Black history month

Each February, National Black History Month serves as both a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black history is American history. The Rochester Public Library is celebrating Black History Month with the following unique programs and online resources.

online programs, brought to you by rpl

Bronze Collective Theatre Fest 2022 Preview

You’re invited to a special online preview of the 8th annual Bronze Collective Theatre Fest, which promotes the work of Black/African Diasporic theatre producers, and takes place February 17-19 at MuCCC in Rochester.  There will be readings from the plays that will be featured, film clips, and a chance to talk to the playwrights about their work and the festival’s 2022 theme “Rising From the Muck and Mire.”

Presenters include:

  • Karen D. Culley, Playwright “The Legend of Double Ax Max”
  • Reuben J. Tapp, Artistic Director of Maplewood Performing Arts Centre
  • Laura A. Thomas, Playwright “Mr. Soul!”
  • Almeta Whitis, Presenter “Spotlight on Jonah Wade”

Registration is required for this free program, which takes place via Zoom. Click here to register.


Rochester’s Rich History: Rev. Thomas James: The Most Well-Known Abolitionist Preacher in 19th Century America! (On ZOOM)

An unassuming grave in Rochester New York’s Historic Mt. Hope Cemetery marks Rev. Thomas James’s 1891 death without any hint of the remarkable life he led. Rev. Thomas James was born enslaved in Canajoharie, Montgomery County, New York in 1804. He escaped, after being ill-treated, and never looked back! His contributions included building schools and churches in New York and Massachusetts – many still are in operation today. He traveled the country under the auspices of the American Missionary Society speaking against the institution of slavery and the papacy. As he journeyed, he found himself in positions to effect change across the country including integrating the transportation system in Boston, assisting in the release of the Amistad captives, and freeing 2000 enslaved persons in Kentucky after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, just to name a few. His work around the country earned him the designation as the most well-known, abolitionist preacher in the Nineteenth Century. He met Frederick Douglass before he was the Nineteenth Century’s most famous orator and statesman. But he also bumped heads with many, including Austin Steward – the first Black businessman in Rochester – over religious doctrine and the position Blacks should have in this country. Toward the end of his life, Rev. Thomas James was the oldest, living abolitionist in the country. At the urging of others, he wrote his autobiography in 1886 where he humbly stated his life was “a simple one, perhaps hardly worth the telling.” This was farthest from the truth!

Cheryl Sampson is a “Professional Museum-Goer” currently working towards her MA in (Public) History at SUNY Brockport with a focus on 19th and early 20th century Black culture and Institutions. She is married to Rev. Ronald Sampson and has four adult children and four grandchildren.

Registration for this program is required. Please click here to register.

Date: Saturday, February 19, 2022
Time: 1 – 2:30 pm
Audience: All ages


Tuesday Topics (via Zoom): Repairing the Historical Record Through Community Collaboration

Learn how the Library helps to foster Equity and Justice in our society with diverse cultural community representation in programs and services, including Central’s new Archive of Black History and Culture.

Presenter: Christine L. Ridarsky, City Historian & Historical Services Consultant, Rochester Public Library. Christine will be joined by community partners.

Advance registration is required. Register here

Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Time: 12 – 1 pm
Audience: Adults


Celebrate Black history Month: Very Beginner Drawing: Draw Like Artist Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Armstead Lawrence was an American painter known for his portrayal of African-American historical subjects and contemporary life. Lawrence referred to his style as “dynamic cubism”, although by his own account the primary influence was not so much French art as the shapes and colors of Harlem.

You will do a drawing based on his “The Libraries Are Appreciated” drawing.

This class is for adults and teens and will be held through Zoom. Registration is required. Click here to register.

Date: Thursday, February 24, 2022
Time: 6 – 7:30 pm
Audience: Adults and Teens


African American Abstract Art in New York During the 1960s and 1970s

Cynthia Hawkins, Ph.D, will cover the advent of abstraction in the United States among African American artists. The artists to be discussed include Norman Lewis, Mel Edwards, William Majors, and others who came from all corners of the United States to New York City. They were sculptors and painters who worked at the Printmaking Workshop founded by the renowned African American master printer Robert Blackburn. It was a volatile time in the U.S. and in other parts of the world; how were black artists received by galleries and museums at this time? Was there a community of artists, did they engage in activism, and how did artists apply their skills to aid African American community?

This program is through Zoom. Registration is required. Click here to register.

Cynthia Hawkins, Ph.D, is the Gallery Director and Curator of the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery at SUNY Geneseo.

Date: Monday, February 28, 2022
Time: 6 – 7:30 pm
Audience: Adults and Teens

MCLS programs

Click here to view additional Black History programs being presented throughout the Monroe County Library System.



  • In 2020, when challenging events gripped the nation and ushered in a new era of reckoning, a diverse team of librarians and staff collaborated to curate this collection of print and digital materials to serve as an educational resource for the community: Understanding Black Experiences.
  • For more information, visit the Black Lives Matter: An Anti-Racism Resource Page, compiled by members of the Monroe County Library System’s Racial Equity & Justice Initiative Team.


Highlighted resources from the Reynolds media Center