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Black History Month Events in Newport News

From live theater and musical productions to lectures and an exhibition by a local photographer, Newport News has a number of ways to celebrate the African-American experience to commemorate Black History Month in February. Check out our list below and click here for more on African-American history in Newport News.

Once on this Island LIVE!

Coming live to the Ella Fitzgerald theater stage is this highly original and theatrical Caribbean adaptation of the popular fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, which garnered eight Tony nominations for its Broadway run, including Best Musical, Book and Score. Ti Moune, a peasant girl, rescues a wealthy boy, Daniel, from the other side of the island … and falls in love. Unbeknownst to Ti Moune, the pompous gods who preside over the island make a bet with one another. They bet on what is stronger: love or death, with the stakes being Ti Moune's life. When she pursues Daniel, who has returned to his people, Ti Moune is shunned because of her lowly status. Her determination and capacity to love, though, is not enough to win Daniel's heart, and Ti Moune pays the ultimate price; but the gods turn Ti Moune into a tree that grows so strong and so tall, it breaks the wall that separates the societies and ultimately unites them.

Uptown Nights: Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Inspired by Harlem’s famed musical hot spots like The Cotton Club and The Savoy, this swingin’ night of musical sensations focuses on Harlem’s heyday – a time when Duke Ellington’s orchestra was the house band, and Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ethel Waters showcased the classics! Thrill to the vocals of Carmen Bradford and the fancy footwork of tap dancer Leo Manzari. Byron Stripling is heralded as a “powerhouse trumpeter gifted with a soulful voice and a charismatic onstage swagger.” He’ll explore a magical world of song and dance popularized in the clubs of the ‘40s and ’50s.

Through the Eyes of Photographer William "Bill" Grace

In honor of his recent 92nd birthday, this exhibition presents a survey of the photographic work of William “Bill” Grace of Newport News. Grace has been practicing photography since his youth. Following graduation from high school in Pittsburgh, where he served as the class photographer, Grace worked as a photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of only two African-American newspapers in the country at the time. To accommodate his work, he painted his bedroom black and converted it into a darkroom. Grace eventually joined the U.S. Air Force, where he remained 22 years. Throughout his time in the military, he maintained his proficiency in photography and computer technology, allowing him to make a smooth transition from film to digital photography. Landscape, nature and street photography are Grace’s preferred subjects. In recent years, he has been using drones to gain new photographic perspectives. Grace operates a company called Unique Photography and is active in professional associations, including the Virginia Professional Photography Association and the Southeastern Photography Association, as well as the Professional Photographers of America, which has both published and exhibited his photographs.

Celebrating the Achievements of Four Black Scientists

The Virginia Living Museum will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four African- American scientists. An educator will lead visitors in activities related to one of the scientist's fields of studies on the following dates:

1. Feb. 5-6: Herpetologist Dr. Earyn McGee – Passionate about diversity in natural resource careers and science communication, Dr. McGee is probably most known for her viral social media game #FindThatLizard, inspired after she posted a picture on Twitter of a lizard camouflaged so well even she had a hard time finding it! Since then, Dr. McGee has shared weekly a picture of lizard and asks everyone to #FindThatLizard.

2. Feb. 12-13: Inventor James West – Born in Farmville, Va., West graduated from Temple University with a degree in physics and went on to work at Bell Labs for 40 years. While at Bell Labs, he and a colleague invented a technology for microphones that is now used in devices such as telephones, camcorders, hearing aids, baby monitors, and audio recording devices.

3Feb. 19-20: Astronaut Candidate Dr. Andre Douglas –Recently selected to join NASA’s astronaut candidate class Dr. Douglas is a graduate of West Branch High School in Chesapeake. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and then went on to receive three master’s degrees before getting a doctorate from George Washington University. His astronaut training will take about two years to complete and includes systems training with the International Space Station, spacewalk skills training, and flight-readiness training.

4. Feb. 26-27: Computer Scientist Khalia Braswell – After first becoming interested in computers in fourth grade, Braswell began coding in HTML on MySpace and went on to attend a technology academy for high school. She then earned an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master’s in information technology at N.C. State. While working at Apple, Braswell created INTech Camp for Girls to inspire them to work in technology. INTech targets Black and Latina girls in grades 6-12 through summer camps and after-school programs. Here, girls learn how to build software solutions, are introduced to women of color in tech, and they explore tech careers. Braswell is currently a PhD candidate at Temple University.

