African American Culture & History

Martin Luther King Jr. Statue in Roanoke, VA

An excerpt from our City Manager Bob Cowell.....

African American History Month

February is recognized in the United States as an opportunity to acknowledge the history and contribution of African Americans.  Similar commemorations occur in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  Versions of celebrating these contributions, date back to the 1920’s in the United States, becoming more formalized in the 1970’s, primarily at educational institutions and centers of black history and culture.  Generally celebrations highlight the struggles African Americans have faced in our Country and the many contributions they have made to our economic, cultural, and social vitality.

Lucy Addison
An Educator and More

In previous blog posts I have highlighted some of the many contributions made by African-Americans here in Roanoke.  In this post, in recognition of the role educators have played in promoting African American history, I want to acknowledge the contributions made in Roanoke by one of the most influential women in the City’s history – Lucy Addison.  Lucy Addison was born enslaved in 1861 in Fauquier County, Virginia and graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia and also attended Virginia Normal School, Cook County Normal School in Chicago and Howard University. 

Ms. Addison began her teaching career at Gainsboro Elementary School in Roanoke and was in 1917 named principal of the Harrison School.  The Harrison School officially offered course work only through grade eight, but Addison arranged for high school classes to be taught as well. She gradually added all the elements of a full high-school curriculum, and in 1924 the State Board of Education accredited the Harrison School as a secondary school. Until then, African Americans of Roanoke who desired a high school diploma had to go elsewhere to earn one.  At the time, Harrison School was the largest African American school in Virginia under the leadership of a woman.  Ms. Addison worked in education for over 40 years and based upon her contributions, was honored with the naming of a new high school in 1928, the first such honor offered to any resident of the City of Roanoke.  In addition to her teaching and school leadership roles, Ms. Addison served in leadership positions with her church and the Burrell Memorial Hospital, also located in the Gainsboro neighborhood. 

Learning More

There exists an upcoming opportunity to ensure that the contributions of African Americans in Virginia is learned by more Virginians.  On February 11 beginning at 6:00 pm at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture located in Downtown Roanoke at Center in the Square, the Governor’s African American History Education Commission is conducting a listening session.  The Commission is seeking input on how to strengthen the Virginia history standards and enhance African American history education in classrooms throughout the Commonwealth.  Additional information about this listening session and the work of the Commission can be found at this link.

You can of course learn more about the contributions of Ms. Addison and other African Americans in our community by visiting the Harrison Museum or by visiting the incredible collection of resources found at the Gainsboro Branch Library.  There are a series of events celebrating African American History Month throughout the community including a series of relevant movies being shown at the Melrose Branch Library, a celebration of Hip Hop music at the Main Library and more.  You are encouraged to visit the City’s website to learn more about each of these events.

As I stated in a previous post – African American history is truly American history.  There is no period of our country’s history, from its founding to today that hasn’t involved African Americans.  Much of that history is painful but there are also many examples of amazing contributions even in spite of (or at times because of) the challenges confronted by African Americans.  As Americans we should all strive to learn more about this history and its significance to our country!

Source:  Kneebone, John T. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Lucy Addison (1861–1937)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 2 Feb. 2020.

Upcoming African American History Month Events in Roanoke:

(Click here for additional information from Roanoke Libraries)

Next of Kin Gainsboro Branch Library Event February 1-28, 2020

  • Join us at the Gainsboro Branch Library for "Next of Kin", a photography exhibit showcasing interconnected families of color from SW Virginia from 1850-1975.  The exhibit runs from February 1-28, with a lecture on February 22 at 3:00pm!

Diversity and Inclusion Lunch and Learn Series

  • "Generations At Work: A Diversity & Inclusion Luncheon": February 6th Noon-2pm
Discussions and personal reflections to develop skills to effectively communicate across generations and minimize misunderstandings. Improve employee relations by recognizing how generational perspectives shape the ways we regard our colleagues.

This event is free and open to the public at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (2 Riverside Circle).
Register here: 

How Big Is Your Love Event at Main Library

  • "How Big Is Your Love"  February 8th, 3:30pm-4:30pm  Roanoke Main Library(Ground Floor) 706 South Jefferson St.
Please join Deborah Price in celebrating the launch of How Big is Your Love, a sweet story about a Nana answering her inquisitive little granddaughter‘s questions about love as she teaches her that there is enough love for everyone in this world.

Book Signing, Book Sales, Light Refreshments, and Children’s Valentines Activities!

Wear red to show your LOVE and receive a special surprise! 

