Coming off a year when race dominated the national conversation, Black History Month is more relevant than ever. There’s a lot of soul searching going on and a quest for knowledge and understanding. While ordinarily a reckoning of this magnitude might have meant hitting the road to soak up history first-hand, many people aren’t traveling during pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean you have to skip your Black history education. Get comfy on your coach and let your computer take you on a journey through the past. There is a myriad of virtual Black History experiences for the youngest to the eldest.
Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island may be a tiny state, but it has a big black history story. Rhode Island was involved in 60 to 90 percent of America's international slave trade. The DeWolf family of nearby Bristol was the biggest slave-trading dynasty in America. Providence is home to Brown University—some alumni, corporation members and members of its namesake family participated in the slave trade. You can learn more about the legacy of slavery in Providence and its aftermath with the virtual version of Providence Walks: An Early Black History Tour.
The Oregon Black Pioneers based in Salem is Oregon’s only historical society dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of African Americans statewide. It hosts a 360-degree virtual tour and video, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years. Oregon in its own way was the wild, wild, west. Racist attitudes and policies of exclusion had their place in society then. Oregon saw its share of fires and vandalism that destroyed Black-owned neighborhoods. You’ll also see and hear the stories of resilience, of a Black community that fought to overcome obstacles.
You read about the American Revolution in grade school, but don’t assume you got the full monty. The Museum of the American Revolution seeks to fill in the missing pieces about women, native people, and free and enslaved Blacks. Finding Freedom shares five tales of Blacks in Virginia during the Revolutionary War and the paths they each took to freedom. Spoiler alert: you might need a hanky. Another must-see is the one-woman theatrical performance that highlights the life of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, who upset the status quo when she sued for her freedom and won. Her victory helped pave the way to the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts.
The Legacy Project
Microsoft goes all out with The Legacy Project: A Celebration of Black Changemakers and Their Contributions to Modern Day American History. Microsoft partnered with 13 leading Black History Museums, historical landmarks, cultural centers, athletes, and civic influencers to provide a month-long series of free, immersive and interactive experiences for K-12 schools. What can students expect? A virtual walk with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join in the fight for Civil Rights in the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches of 1965. They’ll hear inspirational children’s stories read by NBA and NFL players for K-2nd graders, fly through the eyes of WWII’s Tuskegee Airmen, hit a home run with Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, explore the legacy of the African Americans in the US military at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, and more. Schools, youth programs and families can enroll in the program.
African Americans have long played a pivotal role in the military. The African American Military History Museum celebrates those contributions with exhibitions portraying Buffalo Soldiers, Tuskegee Airmen and servicemen and women from the greater Hattiesburg area, including the first African American naval aviator Jesse L. Brown, whose story is in the upcoming movie Devotion, which recounts how a pair of the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen risked their lives, 70 years ago, during the Korean War. Enjoy the museum’s virtual tour.
Montgomery is known for its bus boycott that was the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation. The Civil Rights Memorial and Center in Montgomery chronicles the history of the Civil Rights Movement and a 10-minute virtual tour provides an overview of the importance of the Center and includes a view of “The March Continues” hallway, which recognizes individuals who recently lost their lives to hate and injustice. Top off the experience and download the activity book for children.
Music is the soundtrack of our lives. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Black History Month celebration can be viewed virtually through the It’s Been Said All Along: Voices of Rage, Hope & Empowerment exhibit that showcases the musical and visual artists who created art as a response to unspeakable tragedy and to promote social justice. The collection includes Aretha Franklin’s Valentino dress worn during her first appearance at Radio City Music Hall, a jumpsuit worn by James Brown and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” lyrics and more.
Wilmington and Island Beaches, North Carolina
Take advantage of the trio of tours offered by the African American Heritage Foundation of Wilmington. The Heart and Soul: Black Advancement Through Church Life provides a virtual tour of churches, revealing the spiritual and architectural diversity reflected in African American spiritual life in Wilmington’s history. Travel Through History: African American Placemaking on the Lower Cape Fear highlights how African Americans contributed to the social, economic, political and religious development of the region. And Spoken Treasures: Samples from the African American Heritage Museum of Wilmington’s Oral History Collection includes interviews with Wilmington’s residents recalling the past.
This data-driven website is a treasure trove of information on the historical and cultural contributions of people of color. You can settle in for a while and pick and choose among goodies like the Black in the Day Black History video series, which features a different Black history video daily. BlackFacts.com also offers a Black History Heroes video series that celebrates the life and legacy of the heroes and living legends of Black History.
Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services, Washington, D.C.
The Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit is a powerful homage to Black men. Its Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. is bold contemporary art, photographs, quotes, literary excerpts, and essential stories about revolutionary men. Men of Change weaves history into the moment. Learn about the impact these men had and their roots in rich community traditions.
Power is the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way. Leave it to Oaktown to keep it real. The Oakland Museum of California’s exhibit Black Power is not to be missed. The focus here is the Black Panther Party. The exhibits shed light on the tensions between a culturally and socially progressive California and examples of economic racism and oppression in the state. In the late 1960s, some Civil Rights activists grew frustrated that their political victories had not defeated racism. Economic and political discrimination continued as activists were beaten, arrested, and killed. For those who had lost faith in using only nonviolent tactics, Black Power was the answer. Black Power explores the history of the Black Power movements in California and the Bay Area's role in this national story.