2022 Black History PRograms at The MAriners' Museum & Park

The Mariners’ Museum and Park presents a variety of programs recognizing the rich history and culture of Blacks, Africans, and African Americans who helped shape the world. Programs are offered in a variety of formats. Registration may be required. Click here for more information.

African Maritime Collage

  • 10 am - 2 pm - Feb. 5
  • In-person event (registration not required)

Celebrate with The Mariners’ Museum and Park in February as it recognizes Africa and its people and the key role they played in maritime trade and global expansion for centuries. Using African fabrics, found objects, embellishments and photographs from the Museum’s Collections, visitors will learn how to create collages with personal meaning. This family friendly program will allow Mariners of all ages the opportunity to experiment with collage as a powerful form of artistic expression.

Doris "Dorie" Miller: An American Hero

  • 1 pm - Feb. 8
  • Virtual event (registration required)

The events of Pearl Harbor are among our nation's darkest moments in history. In the face of danger, Doris “Dorie” Miller, an African-American sailor, stepped up and defended his country in a way no person of color in the U.S. Navy had done before. His actions earned him honors and recognition, which we still remember today in film and ships which bear his name. Dorie Miller's heroic story looks at the segregated Navy of the past, and represents how his actions helped spur the integration of the US Navy.

Lecture: Emphatically, the Black Man's President - African Americans and Abraham Lincoln

  • 7 pm - Feb. 17
  • In-person and virtual event (registration required)

Before the Civil War, African Americans were almost entirely excluded from the White House, other than as servants or slaves. Yet, the racial color line was broken down during the war as African Americans claimed the First Amendment right to petition the government. For the first time in the history of the United States, they saw the president as their president and the White House as their people’s house. Between 1862 and 1865, Lincoln welcomed hundreds of African-American men and women into his White House office and at public receptions. Lecture presented by Jonathan W. White, associate professor of American Studies at Christopher Newport University.

Civil War Lecture: The Honorable Robert Smalls

  • 12 pm - Feb. 18
  • In-person and virtual event (registration required)

Robert Smalls was born enslaved on February 23, 1839, in Beaufort, S.C. He was working as a harbor pilot when the Civil War erupted. Smalls became the helmsman of the Confederate gunboat CSS Planter. Disguised as the steamer’s captain, he was able to take the ship and most of the crewmembers and their families out past Fort Sumter guarding Charleston harbor. Smalls surrendered the steamer to USS Onward during the early morning of May 13, 1862. He continued as a pilot on several different Union warships until the war ended. Then he gained literacy and purchased his former enslaver’s home in Beaufort. He collaborated in several successful business ventures and had an equally successful political career. He served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the collector of the Port of Beaufort, and served as ambassador to Liberia. Smalls died on February 23, 1915, a recognized leader and strong proponent of African-American rights and service in the military. Lecture presented by John V. Quarstein, director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center.

Africa's Kingdoms and Maritime Cultures: The Nilotic People

  • 1 pm - Feb. 24
  • Virtual event (registration required)

Regions around the Nile River are home to the indigenous Nilotic people. For thousands of years, they have migrated along the Nile's tributaries, populating the landscape. This program delves into the cultures, traditions, and practices of many of these tribal groups, and how they are viewed in our world today. Presented by Erika Cosme, Museum Content and Interpretation Developer.

Hampton Roads History Lecture: Harriet Buss - Educator of Freed People

  • 12 pm - Feb. 25
  • Virtual event (registration required)

Regions around the Nile River are home to the indigenous Nilotic people. For thousands of years, they have migrated along the Nile's tributaries, populating the landscape. This program delves into the cultures, traditions, and practices of many of these tribal groups, and how they are viewed in our world today. Presented by Erika Cosme, Museum Content and Interpretation Developer.

From the Motherland: The Legends and Tales of Africa

  • In-person event - 10 am - 12 pm - Feb. 26
  • Virtual event - 1 pm - 2 pm - (registration required)

The continent of Africa is diverse with its own unique set of mythology, legends, and folktales that were inspired by the sea. Discover the stories and elements that are shared between the cultures and are still being told in today’s pop culture through movies and television. A short guided tour of Black maritime artifacts in the museum will be held immediately following the program.