PORTSMOUTH, VA – The City of Portsmouth’s eighth annual program Black History Now 2023, a partnership between the Department of Museums and Tourism and the Portsmouth Public Libraries, is currently underway. The three-month-long celebration highlights special events, exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, family activities, and a special lecture series, Pathways of Resistance and Freedom - Three presentations by national scholars sharing their researched stories and insights into the path of freedom running through Southeastern VA and beyond. Unless otherwise noted, all events are free and open to the public.
Highlights of the Black History Now 2023
Sunday, January 1 – Friday, March 31, 2023 - Man of Honor: The Navy’s Most Famous Diver - Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum - This three-month temporary exhibit looks at the career of Master Chief Petty Officer Carl Brashear, the first African American to graduate from the United States Navy’s Diving and Salvage School.
Sunday, January 1 – Friday, March 31, 2023 - Portraits of Service - Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum - This two-month temporary display showcases many local African Americans who joined the Armed Forces during the mid-twentieth century. The photographs and captions come from the archives of the Portsmouth Star’s “Colored Notes” section, an African American-focused component of the local newspaper introduced by Jeffrey T. Wilson in 1924.
Sunday, January 1- Sunday, Feb 26, 2023 - STEAM Studio Black Scientists & Artists Series - Children’s Museum of Virginia - Visit the Children’s Museum of Virginia each Saturday and Sunday and discover the contributions of black scientists and artists through interactive STEAM activities, experiments, and play. (Included with museum admission)
Saturday, January 14 - Second Saturdays — The Unsung Heroes of American Popular Music with Curtis Blues - Children’s Museum of Virginia –11 AM, 1 PM, 2 PM - An interactive music program celebrating the lives of the African American musicians who gave Popular modern music its distinctive beats and rhythms. Performance includes unusual instruments from the history of American music and is suitable for all ages. Curtis Blues is a teaching artist specializing in American music's multicultural roots. He was voted Solo Blues Artist of the Year for the DC metro area. (Included with museum admission)
Saturday, January 21 - Andalo’s Library - Children’s Museum of Virginia - Enjoy reading and activity of Andalo’s favorite books about Martin Luther King Jr at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 2 PM. (Included with museum admission)
Saturday, February 11 - Second Saturdays — Unsung Heroes of American Dance, The Alvin Ailey Experience – 11 AM, 1 PM - Children’s Museum of Virginia - Explore the origins of modern dance through the life and work of Alvin Ailey presented by Atumpan Edutainment. (Included with museum admission)
Saturday, February 18 – Sunday, April 16, 2023 - Sailing to Freedom: Maritime Dimensions of the Underground Railroad - Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center- Based on the book Sailing to Freedom, this exhibit highlights little-known stories and describes the less-understood maritime side of the Underground Railroad, including the impact of African American paid, and unpaid, waterfront labor. This exhibit was made possible by the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Saturday, February 18 - Andalo’s Library - Children’s Museum of Virginia - Enjoy reading and activity of Andalo’s favorite books about Black leaders past and present at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 2 PM. (Included with museum admission)
Saturday, February 4 - 1:30 PM - Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter, Conductor, Nurse, Soldier, & Spy, a Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander Illustrated Presentation - Portsmouth Welcome Center - Harriet Tubman was a soldier, freedom fighter, Underground Railroad conductor, nurse, and a spy. Yet, her most important role was that of a fierce advocate, defender, protector, and supporter of African American rights. Cassandra Newby-Alexander will explore the life of this extraordinary woman whose journeys took her from Maryland to Philadelphia, PA; Auburn, NY; St. Catherines, Canada; and Hampton, VA.
Saturday, February 18 - 1:30 PM - Uncovering and Recentering the Maritime Underground Railroad, Presentation & Book Signing with Timothy Walker - Portsmouth Welcome Center - Underground Railroad scholarship has focused almost exclusively on interior overland routes used to escape enslavement in the Antebellum South. Largely overlooked, however, is the great multitude of enslaved persons who made their way to freedom aboard merchant vessels plying coastal routes along the Atlantic seaboard. This crucial but neglected aspect of the Underground Railroad story is the focus of this talk — and a groundbreaking volume of essays edited by Timothy Walker. Exhibit courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Saturday, February 25 - 1:30 PM - The Archaeology of a Secret World in the Great Dismal Swamp, a Dr. Daniel Sayers Illustrated Presentation - Portsmouth Welcome Center - For many millennia, the Great Dismal Swamp was a vital part of the Indigenous people’s landscape in the Mid-Atlantic region. With the settling of Jamestown and the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to the area in 1619, the swamp became a place of defiance, resistance, and a new start to life for potentially tens of thousands of people of African and Native descent. In this presentation, Dr. Sayers will explore some of the results from archaeological work spanning over a decade (2003-2017) in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which sought to locate evidence of post-1607 resistance communities.
