Celebrating Black History Month in St. Louis

Monday February 2, 2015

Old CourthouseSt. Louis’ African-American roots run deep. From St. Louis’ earliest days as a trading post on the western frontier, people of African descent have lived here and played a significant role in our history.

Early census figures show blacks, both free and slave, lived in St. Louis. A free woman of color known as Esther was a property owner in colonial St. Louis as early as 1765, and York, a black man, was a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition that explored the lands of the Louisiana Purchase.

Later, slave Dred Scott and his wife sued for their freedom here in a case that resulted in the historic decision that was a factor leading to the Civil War and the end of slavery.

Others left their marks, too—from Madame C. J. Walker, America’s first Black woman entrepreneur who built her business here, to musicians Scott Joplin and W. C. Handy.

St. Louis celebrates the rich thread Black history has woven into the fabric of St. Louis with many special events for Black History Month. Here is a sampling:

Best-selling author and award-winning host of public radio and public television shows Tavis Smiley will keynote St. Louis County Library’s month-long 2015 Black History celebration.

Smiley’s discussion of his new book “Death of a King” about Dr. Martin Luther King’s final year is just one in a series of several events in “Let Our Voices Be Heard,” the library’s 2015 Black History Month celebration. The series includes music, a talk on the history of black music in St. Louis, a new play and programs for children.

Smiley will speak at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7 at Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh in Frontenac. Doors open at 6 p.m. The program is free and open to the public.

The library calls Smiley’s book “a dramatic chronicle of the 12 months leading up to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and the trials and tribulations he faced following denunciations by the press and rejection by the president.” It adds: “Smiley’s ‘Death of a King’ paints a portrait of a leader and visionary in a narrative different from all that have come before. Here is an exceptional glimpse into King’s life—one that adds both nuance and gravitas to his legacy as an American hero.”

Highlights of Let Our Voices Be Heard

Other free Black History Month programs offered by St. Louis County Library:

The Black Rep will present “Anne & Emmett,” a moving new play, Anne & Emmett at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 6,. Anne Frank was just a teenager when most of her family was killed by the Nazis during World War II. Emmett Till was just a teenager when he was brutally murdered by racist thugs in 1950s Mississippi. Now they come to life in this play by Janet Langhart Cohen.

Talented St. Louis musicians will present Set the Night to Music at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 20 at the Florissant Valley Branch, 195 South New Florissant Road. The program will include saxophonist Rhoda G who has opened for many celebrated R&B, both in the U.S. and abroad and R&B singer Tish Haynes, a mezzo-soprano who has performed in numerous musicals. She has served as a background vocalist for several plays at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Refreshments will be served.

Gift of Gospel Celebration will feature a myriad of gospel artists who will leave visitors feeling encouraged and inspired. The event will happen at 7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Florissant Valley Branch, and will feature the Voices of Glory, made popular by “America’s Got Talent.” Refreshments will be served. Early arrival recommended as seating is limited.

History of Black Music in Arch City, a 90-minute workshop, will focus on the music and myths of St. Louis’ major African American musicians including jazz artist Miles Davis; rock ‘n roller Chuck Berry; blues musician Albert King and hip-hopper Nelly. Freedom Arts and Education presents this program for persons age 13 and older. Registration is required. The program will be held at the following branches: Grand Glaize, 1010 Meramec Station Road, Manchester; Mid-County,7821 Maryland Ave., Clayton; Natural Bridge, 7606 Natural Bridge Road; Prairie Commons, 915 Utz Lane, Hazelwood and Thornhill, 12863 Willowyck Drive. You can find dates and times on the library’s website.

Kids of all ages can artistically explore the function of drums and percussion as a means of cultural communication and expression at Drumology: From Africa to the Americas, a program by Springboard. For dates, times and branches that will have the program, go to the library’s website.

Kids ages three and up can experience a hands-on introduction to various African percussion instruments followed by The Lion and the Mouse, a puppet show by Papa and Jackie Wright. For dates, times and branches that will have the program, see the library’s website.

