on both days and is included with paid general admission and free to Aquarium members.