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The Best Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in New Orleans

Oretha Castle Haley
A mural along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

New Orleans is steeped in a rich, complex history dating back to the 1700s. Over 300 years, the city has been shaped by many different cultures and traditions, its African heritage being one of the greatest influences. This February, as we celebrate Black History Month, we’re taking a moment to continue to recognize the contributions of our past, present, and future African-American residents and leaders. Here are our top ways to celebrate Black History Month, plus a little lagniappe.

See a rare MLK Hearse Exhibit at the Convention Center

The New Orleans Morial Convention Center announces a special exhibit, “Carrying on the Dream” which features a rare display of the hearse that carried prominent civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s body, at the time of his death more than 50 years ago. The 1966 Cadillac Superior Coach hearse is on loan from Todd Graves, founder and CEO of Raising Cane’s, who led the efforts to bring the exhibit to New Orleans to remind young people what Martin Luther King, Jr. contributed to society. The exhibit which was brought to New Orleans to honor Black History Month will be on display in Lobby A of the Convention Center near the Julia Street Entrance every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through February 27. The exhibit is open to the public and free of charge courtesy of New Orleans and Company, The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, and Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 2 (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 2

Free people of color have a storied history in New Orleans. After being freed, many purchased vaults and tombs in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Their tombs each tell both a troubling and fascinating story. Hear the tales of black poets, writers, swordsman, and mathematicians on this unique tour. These tours are presented by Historic New Orleans Tours and start at Backatown Coffee Parlour. They’ll take you through Tremé and to historic spots such as Congo Square and Armstrong Park. The tour is 2.5 hours in length at 1:30 p.m. every day.

Feed your Soul at the Black History Literary Jazz Brunch

Celebrate past and present African-American writers at the fourth annual Black History Month Literary Jazz Brunch. The event showcases published, self-published, local, and independent authors, and introduces young authors to a new literary world. Guest speakers include Minister Bobbye Mathews of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. Strate Notes Jazz Band will perform live jazz at brunch. Literary lovers, don your best ivory or cream outfit and join this celebration of some of the best and brightest. The event takes place at Dooky Chase Restaurant on Saturday, Feb. 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets start at $50.

A mural along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Honor Mrs. Oretha Castle Haley

Celebrate the life and legacy of Mrs. Oretha Castle Haley, New Orleans civil rights icon. The annual New Orleans Jazz Orchestra Black History Month concert celebrates the lives, experiences, and achievements of African Americans that have shaped our country’s history. The event takes place at the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) on Friday, Feb. 7.

Attend an African Art Panel Discussion

On Friday, Feb. 7, the New Orleans Museum of Art presents Friday Nights at NOMA: African Art panel discussion. From 5-8 p.m., there will be an Art on the Spot drop-in activity table and music from Bamboula 2000, a music and dance group with influences from New Orleans, the Caribbean, and Africa. At 7 p.m., there will be a panel discussion on African art, moderated by Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, the Francoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art.

See BMike’s First Solo Exhibit

Local artist Brandan “BMike” Odums makes his solo exhibit debut at the Newcomb Art Museum with NOT Supposed 2-Be Here. Addressing the question of who or what kind of art belongs in a museum, the show explores four different takes on inclusion and identity drawn across notions of art, race, place, and accessibility. These themes take form as colossal paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and immersive installations – from one room that reckons with the spiritual impact of Katrina to another room that honors local legends from New Orleans Access Television (NOATV) and pays homage to Odums’ early roots in film and television during his time with 2-Cent Entertainment. Visit the exhibit now through May 23.

Experience “Crossroads” at the O

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art presents Melvin Edwards: Crossroads, an exhibition that explores the cross-cultural connections in the artist’s work from 1977 to the present. Opening Saturday, Feb. 8 and on view through July 5, 2020, this exhibition of 22 sculptures and installations focuses on the ways in which Edward’s dynamic welded steel works have been influenced by his singular vision of abstraction and by his personal experiences—from growing up during the civil rights era in the U.S. to engaging with a variety of African cultures. The museum hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

Torkwase Dyson with her installation Nautical Dusk, 2018. Photo by Gabe Souza, Courtesy of the Colby Museum of Art and Lunder Institute.

Visit “Torkwase Dyson: Black Compositional Thought” at NOMA

The New Orleans Museum of Art presents Torkwase Dyson: Black Compositional Thought (15 Paintings for the Plantationocene) on view January 24 through April 19, 2020. Produced for NOMA, this new series of 15 paintings layer dense, minimal shapes, diagrammatic lines, and thick textures of graphite, acrylic and charcoal over washes of deep blue paint. These compositions examine the legacy of plantation economies and their relationship to the environmental and infrastructural issues of the current age, often characterized as the plantationocene.

Attend “Daiq History + Holy Spirits Happy Hour”

The New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute presents: “Daiq History,” an intimate, one-hour hands-on cocktail class led by Cocktails by POP that focuses on the history of rum, molasses, and the roles they played in the American slave trade, as well as rum’s ever-evolving place in American cocktail culture. You’ll learn how to make the classic daiquiri and master the basics of mixology. Following the class, the Holy Spirits Happy Hour will feature cocktails, snacks, rooftop views, pop-up art installations and a live DJ. The event is Wednesday, Feb. 12 in NOCHI’s Beverage Lab. Tickets are $20 for the happy hour or $50 for the cocktail class plus happy hour.

Learn about Black History in New Orleans

The Historic New Orleans Collection is celebrating Black History Month throughout February with special guided tours of the Louisiana History Galleries that explore the history of free people of color in New Orleans. While both the French and Spanish authorities oversaw harsh regimes of enslavement in Louisiana, their colonial laws also granted property and legal rights to a growing population of free people of African descent in the 18th and 19th centuries. By 1830 gens de couleur libres (free people of color) represented over a third of the city’s population; however, the community faced increasingly stringent regulations and discrimination in the decades leading to the Civil War. The guided tour is available Tuesday-Sunday at 2 p.m., lasts approximately 45 minutes, and covers the historic origins, cultural contributions, and events surrounding free people of color in New Orleans. Tickets are free, and reservations are suggested.

Additionally, the Historic New Orleans Collection publishes First Draft showcasing stories from New Orleans’ history where you can learn more about the impact of African-Americans on the city’s civil rights, education, and more.

*Editor’s Note: For more ways to celebrate Black History Month, visit our guide here.

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