Missouri History Museum Programs

The Missouri History Museum features programs celebrating black history all year long. Here are related events scheduled for February (all programs are at the museum, 5700 Lindell Boulevard in Forest Park):

“Against All the Odds, A Documentary of East St. Louis, Illinois” will be shown and discussed at 3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 1 at the Museum. The documentary features candid interviews, striking imagery, and rarely seen archival footage taken after the 1917 East St. Louis race riots, along with traditional jazz and blues recordings. The film offers a unique cultural and historical perspective of this city. The 60-minute screening is followed by a panel discussion. The program is free.

Select films submitted by filmmakers throughout the world will be screened to promote the knowledge, life, and culture of the people of Africa at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival Feb. 6-8.

In “Tam-Tam of Africa,” Diadie Bathily, director of Afriky Lolo, uses dance and drum to tell an inspiring story about African cultures throughout the diaspora. The free event happens at 7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 20 and Saturday, Feb. 21.

“Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion” will feature Lerone Martin, professor at Eden Theological Seminary, discussing the oft-overlooked religious history of the phonograph industry. The free event takes place at 1 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 21.

A panel of experts at The Black Family Forum will explore the composition of African-American families which is often treated as a root cause for success or failure in American society and offer insights on the past, present and future of the black family. The free event takes place at 3 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 22.

Webster University

Following several events celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, Webster University will host Black History Month programs including:

Step Afrika, a percussive dance group based in Washington, DC., will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31 in Grant Gymnasium, 175 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $5 per person.

The focus turns to music two days later when, on Monday, Feb. 2, Jazz at Webster presents The music of Billie Holiday at 7 p.m., at Winifred Moore Auditorium 470 E. Lockwood Ave. Performers Kim Fuller, Carolbeth True, Tom Byrne, Jeff Anderson, and Kevin Gianino will perform several of Holiday’s songs, including “Lady Sings the Blues,” “God Bless the Child,” “Them There Eyes,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Our Love is Here to Stay.” Tickets are $5; seniors, $3.

The Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs will host a Black History Month trivia contest at 8 p.m., Feb. 12 in the Sunnen Lounge in the University Center, 175 Edgar Road. Students in teams of six to eight students will be challenged to recite their knowledge of fashion, arts, sports, music and movies.

The Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement also will host two events for Black History Month:

Conversations on Rethinking Possible Women of Color Leading the Way, a panel discussion, will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 18 in the East Academic Building (EAB). Four women of color will participate in a conversation sharing triumphs, trials, barriers, lessons learned and ah-ha moments. The event is free and open to the public. A reception will precede the discussion at 5:15 p.m.

Conversations on Rethinking Possible Black Male Privilege, will be held at 6 p.m., Feb. 25 in the EAB. The event, which is also free and open to the public, will feature four men of color discussing the meaning of ‘Black Male Privilege,’ myths, stereotypes, image, strategies for success, systemic advantages and having a seat at “the table.” A reception will precede the discussion at 5:15 p.m.

St. Louis Symphony

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” an annual concert that celebrates African-American cultures and traditions that have influenced St. Louis history, will feature Kevin McBeth, conductor; Grammy-winner, performer, songwriter Patti Austin and St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON® Chorus. They will celebrate the achievements of African-American musicians and composers.  Tickets to the concert, slated for 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 13 at Powell Hall, 718 North Grand Boulevard, are $25.

St. Louis Public Library

The St. Louis Public Library is celebrating Black History Month with multi-event theme called “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”

Crisis management expert Judy Smith will give the keynote event entitled Crisis 101: Surviving and Thriving in an Era of Perpetual Crisis and How it Relates to African American History and Culture. at 2 p.m., Feb. 22 at Central Library, 1301 Olive St. The event is free and open to the public.

