Illustration by Hannah Good.
We have Billie Holiday, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a coral sex conference.
Here’s what you should check out this week:
Lady’s Day: The United States vs. Billie Holiday watch the legendary blues singer fight to sing “Strange Fruit”. The song’s painful and powerful response to the lynching was so controversial that the government, especially the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, harassed Holiday to silence it. The new movie, which drops on Hulu on February 26, was written by acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and directed by Lee Daniels (Precious, The butler). Parks and Daniels will join a virtual round table about Holiday and the film hosted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Monday 02/22 at 7 p.m. Release, register here.
A presidential celebration: Mount Vernon practically toasts George Washington’s 289th birthday (it was technically February 15th). There will be birthday wishes and performances with special guests including violinist Joshua Bell, opera singer Denyce Graves, Juanes, writer Rick Atkinson, and more. Monday 02/22 at 7 p.m. $ 5 (minimum donation), buy tickets here.
Ewww, tell me more: Meet Jennifer Sneed, a scientist who “regularly finds herself swimming in a dark soup of coral eggs and sperm,” according to the Smithsonian. A Florida marine microbial chemistry ecologist, Sneed will discuss his life choices in “Microbes, Chemistry, and the Sex of Corals,” a Smithsonian Marine Station webinar. Wednesday 2/24 at 11 am; Release, register here.
History of the city center: The Trust for the National Mall launches a new round of discussions, starting with “A Monumental Conversation: The Influence of African Americans on the National Mall”. Sheila C. Johnson, vice president of the organization, and Harry Johnson, who heads the MLK Jr. Memorial Foundation, will discuss the crucial ways African Americans helped create the National Mall. Wednesday 02/24 at 5 p.m. Release, register here.
Be personal: In The beautiful fight, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about his upbringing in Baltimore in the 1980s as the son of a Black Panther and Vietnam veteran. Coates is publishing a young adult edition of his memoir, which he will discuss with novelist YA Nic Stone in a virtual book chat politics and prose. Wednesday 02/24 at 7 p.m .; $ 5 $ 25, buy tickets here.
Discovering our city:
Do you have a favorite detail from your research?
Duke Ellington, who grew up on T Street in the hallway of U Street – don’t know why it’s so fun for me, maybe nobody cares [laughs]- but when he was growing up, in the summer, he was selling ice cream at Griffith Stadium. For me, it continues to show the people we consider celebrities, notables, and story makers who still led normal lives outside of history. He’s just a normal kid selling ice cream in the street and then we are still talking about his music in 2021.
What do you think of the growing popularity of efforts to support black-owned businesses as part of a larger Buy Black movement? It’s sort of recreating what was ingrained on U Street decades ago.
Good thing people are awake, if you will. “Don’t buy where you can’t work” was something the New Negro Alliance started on U Street in the 1930s because they were tired of going to different stores, markets, clothing stores that didn’t. Wouldn’t hire people of color. They started this movement, literally – now we see a fast forward to 2020, 2021 where we now have places like Facebook telling us where black businesses are. I think the circle has really come full circle. That’s something the Alliance did: They printed a brochure of all the black businesses in the area so people could literally go and buy black people. Now, decades later, you see it happening again; it shows that history is not lost, that we can save it and that there is still hope for renewal. We have done this before and it was successful, let’s try again.
Before the pandemic, U Street was still a very popular hangout for nightlife. You spent late nights there. After exploring the bustling dance and music scene of historic Black Broadway, what’s the comparison?
I remember my times on U Street, of course not at any time recently, for several reasons. I can think of a specific case where I was leaving Marvins and in the middle of the street – I’m not lying to you – there was a flash mob. People dance, have fun, there’s someone playing drums on the sidewalk and it was just like Oh my God, is this really happening? It wasn’t choreographed or anything, it was like a big party had burst out of nowhere. When I flip through and research when people tell me how Black Broadway was a nighttime scene – when I look back on those memories and my memories, I think to myself, yeah, the beat is still there. Everyone has at least one time on U Street where you felt happy, where you felt happy, where you felt free. Everyone just wants to have a good time, we want to have fun, we want to dance the night away – it’s just freedom, free to be who you want to be.
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