Ralph Peterson

  • Messenger Legacy: Art Blakey Centennial: February 8th  Jefferson Center
Ralph Peterson has put together a band of some of the strongest jazz players in the world to honor Art Blakey. There is no living drummer more suited to honoring Blakey’s legacy than the incomparable Ralph Peterson. As the last drummer chosen by Blakey to play by his side in the Jazz Messengers Two Drummer Big Band, Peterson is tasked with the unique responsibility to carry forth the torch and tradition of some of the finest music ever recorded in jazz.

General Admission (
7PM & 9PM: $30 (plus fee)

The Hip Hop Direction Event 2-10-20 at Roanoke Main Library

  • Join us February 10th from 6pm-7:30pm at the Roanoke Main Library (706 S. Jefferson St.) for The Hip Hop Direction: A Celebration. This Black History Month celebration will involve delicious British, Canadian & American food, live music, games, and conversation as we celebrate the hip hop culture and its influence in America, Canada, and the UK!

Stamped from the beginning Book Series at Melrose Library

  • Join the Roanoke Public Libraries and Book City Roanoke for a 6-week discussion series inspired by August’s Indecent Histories event. Each week, we’ll hear from local experts, then break into small groups to discuss a portion of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. No registration required--attend 1 session or all 6.

    This fifth session will feature keynote remarks by Vice-Mayor Joe Cobb, followed by small-group discussion about the Angela Davis portion of the book (chapters 30-37) and the epilogue. The discussions will take place at the Melrose Library.

    January 7, 2020: Prologue & Part 1 (Chapters 1-6)
    January 14: Part 2 (Chapters 7-12)
    January 21: Part 3 (Chapters 13-20)
    January 28: Part 4 (Chapters 21-29)
    February 4: Part 5 (Chapters 30-37) & Epilogue
    February 18: Concluding discussion of the whole book

Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth

  • The African American History Education Commission is seeking community input during a series of public listening sessions as it examines how to best strengthen the Virginia history standards, as well as African American history education in classrooms across the commonwealth.

The dates and locations of the February public listening sessions are:

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - Roanoke
Harrison Museum of African American Culture
1 Market Square SE #2,
Roanoke, VA 24011
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Will include a panel of Educators

What is Love Humble Hustle Event

  • Love is Love: Thursday, February 13th  7pm  601 11th St., NW
Join Humble Hustle as they dive into the discussion that’s on everyone’s mind this season, “Love”. This panel discussion will be a collaboration of The Speakeasy on 11th hosts and The Thinking Out Loud podcast Crew. Along with affluent community members Porsha Waddey, and local artist Warrior Princess. This will be a night of interactive conversations with the audience, so make sure you bring your questions. We would like to hear your insight, experiences, and revelations of Black Love in America.

Grandin Theater

In honor of Black History Month, the Historic Grandin Theater is hosting an African American Film Festival.  Movies will be shown every Tuesday.  Admission is free, but this is a first come, first served screening.

  • Higher Learning: Tuesday, February 4th  7:15pm
  • Love & Basketball: Tuesday, February 11th  7:15pm
  • Cabin in the Sky: Tuesday, February 18th 7:15pm
  • House Party: Tuesday, February 25th 7:15pm

For all of the details visit:

Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church February 15th event

  • Excavating Beyond the Stained Glass: Barrier to Uncover its Treasured Past, Sat., February 15th  2pm

Hosted by: Gainsboro Branch Library

Where: Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, 301 Patton Avenue NW Roanoke, Virginia 24016

Join Historian Michael E. Blankenship for a presentation for this celebrated African American Church. 

HBCU-College-Fair-2020-Event-Flyer-February 15, 2020 at William Fleming High School

  • The Harrison Museum of African American Culture & Roanoke Valley Chapter of Jack & Jill of America Inc. will present the 2020 HBCU College Fair on Saturday, February 15, 2020 from 10am-2pm at William Fleming High School located 3649 Ferncliff Ave., NW  Roanoke, VA 24017. For more info: 540-857-4395

Unmask Event February 18th

  • C.R.O.W.N. Conference - February 15th, 10am-2pm  GCC Roanoke (756 Peters Creek Rd.)
Multi-ethnic and generational conference focused on empowering women from all walks of life with the necessary tools to take the next step. Hear speakers give Ted X talks and teachers give hands on lessons to help you move forward TODAY! Stay close and stay tuned! Classes and teachers will be revealed as we count down! Well-known and Successful Speakers, who are advocates in our community, will be shared one day at a time!