Smith, author of “Good Self, Bad Self,” is the founder and president of Smith & Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. In her role as crisis management advisor, Smith has served as a consultant for a host of high profile, celebrity and entertainment clients including Monica Lewinsky, Senator Craig from Idaho, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., actor Wesley Snipes, NFL quarterback Michael Vick, celebrity chef Paula Deen, and the family of Chandra Levy. Her work inspired Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC’s hit television dramas Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, to develop a television drama about the world of crisis management.

At 7 p.m., Feb. 11 artist Kadir Nelson will address the Black History Month theme at the library’s Schlafly branch, 225 N. Euclid Ave. Nelson’s paintings are in the private and public permanent collections including the Muskegon Museum of Art, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the International Olympic Committee, and the U.S. House of Representatives. His clients include The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, the Coca-Cola Company, the United States Postal Service, Major League Baseball, and Dreamworks SKG. He was the lead conceptual artist for Steven Spielberg’s Oscar® nominated feature film, Amistad.   He also created cover artwork for Michael Jackson’s posthumously release album, Michael, and the recording artist Drake’s Nothing Was the Same.

Nelson has authored and illustrated several award-winning New York Times bestselling picture books including, We Are The Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball; Heart and Soul: The Story of American and African Americans; Nelson Mandela; and most recently, Baby Bear, published by HarperCollins in 2014.

On February 28 all branches will offer St. Louisans an opportunity to be part of the African-American Read-In Chain. Sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English, this day-long event celebrates African-American authors. Participants must contact their branch to reserve seating.

The library’s celebration also includes an array of programs for teens, children and families including hands-on art and video projects at various branches. You can see a schedule of all of the offerings at the library’s website.

The University of Missouri St. Louis has a full slate of Black History Month activities planned.

Events are free unless otherwise noted:

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, 12:30 p.m., Feb. 4 at Millennium Student Center, 1 University Blvd. This documentary explores the social, economic and legislative issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America – and the city centers in which they were built. It also traces the personal and poignant narratives of several of the residents of St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe public-housing complex.

Soul’d Out, 7 p.m., Feb. 5, Millennium Student Center. This event is a celebration of African-Americans in the Arts

Dear White People, 7 p.m., Feb. 6 at Millennium Student Center. The social satire follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where controversy breaks out over a popular but offensive black-face party thrown by white students. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the film explores racial identity in acutely not-post-racial America while weaving a universal story of forging one’s unique path in the world.

The Step Team Showcase, 3 p.m., Feb. 7 at the Touhill. This annual event by Associated Black Collegians showcases high school and middle school step teams competing. Tickets are $7 in advance, $10 day of show.

“From Marches to Millennials, 4:30 p.m., Feb. 9, Millennium Student Center. This community forum explores the evolution of activism in St. Louis over the decades.

“Lunch & Learn: History of Soul Food, 2 p.m., Feb. 10, Millennium Student Center. Here’s a chance to explore the difference between soul food and southern food and how certain foods came to be identified as soul food.

Black History Trivia Night, 7 p.m., Feb. 11, Millennium Student Center. Grab some friends and show what you know about black history. Tables are $50 per team (max 10 people) or $5 a person. Register at the front desk in the Office of Student Life at UMSL.

Black Love III, 7 p.m., Feb. 12, Millennium Student Center. This event explores the dynamics of dating, commitment and healthy relationships in the black community.

Spanish Lake, 12:30 p.m., Feb. 25, Millennium Student Center. This documentary focuses on economic oppression in the suburb of Spanish, Mo.

An African American Identity Workshop held at 3:30 p.m., Feb. 25, Lucas Hall, will focus on little-known African American pioneers that have made contributions to the history of the United States.

“An Evening with Sonia Sanchez and Jessica Care Moore. 7 p.m., Feb. 25, Lee Theater, Touhill Center. This discussion focuses on activism over time, nationally and the role that the cultural arts and creativity play in our collective advancement. Tickets (general admission $7) available at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

For more information, check out the complete schedule of Black History Month events on campus.

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