Burlington County celebrating Black History Month with events, lectures and performances

Burlington County is celebrating Black History Month with events, exhibits, lectures and performances throughout February that show the county’s rich Black historical presence and culture.

A special lecture titled “Spirit of Freedom” about Mount Holly’s 1872 celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation is one of this year’s key programs, as are two art exhibits at the Smithville Mansion Annex Gallery and the Worker’s House Gallery in Historic Smithville Park in Eastampton.

Rowan College at Burlington County and the Burlington County Library System also have several Black History Month events scheduled, including a fashion show, dance performances and a special lecture about Muhammad Ali.

“Black History is both American history and Burlington County history,” said Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson. “Our county was known as the ‘Cradle of Emancipation’ because it was home to many of the nation’s leading slavery opponents and had at least 16 stops on the Underground Railroad. Numerous Black historical figures also lived here, including Oliver Cromwell, Dr. James Still, William Still, Ethel Lawrence and Willie James.”

Throughout the month of February, the Burlington County Commissioners are using social media to highlight Black leaders and historical figures from Burlington County and Black-owned businesses.

Businesses that would like to be promoted should email information to [email protected]

“We’re proud of our county’s connection to so many great Black leaders, innovators, groundbreakers and achievers, past and present, and we want to celebrate them and their many contributions to our county, state, nation and world,” Hopson said.

State Senator Troy Singleton applauded the County for drawing attention to Black leaders and their achievements.

"The Burlington County Commissioners' effort to highlight impactful, Black historical and cultural figures from our local communities is both admirable and educational," said Singleton.  "I hope that residents of all backgrounds take advantage of the wonderful programming being offered during Black History Month, and walk away from them with an understanding that Black History is our shared history, especially here in Burlington County.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the upcoming Black History Month events and programs:

Spirit of Freedom lecture

The lecture will be held Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 10 AM at the Lyceum of History and Natural Sciences in Mount Holly. It will be led by Burlington County Historian Eric Orange and will focus on the 1872 celebration of the 10th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Mount Holly and how the event drew thousands from up and down the east coast.

Registration is required and can be done on the Burlington County Parks page at https://www.co.burlington.nj.us/235/Parks .

Art exhibits

“The Art of Lady Bird, an American Treasure” is being exhibited now through April 1 in the Smithville Mansion Annex Gallery located in Historic Smithville Park. 

Lady Bird Cleveland was a renown American painter of African, Cherokee and Irish heritage, whose work focuses on the African American experience, including slavery heroes of American culture, the civil rights movement, Black entertainers and President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

An exhibition celebrating the work of Joe Speight will also be on display in the Worker’s House Gallery at Smithville from Feb. 9 through April 8. 

Speight was a distinguished scientist, educator and artist from Evesham, whose art creations often explored the black experience and representation. 

A reception celebrating both artists and the two exhibits will be held Feb. 18 at the Underground Railroad Museum, also in Historic Smithville Park. The reception will be held from noon to 3 PM and will feature music, poetry, art and food.

The Life and Legacy of Muhammad Ali

Rowan College at Burlington County will celebrate Black History Month with a special lecture about the life and battles for racial equality fought by Muhammad Ali.

The lecture is free and open to the public. It will be held Feb. 14 from 12:30 PM to 1:50 PM in the Votta Hall Auditorium at RCBC’s campus off Route 38 in Mount Laurel. 

Black History Month Fashion Show and Zawadi Dance

In addition to the Mohammad Ali talk, RCBC will also host its annual Black History Month Fashion Show on Feb. 15 from 7 PM to 8 PM at the college’s Mount Holly Campus at 1 High Street. This runway-style fashion show will feature designs from RCBC students and industry professionals in collaboration with Atlantic City Fashion Week.

The college will also host a Zawadi African Dance performance at 1 PM on Feb. 20 in the Student Success Center in Mount Laurel.

Bantaba: The Circle of Celebration and Civil Rights Movements

The Burlington County Library will be shaking and grooving during a pair of Black History Month musical and dance performances.

The first show, titled Bantaba: The Circle of Celebration, will be held Saturday, Feb. 11, from 2 to 3 PM and will feature The Seventh Principle and their high-energy dance, music and storytelling from West African culture and modern African-American dance.

The second show, titled Civil Rights Movements, will be Saturday, Feb. 18, from 2 to 3 PM. The show will tell the story of the American Civil Rights Movement through a fun and exciting dance performance.

Both shows are free and will be held in the auditorium at the Burlington County Library, 5 Pioneer Boulevard, Westampton. Seating is limited to 250 people and is first come, first served.

Virtual museum tour

The Burlington County Library System is also holding a virtual tour of Powerful and Dangerous: The Words and Images of Audre Lorde, a featured exhibit at the Alice Austen House Museum in Staten Island, New York. The exhibit focuses on the writing, activism and photography of American poet Audre Lorde and how her work is still relevant in social justice movements and the fight for equality.

The virtual tour is free but registration is required. To register, go to www.bcls.lib.nj.us/events/4950 .

Movies at the Library

The Burlington County Library will also hold special movie screenings in honor of Black History Month, including Loving on Feb. 12, The Butler on Feb. 19 and Selma on Feb. 25. All shows are free and held in the Burlington County Library Auditorium. Seating is first come, first served.

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