This Black History Month, celebrate the culture-defining contributions of African American artists

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In 1958, a young photographer named Art Kane convened a dream ensemble of jazz legends for a photo that would become known as “A Great Day in Harlem.” This famous congregation of the most dynamic musicians on the planet—Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, among them—stands as a snapshot of Black brilliance and innovation that has advanced and enriched American art and culture from before its foundations.

It’s impossible to imagine the modern soundtrack of this nation without jazz, which grew from the blues, which grew from the spirituals, which grew from the African and Caribbean rhythms smuggled over in the dank holds of slave ships.

This Black History Month, we celebrate the essential contributions of transcendent African American artists in every form of art.

The story of American music runs through the genius of Mahalia Jackson and Robert Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday and John Coltrane and Nina Simone and Grandmaster Flash and Audra McDonald and Quincy Jones and James Brown and Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and Prince and Jay-Z and Beyoncé—the list could go on for days.

So, too, the histories of film (actors including Sidney Poitier, Viola Davis, Denzel Washington); directors Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins), theater (August Wilson, Lorraine Hansbury, Suzan-Lori Parks), and dance (Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Josephine Baker, Alvin Ailey, Misty Copeland).

And literature (James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Zora Neale Hurston), poetry (Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou) and oration (Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr.).

And visual arts (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jacob Lawrence, Kerry James Marshall), culinary arts (Edna Lewis, Marcus Samuelsson, Leah Chase, Toni Tipton-Martin), fashion (Andre Leon Talley, Ann Lowe) and architecture (Robert Robinson Taylor, Paul Revere Williams, Zena Howard).

… Just to scratch the surface.

Black artists have at once pursued surpassing beauty and pushed for social justice, honoring their ancestral and cultural roots while always driving American culture forward. “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth,” said Paul Robeson, the towering singer, actor, athlete and activist. “We are civilization’s radical voice.”

Here are some ways to engage, explore and support African American community and culture this Black History Month and beyond.


Henry Art Gallery – “LOVERULES” exhibits the work of Black conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (beginning in February).

MOHAI – “1OO Years of Junior League of Seattle” exhibits the work of Black Northwest artists Jacob Lawrence and Barbara Earl Thomas (opened February 3).

UW History Lecture Series – “Homes for Some: Seattle’s History of Housing and Racial Exclusion” by UW historian James Gregory (Feb. 7).

Northwest African American Museum – ongoing exhibits and events, plus Black History Month keynote program with Dr. Dorethea Williams of the Smithsonian Institution (February 15).

Washington State History Museum – presenting “Solidarity Now!” — the Smithsonian exhibit exploring the often-overlooked 1968 “Poor People’s Campaign” that redefined social justice and activism in America (opened February 3).

MoPOP – pop-up gallery celebrating revolutionary guitarist Bo Diddley, who “taught the blues to rock & roll” (all February).

Town Hall Seattle – hosting Tamara Payne on “The Life and Legacy of Malcolm X (February 7), Dr. Tina Campt on “Black Feminist Visual Culture” (February 8), Bassekou and Vieux Farka Touré “Celebrating Mali’s Rhythmic Soul (February 24).

Seattle Opera – presenting the West coast premiere of “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X” (February 24-March 9).

Confronting Hate Together – MOHAI hosts this community collaboration of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Wing Luke Museum and the Washington State Jewish Historical Society (February 24).

LANGSTON – Ijeoma Oluo speaks about her new book, “Be a Revolution” (February 27).

Call to Conscience Black History Museum – Columbia City Theatre turns into a museum celebrating Black excellence in the PNW (all February).

People’s Community Center – celebrate Black History with free events and activities at this Tacoma community resource (all February).

Tacoma Public Library – displaying the work Black artists (every Tuesday in February).

Elevating Voices – exhibit in Bellevue City Hall celebrates the work of 17 Black artists in the PNW (all February).

King County Library System – Kahoot! Black History Month trivia night (every Tuesday in February).

Explore – an essential online resource, created by UW emeritus professor Quintard Taylor, presents a comprehensive and accurate history of African Americans and people of African ancestry around the world.

Diversity at UW – portal to UW’s commitment to value and honor diverse experiences and perspectives, create welcoming and respectful learning environments and promote access, opportunity and justice for all.

UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity – the central UW organization creating pathways for diverse populations to access opportunities, achieve academic success and excel in a campus climate that enriches the educational experience for all.

Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project – UW-led resource bringing Seattle’s civil rights movements to life in oral histories, archival photos and documents and personal biographies.

UW Brotherhood and Sisterhood Initiatives – cohort programs providing opportunities for academic growth and leadership, exploration of intersecting identities and support to underrepresented men and women of color at UW.

UW Consulting and Business Development Center – accelerates student development while providing education and services to help grow businesses owned by people of color.

Support Black-owned Businesses – support the Black community by buying products and services from Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs—in Seattle and across the nation.

Books Beyond Black History Month – University Book Store highlights speculative fiction, fantasy and poetry written by Black American authors that ask questions about the connections between power and history, and what kind of future we can forge.

UW poet Colleen McElroy – the first full-time Black woman faculty member of the University of Washington passed away in December.

UW Medicine Department of Bioethics & Humanities – thoughtful commemoration of Black History Month from UW Medicine.

The Story Behind Black History Month – and why it’s celebrated in February from NPR.

28 Days of Black History – A virtual exhibition of 28 works that celebrate Black legacy in the U.S. in literature, art or artifact.

National Museum of African American History and Culture – The Smithsonian Institution celebrates Black History Month and offers a Searchable Museum with multimedia narratives, collections and educational resources.

Black Lives Matter – global political and social network combatting racism, discrimination, inequality and systemic violence experienced by Black communities.

TED Talk playlist – be inspired by thoughtful ruminations on Black identity and culture. Or give a listen to a Black History Month Playlist of podcasts.

Anti-Racist reading list – curated by Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Antiracist.”


You can support the development of the next generation of Black artists—and educators, entrepreneurs, engineers, attorneys, policy makers, accountants, scientists and physicians. Make a gift to a UW Combined Fund Drive fund that supports the education and development of Black students at the University of Washington:

UW Black Opportunity Fund – invests in services and programs for health and academic success of Black student organizations, the Brotherhood Initiative, Graduate Opportunities and Minority Achievement Program and the Women’s Center (charity code 1482916).

UW Costco Diversity Scholarshipsupports the UW Diversity Scholars Program, an intensive effort to increase the number of highly qualified, underrepresented minority students at UW (charity code 1481296).

UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity EOP Fund for Excellence – providing support and resources for the UW Educational Opportunity Program’s emergency scholarship support, programming, orientation and recognition events (charity code 0519565).

UW Association of Black Business Students Endowed ScholarshipProvides funding to support UW Business School students of African American heritage (charity code 1481305).