Morning Star Baptist Church Annual Black History Program

February 15th 3:30pm-6:30pm (1513 Rorrer Ave., SW)

The year 2020 marks the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement.  The year 2020 also marks the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) and the right of black men to the ballot after the Civil War.  The theme speaks, therefore, to the ongoing struggle on the part of both black men and black women for the right to vote.    That being said, our Theme for this Black History Month Program is: "African Americans and the Vote”

Black History Month Tour Roanoke, VA

  • Black History Tour of Roanoke: Tuesday, February 18th  9:30am
Grab hold of the rich history that made Roanoke the Star City of the South. Visit historical sites as well as hear recollections of our City’s past. Learn the Black History of the Roanoke Community in this guided tour led by Ms. Mignon Chubb-Hale and guest speakers who played a role in the history of the black community.

Tour will depart from the Gainsboro Library. Please arrive at the library no later than 9:30 am. Parking is available along the street as well as the lower lot of Roanoke Catholic School.

Price: $25/per person

Total Action for Progress Black History Month 2/18/20 Event

  • Join Total Action For Progress for a FREE community event!

    TAP’s annual Black History Month celebration will be held on February 18, 2020 at 10 a.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church. This event is produced by our youth education students, and the soul food luncheon will be provided again by Morning Star Baptist Church.

    This year, we’ll continue our journey through the history of Roanoke’s black communities by exploring the contributions made to the railroads by:

    Mr. Clinton D. Scott
    Mrs. Latifah Hussain
    Mr. Lee P. Graves
    The Norfolk & Western and Norfolk Southern African American Heritage Group

    Be sure to register at the ticketing link by February 11 so we can ensure everyone has enough to eat:

    You may also call 540.767.6227 to register. 

Power to Heal Event February 18, 2020

  • Power to Heal: Medicare & the Civil Rights: Tuesday, February 18th, 11:30am-1:30pm
Free and open to the public. RSVP at 

“Power to heal” is an hour long documentary about a dramatic chapter in the historic struggle to secure equal and adequate access to healthcare for all Americans. Central to the story is how a new national program, Medicare, was used to mount a momentous, coordinated effort that desegregated thousands of hospitals across the country practically overnight" Little more about it:       

Following the screening we will have a discussion facilitated by Dr. Monica Motley. Monica is Sr. Research Associate and Director of Dr. Kathy Hosig’s community-based research project the focuses on Black churches and health/wellness. This event will take place at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine located at 2 Riverside Circle.

Always in Season Black History Month Event

  • Join Roanoke Public Libraries & the Office of Neighborhood Services invites you to a free screening and discussion of Indie Lens Pop-Up "Always in Season." In Always in Season, descendants of the victims and perpetrators of lynching are working together to heal a violent history. Blending observational footage with first-person testimonies and expert input, Always in Season examines the lingering impact of lynching and the link between this historic form of racial terrorism and the racial violence that exists today.  The event will take place on Monday, February 24th at 6pm at the Melrose Public Library located at 2502 Melrose Ave., Suite. D.

Community Achievement Awards in Celebration of Black History Month February 27th

  • 2020 UPL Community Achievement Awards: February 27th, 7pm  Fitzpatrick Hall (541 Luck Ave., SW)
Its time for the best night of Black History Month! This years honorees are phenomenal. You do not want to miss this event. Save the date, Thursday, February 27th! There is no fee for this event, however tickets are so be sure to RSVP.  Donations are welcome.

Just Mercy Movie

  • "Just Mercy": Free Friday Movie at Virginia Western Community College!  February 28th, 2pm & 6pm
Starring Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. A powerful and thought-provoking true story, "Just Mercy" follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson).

TWO SHOWTIMES: 2 p.m. AND 6 p.m
Whitman Theater (Business Science Building)

Everyone welcome, no tickets needed! Free!

Black Lives Matter Conference

  • Black Lives Matter Conference - February 28th

Funded by The Earl D. and Carrie Leigh Doran Fund of Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia, "Black Love Matters: Domestic Violence and Cultural Considerations within the African-American Community” will give participants the opportunity to explore the issues faced by African-American survivors through a cultural lens. Keynote speaker, Ayana Wallace, Training Specialist for Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, located in Washington, D.C., will present important information about historical trauma. Local speakers will address working with men, the significance of the church’s role in the African-American community and the importance of culturally specific therapy. The film My Masculinity Helps will be screened during lunch and explores the role of African American men and boys in the prevention of sexual violence.

The conference is geared toward allied professionals and anyone seeking to enhance their understanding of the intersectionality of race and gender as it relates to interpersonal violence.

This event is free and lunch is provided (please call 540-345-7273 if you have specific dietary restrictions). Space is limited. Registration is required by Friday, Feb. 21st.

Temptations and Four Tops

  • The Temptations & Four Tops

February 28th, 7:30pm  Berglund Center (710 Williamson Rd.)

For ticket info, click here.