Black History Month is an important but problematic observance. As James Baldwin said, Black history is American history. There’s much to celebrate and honor, and a lot of work to be done toward racial justice. So how can you and your children celebrate, learn and engage with Black history in Portland? Read on for ways to involve the whole family this February and beyond.

photo: klamath via flickr

A Place Called Home: From Vanport to Albina

Multnomah County Library has an impressive range of options for engaging with Black history, and this event is just one. As part of the Vanport Mosaic living archive, and presented in collaboration with Donna Maxey, Founder/Director of RACE TALKS, this is a screening of oral history documentaries that trace the story of Portland’s African American community from the 1940s to 1970s. Bring the kids and pick out some books on Black history afterward.

Sun., Feb. 3, 3-4 p.m.
St. Johns Library
7510 N Charleston Ave.
Portland, OR 97203


Read Books

Jeanie Diaz, Children’s Librarian at the Holgate library, recommends the following books for preschool to school-age children. Try 28 Days: Moments in History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr., a beautifully-illustrated collection of poems that celebrate Black history’s unsung heroes– one for each day of the month of February. We March by Shane W. Evans tells the story of the March on Washington that culminated in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And check out Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison, for the inspiring stories of 40 trailblazing Black women.


African-Amercian Read-in

After you’ve picked out your books, consider joining local community leaders, teachers, students, and celebrities as they read from literature by African American writers. Enjoy both fiction and nonfiction geared toward all ages– and you can bring your own favorites to share.

Sun., Feb. 10, 2 p.m.
North Portland Library
512 N Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97217


photo: PDX Jazz Festival via yelp

PDX Jazz Festival

This well-known annual Portland festival was developed to celebrate Black History Month. PDX Jazz Festival is back for the 16th year, with almost two weeks of performances from an impressive list of both international and local jazz musicians. A selection of afternoon performances means it’s possible to take the kids—or hire a sitter for the night so you can see the great NEA jazz musician Pharoah Sanders.

Feb. 20-Mar. 3
Various locations and prices, some events free

Experience Oregon at the Oregon Historical Society

Take your kids to the Oregon Historical Society’s Experience Oregon, its brand new permanent exhibit launching February 14, and replacing the museum’s long-running Oregon My Oregon exhibit. This 7,000 square foot exhibition features diverse voices representing Oregon’s many cultures and geographies, including Beatrice Cannady, an early-twentieth-century civil rights advocate. Cannady was a founding member of the Portland NAACP, and served as editor of the Advocate newspaper for over two decades.

Opens Feb. 14
Free for museum members and residents of Multnomah County
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97205

photo: via Oregon Historical Society, OrHi 51170

A Midsummer Night at the Savoy at the North Portland Library

This unique dance performance celebrates the spaces that allowed African American arts to thrive in U.S. history. It’s Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, the first integrated ballroom in the country. This performance is first-come first-served, so get there early to enjoy this event honoring the impact of artists of color throughout history.

Sun., Feb. 17, 2:30-3:15 p.m.
North Portland Library
512 N Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97217

Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement

This is a wonderful opportunity to expand the education your child might receive when it comes to the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s– an education that typically includes well-known leaders  Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. This event celebrates some of the many other heroes who often go unnamed, such as Nannie Helen Burroughs, Pauli Murray, and Ella Baker.

Sat., Feb. 9, 2 p.m. & Sun., Feb 24, 3 p.m.
Hollywood Library & Capitol Hill Library

photo: Trail Blazers/Bruce Ely

Trail Blazers Celebration of Black History

The Trail Blazers hosts its annual event honoring local leaders in the Black community with a pregame event with local food and drinks. A portion of the event’s proceeds benefit iUrban Teen, whose mission is to expose and inspire underrepresented youth to become tomorrow’s business and technology leaders. Hire a babysitter to attend the pregame festivities, then enjoy special performances during the game.

Tues., Feb 5, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets, $19-$85
Moda Center
1 N Center Court St.
Portland, OR 97227

Every Month is Black History Month

February is a great time to honor and celebrate the many Black leaders and community members who have impacted our city, our country and the world—but so are all the other months of the year. History is not disconnected from the present. This month, make a commitment to support Portland’s many Black-owned businesses and restaurants. And consider attending one of the monthly events put on by Race Talks, which strives to encourage conversation among a diverse group of Portlanders around racial justice.

Race Talks PDX:
Portland Black-owned Restaurants:
Portland Black-owned Businesses:

—Melissa Poulin