ORLANDO, Florida, USA – Black History Month in Orlando kicks off in February with commemorations and celebrations of African American history and culture throughout 2023. With limited-time exhibitions and musical performances, a robust collection of Black-owned or -run restaurants, along with year-round cultural attractions and tours through historic towns and landmarks, Orlando offers a wide range of opportunities for locals and visitors to experience the inspiring, rich culture of the African American community.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH EVENTS
Central Florida locals and visitors can pay tribute to African American culture through exclusive musical performances, art exhibits and more during Black History Month in Orlando. Some highlights include:
The Story Quilters of Hannibal Square exhibit (Jan. 27 - April 29) at The Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Winter Park, features storytelling quilts and artist reflections on the Black experience, spirituality, justice, femininity, family, and nature. Visitors can enjoy free admission to view the exhibit.
The Black Resistance Exhibit (Feb. 3 – April 30) is a new visual arts exhibition inside the Terrace Gallery at Orlando City Hall recognizing how African Americans have fought repression and inspired folks to participate in civil rights and racial equity movements.
The Freedom Series (starting Feb. 10) at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts will celebrate African American artists and showcase diverse performing arts – including music, poetry and more – inspired by African American culture.
The Orange County Regional History Center’s Black History Month will include History Book Club: Their Eyes Were Watching God (Feb. 16) focusing on Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel and its ties to Central Florida, andCelebrating Black Arts and Culture (Feb. 18), a free family-friendly event featuring hands-on activities and performances.
Songs of Hope and Inspiration (Feb. 17) at the intimate Timucua Arts Foundation in downtown Orlando’s SoDo District will feature performances by singer Samone Hicks and pianist Rose Grace of art song cycles from Black composers – including Nkeiru Okoye, Undine Smith Moore, Florence Price, Adolphus Hailstork and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
The 8th Annual MLK Gospel Concert (Feb. 18), produced and directed by Grammy Award Winner Dr. Jeffrey Redding, will be hosted at Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando. Hear live music inside one of the world’s most acoustically remarkable spaces in exchange for non-perishable food donations.
The Sanford Jazz Ensemble’s Salute to Black History Month Concert (Feb. 19) at the historic Ritz Theater in Sanford will showcase musical genres like Motown, classic jazz, and DooWop and celebrate acclaimed African American musicians.
The Orange County Library System will pay tribute to Black History all throughout February with over 50 free events throughout Central Florida, including the 33rd Annual National African American Read-In (Feb. 5) at downtown’s Orlando Public Library. Through these events, visitors can experience live music and dancing, folklore and storytelling, hands-on crafts and more, plus celebrate the accomplishments of notable Black American inventors and scientists like Mae Jemison.
YEAR-ROUND AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS
Beyond Black History Month, Orlando offers opportunities to learn about African American culture and local history throughout the year.
Just outside the tourism districts, the historic town of Eatonville – home to celebrated author Zora Neale Hurston – was one of the first self-governing African American communities in the U.S. Today, it honours Hurston’s memory with the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts (aka The Hurston) and the annual ZORA! Festival(running through Jan. 29) with other events throughout the year, including HATitude Cultural Flair (Oct. 15) and Gathering & Gabbing, Zora Neale Hurston Book Club (Feb. 18, March 18 & May 20). The Hurston also displays work by legendary and emerging artists of African descent.
The only Commercial National Registered Historic District in Orlando, Parramore is Orlando’s oldest and largest African American neighbourhood with a diverse collection of historic buildings like the Wells' Built Hotel, now the Wells’ Built Museum of African American History and Culture, dedicated to preserving the memory of Orlando's African American heritage with Civil Rights artifacts, memorabilia, and other displays.
The Orange County Regional History Center features a permanent African American history exhibit highlighting the triumphs and tragedies of African Americans in Central Florida’s past, along with luminous paintings of Florida’s Highwaymen, a group of acclaimed African American landscape artists.
A community founded for black families in 1881, Historic Hannibal Square is home to the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, which welcomes visitors to explore the district’s origins and offers guided walking tours of the historic landmarks of “West Winter Park,” describing the hardships and the triumphs of the African American community from the 1900s to the present. Visitors can also experience small business shopping, free yoga, food and music during the SOKO Marketplace every Saturday morning, where proceeds support the development of culturally relevant programming for the historic African American community of Hannibal Square.
Visitors and locals can join Juneteenth (June 19) celebrations throughout Orlando, particularly in Eatonville and Hannibal Square. Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States.
BLACK-OWNED RESTAURANTS AROUND ORLANDO
With an undoubtedly exploding food scene, Orlando is also home to a multitude of Black-owned restaurants offering flavours across various cuisines – from traditional to contemporary and beyond.
Those looking for soul food can visit Nikki’s Place and P&D Soul Food Kitchen in Downtown Orlando and Soul Food Fantasy in Eatonville.
For delicious Caribbean-inspired eats, foodies can experience Island Thyme Caribbean Grille in East Orlando; Oley’s Kitchen & Smokehouse in Downtown Orlando; and for a plant-based twist on Jamaican food, go to DaJen Eats Cafe & Creamery in Eatonville.
BBQ and southern food fans can dine at Orlando Famous Pete’s BBQ in Downtown Orlando on the weekends and Brick & Spoon in Maitland. For seafood or wings, visitors can support Big Lou’s Single Wing Express and Stonington’s Fried Shrimp in Downtown Orlando; and Mad Crab Seafood & Wings in Eatonville.
Those looking for a healthier kick can go to Vitality Bowls in the Dr. Phillips area and Bezerk Nutrition in Apopka. Or head to downtown Orlando for a sweeter option, Pattie Lou's Donuts and the award-winning Sister Honey’sserve all kinds of sugary delights, from doughnuts and pies to cookies and pastries.
Other Black-owned eateries include East Orlando’s Streetwise Urban Food – serving urban favourites in a family-friendly, casual atmosphere – and Downtown Orlando’s The District GastroBar – paying homage to old-world American taste and cuisine – where legendary musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and B.B. King performed at the South Street Casino that once stood nearby.
Continuous updates on Orlando happenings can be found at VisitOrlando.com