Music and Dance:
Saturday, January 28 - 1:30 PM - We've Come a Long Way, Lord: A Musical Journey from Spirituals to Gospel - N.S.U. Gospel Choir at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, 637 North Street in Portsmouth, VA - Norfolk State University vocal music majors and instrumentalists will present a dynamic concert of songs, highlighting the journey of African Americans from spirituals to traditional and contemporary gospel. They are presented under the musical direction of NSU music professor Dr. Bianca K. Jackson. This program was organized and sponsored in part by the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center.
Saturday, February 4 - 2:00 PM -. Bobby Blackhat Band - Portsmouth Main Library - Bobby BlackHat brings together the finest blues musicians to perform original, contemporary, and classic blues tunes that will keep your toes tapping, fingers popping, and hips shaking all night long.
Saturday, February 18 - 2:00 PM - Black History Expo - Portsmouth Main Library - Join Porte Towne Magic for a celebration of African American music at 2:00. At 3:00, Greg Eatroff will discuss the role African American soldiers and sailors played in the American Civil War, with particular emphasis on the role of “USCTs” in operations in and around Hampton Roads, from the Petersburg siege lines to the coastal fortifications in North Carolina.
Tuesday, February 21 - 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM - Pride in Black Voices: A Tribute to Frederick Douglass - Emanuel A.M.E. Church, 637 North Street in Portsmouth, VA 23704 - This is an unforgettably riveting collaboration performance between the Virginia Opera and Spiritual Concepts Publishing. The power of Frederick Douglass is brought to life for the audience by author, performer, poet, historian, and Suffolk, VA native Nathan M. Richardson. Virginia Opera artists will raise their voices in song, echoing the determination, spirit, and pride that only Douglass’ words could convey. This program will be free and open to the public, in-person, and available to stream online. Don’t miss this educational and inspirational Event!
Tuesday, January 24 – 11 AM – Dylan Pritchett: Essential African Threads – Portsmouth Main Library- From “Anansi the Spider” to “Brer Rabbit,” traditional slave tales have hidden meanings that serve to educate and celebrate African American history. Storyteller Dylan Pritchett brings the early days of slavery to life through these tales, which are wound tightly with themes of family strength and morals and lessons that teach about character and survival.
Saturday, February 4 - 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM - Teen & Adult Mini-Quilt Wall Hanging Workshop Portsmouth Main Library - Learn about the quilt-making tradition in African American culture and the artistry of the quilts of Gee’s Bend. Participants will then make a Gee’s Bend-inspired quilt wall hanging using hand-sewing techniques. Open to ages 12 and up. Registration is required. Call 757-393-8501 or email [email protected] for registration or more information.
Saturday, February 11 - 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM - Super Science, Black History Month Edition Portsmouth Main Library - Ages 3-12. Drop in at the Main Library to participate in a Black History-inspired edition of our Super Science Program. Learn about a famous scientist and participate in an extraordinary experiment based on that scientist’s work.
Saturday, February 18 - 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM. Cupcakes & Lemonade - Portsmouth Main Library - Drop in to join us as we celebrate our 2023 Black History Month honorees, Madeline Ashby and Aubrie Greene. We will decorate cupcakes and make lemonade as we learn more about their business! Call 757-393-8501 for more information.
About the Portsmouth Museums and Welcome Center
At the Children’s Museum of Virginia
Children step inside a world where bubbles grow bigger than they are, where the forces of energy electrify and spark their imagination, and where they can be a farmer, a banker, a scientist, and more! The Children’s Museum of Virginia includes the Lancaster Antique Toy and Train collection – an attraction for kids of all ages and an immersive, full-dome digital projection planetarium and sound system. It also features a Gift Shop where children can take some imagination home. The Museum is located at 221 High Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704. For more information, call 757-393-5258 or visit www.childrensmuseumva.com.
At the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center
The Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center, housed in the 1846 Courthouse, offers quality educational, cultural, and aesthetic experiences in the arts through rotating visual art exhibits, lectures, classes, and performances. It is located at 400 High Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704. For more information, visit www.portsmouthartcenter.com or call 757-393-8543.
At the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum research preserves and promotes the history of the City of Portsmouth, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and the armed forces in Hampton Roads. The museum accomplishes its mission by offering exhibitions, publications, lectures, and educational programs. It is located at 2 High Street, Portsmouth, VA 23704. For more information, visit www.portsmouthnavalshipyardmuseum.com or call 757-393-8591.
At the Portsmouth Welcome Center
A full-service visitor information center located in Historic Olde Towne. Visitors can find an abundance of informational brochures on local attractions, restaurants, businesses, and events. It is also the starting location for many guided and self-guided walking tours, from architecture to the Underground Railroad. The Welcome Center offers a gift shop for one-of-a-kind Portsmouth items, including logo apparel, local food and beverage specialty items, toys, art, and useful items for the home or office. For more information, visit www.visitportsva.com or call 757-393-5111.