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History, Heritage, Happenings

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 5, 2007 7:22PM

Discussions about Black History Month have become as complex as discussions about race. Debating the labels ‘black’ and ‘African-American’ lead to debates about biracial identity and, recently, whether Senator Obama, Joe Biden’s “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” friend, is actually African-American. In the same vein, Black History Month has increasingly been relabeled African-American Heritage Month and African Heritage Month, terms emphasizing the present and future as much as the past. No matter what you call February, the celebration continues.

columlogo.gifColumbia College’s 2007 African-American Heritage Month is going high-profile, celebrating “Our Cultural Influences on Mainstream America.” Campus exhibits deal with technology affecting African culture, Africa HIV/AIDS posters, and developments in graffiti and graphic arts. This week’s a busy one: Muntu Dance Company performs Tuesday, Hothouse hosts the second annual Women in Hip Hop Conference Wednesday, and a Sundance Jury Prize Winner screens Thursday. Tributes to Hollywood figures, jazz, hip hop, poetry, and Chicago’s own Third World Press round out the month.

The Theatre Building will not be hosting WORDS Fest, the city’s largest ‘Urban Arts Fest,’ this year. Apparently, no one will. Their closest offering is The Adventures of Anansi the Spider, a kids’ musical based on African folklore. Not quite the same, but it’s something.

vglogo.gifRoosevelt University Professor Emeritus Christopher Reed discusses the racial conflict that inspired Victory Gardens’ Court-Martial at Fort Devens and the subsequent development of the Women Army Corps prior to Thursday night‘s performance. The show continues at VG’s Biograph space through March 11.

dusablelogo.gifAnd two institutions that don’t need a special occasion to celebrate African-American heritage and history are joining the conversation. The DuSable Museum of African American History is preparing for Night of 100 Stars, which will honor five outstanding Chicagoans February 17. This year’s list is still under wraps but last year’s event featured John Stroger and Common on the same stage. Across town, the Black Ensemble Theater’s 31st season serves up more of the company’s bread and butter, five new shows paying tribute to great African American musicians. Previews for Memphis Soul Stew (The Story of Stax Records), the season opener and BET original celebrating the label that championed the Staple Sisters, Booker T & the MGs and Otis Redding, begin Saturday night.