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How to Honor Black History Month in California

How to Honor Black History Month in California

Celebrate Black history through enlightening events, notable sites, and award-winning museums

Posted 2 months agoby Jessica Sebor

An annual celebration of African Americans’ powerful legacy, Black History Month has been honored in California—and nationwide—every February for nearly 100 years, beginning with Carter G. Woodson's establishment of Negro History Week in 1926. This year, though you’ll find a few parades and festivals remain on pause, there are still plenty of ways to recognize Black excellence in the Golden State and reflect on the continued struggle for racial justice across the country.

“Both the natural landscape and built environment of our state are filled with the significance of California’s African American past,” says Susan Anderson, history curator of the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles. “Black history is often under-researched and underrepresented, and there is so much out there for people to experience year-round. Black History Month is a way of opening that door.” Explore, honor, learn, and uplift Black history in California through these February events and others that you can experience any month of the year.

Visit an African American Historical Site

As an expert in California Black history, CAAM’s Anderson notes a few historically significant places across the state that “invite reflection, learning, pride, and sometimes heartache.” In eastern San Diego County, spend a night at the Julian Hotel, founded by African American couple Margaret and Albert Robinson in 1887. Head to the Central Valley to find Tulare County’s Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, the site of a restored town that was originally founded and governed by African Americans in 1908, and Stockton’s Moses Rodgers House, the former home of an enslaved man turned wealthy mine owner. Other sites that offer insight into the critical but often forgotten role African Americans played in the California Gold Rush include Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, where visitors can learn about one of the American River’s largest gold camps founded by African American miners, and Sonora’s Sugg House, a boarding house founded by a formerly enslaved couple who came to California during the Rush.

Of course, the state’s two largest metropolitan areas have their share of Black history–related historical sites as well. In Los Angeles, locations include Biddy Mason Memorial Park, where you can learn about the inspiring woman who fought successfully to free her family in 1856, and El Pueblo de Los Angeles, a living museum dedicated to the city’s 44 founders, more than half of which were of African descent. Head 380 miles up the coast, and the Bay Area is home to many important Black Panther Party locations like It’s All Good Bakery in Oakland, while San Francisco’s Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park honors the powerful African American woman who funded anti-discrimination measures in the late 1800s.

Attend a Black History Month Event

From film festivals to cooking demonstrations, California-based organizations are throwing a number of great events for Black History Month in 2023. At UC San Diego, take in a Black History Month exhibit focusing on Black health and wellness. The university is also hosting—with house DJ/producer King Benjamin Britt as the master of ceremonies—the exhibit Blacktronika: Afrofuturism in Electronic Music, which will honor people of color who have played groundbreaking roles in multiple genres of music. If you’re in town on March 3, check out the Blacktronica: Club Experience event, where attendees can revel in music curated by Britt, played on a high-powered sound system (registration is required, but admission is free).

Visit Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs website for a comprehensive list of events all around the city, including an African Marketplace and Drum Circle at the farmers’ market in Leimert Park and the 42nd Annual Black Doll Show at the William Grant Still Art Center. At the Californian African American Museum, there are two events pegged to the monthlong celebration: the KCRW Open House Dance Party, which will feature food trucks and an outdoor beer garden, and the Black History Month Prosperity Market, where you can mingle with Black farmers, chefs, and entrepreneurs, as well as attend cooking demonstrations, a meditative sound bath, and a yoga session. Also in Los Angeles, hear the speakers at the Los Angeles Black History Month Festival (Feb. 19) at Baldwin Hills’ Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex.

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio is celebrating the month with a series of events that recognize the achievements and culture of members of the African diaspora. Every Saturday and Sunday of February at 2 p.m., visitors can take in a screening of Black Panther (2018); on Sunday, February 5, there will be a virtual story time with author Clothilde Ewing via Zoom for a reading of her story, “Stella Keeps the Sun Up”; and on Thursday, February 23 in the museum’s theater, there will be an in-person symposium with Bruce W. Smith and Ralph Farquhar, the creative team behind Disney Channel’s pioneering animated series The Proud Family (2001–2005) and The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder (2022).

For more ideas, explore events hosted by the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society, the San Diego Public Library, and the cities of PasadenaSanta Monica, and Anaheim, to name a few.

Put Black Arts and Cultural Institutions on Your Travel Must-See List

Take a deeper dive into African American history, arts, and culture at one of California’s many museums. At the African American Historical and Cultural Museum of the San Joaquin Valley, you can find permanent and rotating exhibits centered on the history of the Fresno area and beyond. The aforementioned CAAM, in L.A.’s Exposition Park, focuses on the broader legacy of Black Americans across California and the western United States through more than 4,000 works of art, artifacts, and historical documents.

San Francisco highlights its African American communities and history year round along the African-American Freedom Trail, which includes stops at the Museum of the African Diaspora in the Yerba Buena Arts District, The MLK Memorial, and a statue of Willie Mays, as well as many great Black-owned restaurants, bakeries, and shops. Near Hayes Valley, find the 34,000-square-foot African American Art and Culture Complex, home to galleries, exhibition spaces, dance studios, a library, theater, and more. Across the bay in Oakland, visit The African American Museum & Library, which is dedicated to preserving the African American experience through first-hand accounts, including photos, art, periodicals, and diaries.

Learn from Black California Writers

Given the ongoing pandemic, now is a great time to cultivate a deeper understanding of the power, contributions, and impact of Black Californians with these books by authors from across the state. Browse the online selection at Eso Won Books, a Los Angeles institution highlighting the work of African American creators.

  • Black Artists in Oakland by Jerry Thompson and Duane Deterville

  • Black California: A Literary Anthology edited by Aparajita Nanda

  • Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West by Albert S Broussard

  • A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia Butler and No Crystal Stair: African-Americans in the City of Angels by Lynell George

  • Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era by Alison Rose Jefferson

  • Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Across the Golden State, support these great Black-owned businesses, too.

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