The trajectory that began with slavery and led to our first African-American president is rich with milestones and achievement. Rex Ellis, associate director of curatorial affairs for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC.si.edu), shares with Kathy Baruffi for USA TODAY his list of venues and programs to celebrate Black History Month.
National Constitution Center Philadelphia The America I AM exhibit, conceived by talk-show host Tavis Smiley, highlights African and African-American contributions spanning nearly 500 years of history. "This comprehensive exhibit covers 15,000 square feet and will travel to 10 cities over four years," Ellis says. See Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves and the typewriter Alex Haley used to write Roots, then take a walk along the cobblestone streets of this pedestrian-friendly city. 215-409-6700; constitutioncenter.org
Colonial Williamsburg Williamsburg, Va. "Beginning on Feb. 21 and continuing through 2009, dramatic interpretive programs that bring to life stories of the African-American struggle for freedom and liberty during the American Revolution are scheduled to celebrate the 30th anniversary of African-American programming here," Ellis says. Family-friendly programs, such as Nation Builders, invite guests to converse with historical figures, including slave preacher Gowan Pamphlet. 757-229-1000; history.org
Amistad America New Haven, Conn. A replica of the Amistad schooner, based here but under repair for winter, has sailed to Africa, the Caribbean and other ports to teach about the victorious rebellion in 1839. "This program, which provides awareness of the history of the slave trade, is a wonderful learning experience for youngsters," Ellis says. Don't miss the definitive exhibit of sketches depicting historic and present Amistad journeys displayed in New Haven's Gateway Community College from Tuesday. 203-495-1839; amistadamerica.org.
Civil War Museum Kenosha, Wis. "This museum, highlighting the upper Midwest's role in the Civil War, is very inclusive," Ellis says. On Sunday, there will be a dramatic presentation of the story of Thomas Morris Chester, an African-American journalist imbedded in the Union Army during the Civil War. On Tuesday, Ida B. Wells, a dramatization about the daughter of slaves who became a civil rights advocate, will be featured. 262-653-4141; thecivilwarmuseum.org
The Dallas Black Dance Theatre Dallas "The oldest continuously running black dance company in Dallas is celebrating their 32nd season," Ellis says. "The energetic troupe will perform their annual Cultural Awareness series Feb. 27-28 with a new commission by acclaimed choreographer Christopher Huggins." Have upscale soul food next door at the Screen Door restaurant. 214-871-2376; dbdt.com
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Detroit "Named after Maya Angelou's poem, And Still We Rise is a 20,000-square-foot exhibition showing a unique viewpoint of stories about people who have overcome great obstacles," Ellis says. Families can experience both African and African-American history through re-enactments, animatronics and other techniques. 313-494-5800; charleshwrightmuseum.org
National Baseball Hall of Fame Cooperstown, N.Y. "Daily hands-on activities for children and documentary films in the museum's Bullpen Theater are part of Black History Month programming scheduled to coordinate with school breaks Feb. 16-21," Ellis says. Artifacts from Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige and others will be highlighted daily. Also of note is Pride and Passion, a permanent exhibit that shares the story of the African-American baseball experience. 607-547-7200; baseballhalloffame.org
The King Center Atlanta "Experience the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. and the legacy of his non-violence movement here," Ellis says. Visitors can see exhibits in Freedom Hall, do research in the King Center Library and Archives, visit his birth home and gravesite. The center is inside the King National Historic Site, a federal park with a visitor's center and exhibit. The historic Ebenezer Baptist Church — where King, his father and grandfather have all preached — is next door. 404-526-8900; thekingcenter.org
National Museum of American History Washington, D.C. "Major renovations have opened up the space here," Ellis says of the museum where the Star-Spangled Banner now has a new, interactive display. It also has the Greensboro lunch counter, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a photography exhibit, The Scurlock Studio, and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise. The photos from the African American-owned studio are the inaugural exhibition in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture Gallery. 202-633-1000; americanhistory.si.edu
The California African American Museum Los Angeles A theater program saluting Duke Ellington and artifacts from Ella Fitzgerald's estate are among the 1,300-piece collection here. A permanent display documents the history, art and culture of African Americans with emphasis on California and the Western states. "A Dream Realized, running through March 1, celebrates the life and dreams of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.," Ellis says. "It includes photos of Barack Obama, symbolic of the dream realized." 213-744-7432; caamuseum.org