Photo: Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
Historian and scholar Carter G. Woodson launched Black History Month in 1926 as a way to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans.
It started as a week-long celebration, but in 1976, it was extended for the entirety of February, coinciding with the birthday months of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, who both did so much to lay the foundation for the future success of Black lawyers, judges, politicians, activists, scientists, and entrepreneurs.
If you want to learn more about some of the incredible Black movers and shakers in American history, check out this overview from History.com. We also got several new films to add to our growing queue from this AARP roundup of great Black directors. And now, our nightstand is overflowing thanks to this compendium of great novels by Black writers from Oprah Magazine.
Please read on for some of our favorite places in New York where Black history — American history — happened, and is celebrated.
115 John Brown Road, Lake Placid
Famed abolitionist John Brown’s last home and burial site provides a look at life in the 19th century, while also sharing insight into the famous Civil War hero and the fight for Black freedom. Visitors will also find “Dreaming of Timbuctoo,” an exhibit that shares the story of the Black farming community created by Gerrit Smith in the Adirondacks. There are also hiking trails on-site.
120 E 125th Street, New York
Dr. Marta Morena Vega opened the institute in 1976, with the goal of making visible the under-the-radar history, culture, and journey of people of African descent. There are several virtual programs set for February, including Afro-Latinx Revolution: Puerto Rico, Curators in Conversation with Grace Aneiza Ali, and The Orisha Tradition: An African Worldview. Tune in and sign up here.
Photo: Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute
3490 Broadway, New York
A memorial to slain Civil Rights leader Malcom X, and his wife Dr. Betty Shabazz, the site also serves as a cultural institution that sheds light on their lives, accomplishments, and message. The museum features archives and multimedia exhibitions.
Photo from Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational Center
80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn
MoCADA shares exhibits that examine the experiences and cultural contributions of people of African descent. It was founded in 1999 in a building owned by the Bridge Street AWME Church, which used to be a key link on the Underground Railroad. In 2006, MoCADA moved into a larger, 1,700 square foot space. MoCADA’s website is as rich as its exhibition space (which is temporarily closed due to COVID concerns). Log on for an incredible collection of rich reading, listening, and viewing material.
Photo: Brooklyn based photographer Kimani Howell
290 Broadway, Manhattan
This monument commemorates the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for enslaved and free Africans. The site was discovered in 1989 during a cultural resource survey that was conducted prior to new construction on a building; intact skeletal remains were found 30 feet below ground, and a six-acre ground containing 15,000 buried people was soon detected. The monument honors those who are buried there, while also highlighting the often hidden role of slavery in New York City. Connected to the memorial is an interpretive center and research library that document the financial and physical contributions of Africans in colonial-era New York.
Photo: African Burial Ground National Monument
648 Route 32, Stillwater
About 400 Black soldiers joined the Continental Army and helped the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, which historians believe turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. Their role in the battle is honored at Saratoga National Historical Park, a gorgeous green-space with woods, trails, rolling hills, and meadows, in addition to war monuments and cannons.
Saratoga Monument. Photo: National Park Service
145 Broadway, Buffalo
This club was launched in 1917 as a response to discrimination from an all-white musicians union. Now, the club is the only African American club of its kind, and was designated a historical preservation site in 1999, with an attached museum. Multiple legends have played, and continue to play, there, including Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Holiday.
Photo: Harlem Heritage Tourism & Cultural Center
180-182 South Street, Auburn
Harriet Tubman emancipated first herself at age 27 from slavery, then helped free members of her family. Eventually, she became a key leader in the Underground Railroad, making several dangerous trips to free more than 300 other enslaved people. Within the 32-acre park is a two-story frame church built in 1891, where she worshipped during her time in Auburn. Her grave is across the street at Fort Hill Cemetery.
Photo: Department of the Interior
1131 Mace Chasm Road, Ausable Chasm
This museum traces the real-life stories of freedom seekers who passed through this region of New York on their way to freedom in Canada. The stories of prominent Civil Rights leaders and former slaves are featured alongside success stories, escape routes, exhibitions, and special programs. The museum’s logo — the North Star and the Lantern — embodies the museum’s mission. The North Star is the light in the night sky that guided enslaved people to freedom, and the Lantern would burn in the windows of safe homes on the Underground Railroad, as a symbol of hope and faith.
Photo: North Star Underground Railroad Museum
825 Depot Avenue West, Niagara Falls
Here, visitors will hear the story of how Harriet Tubman and her fellow Niagara Falls citizens worked to free enslaved Americans. It will share the story of how they used the rivers and waters that meandered through the region as a way to secrete and ferry people to freedom further north. The mission of the Heritage Center is to illuminate the real story of abolition and trace a line from slavery to very real modern social injustice. The goal is to educate and inspire visitors to leave the Center with the goal of creating a more equitable society.
Photo: Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center
5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro
It is in the same building (Smithfield Community Center, formerly known as Peterboro Presbyterian Church) that hosted the inaugural meeting of the New York State Antislavery Society in 1835 that the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum is located. The Hall of Fame honors inductees who have been nominated over the years (you, too, can submit a nomination). The Museum is currently closed due to COVID but their website has anti-racism resources and virtual events like Black History Matters, “a series of twenty-eight introductory short ‘crash courses’ addressing various aspects of Black American history and culture”.
Photo: National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum
How are you celebrating Black History Month?