Black History Month in Des Moines


black history month activities in Des MoinesBlack History Month started as “Negro History Week” in 1926. Historian Carter G. Woodson wanted to recognize the often overlooked contributions of Black Americans to our nation’s history. He chose a week in February to honor the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, President Gerald Ford cemented the month’s position in the U.S. calendar.

There are many ways to celebrate Black History Month in the Des Moines area. Here are just a few:


  1. The Des Moines Art Center
    During Black History Month, the Des Moines Art Center will be a donation site for Black’d Out Books, a project created by Iowa artist Cameron Gray. Gray has placed specially-designed little free libraries throughout Ames and Des Moines that are stocked with Black authors. The Art Center is hoping to collect donations of 100 books by Black authors to contribute to Gray’s project. Visitors can also stop in and see artwork created by well-known Black artists such as Wangechi Mutu, El Anatsui, Ebony G. Patterson, Fred Wilson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and more. These works are on display all year long.
  2. The Jordan House Museum
    The West Des Moines Historical Society maintains the Jordan House Museum and celebrates its contribution to the underground railroad during the antebellum period. Guided public tours are available on Fridays and Sundays.
  3. Mainframe Studios
    For their First Friday series in February, Mainframe Studios is offering a free night of events honoring “the history of Center Street when it was a hub for Black culture and commerce.” The night will include art, historical artifacts, food, and appearances by Iowa Wolves players and coaches, comedian Bernard Bell, and a special guest yet to be announced. It will be held Friday, February 3, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  4. Des Moines Art Tour If you want something a little more self-guided, consider exploring many of the free art displays in the city of Des Moines by noted Black artists. Check out the list of all the city’s public art here, but be sure to hit these highlights:
    • “A Monumental Journey” Sculpture by Kerry James Marshall. This piece was designed to honor 12 African American lawyers who ultimately created the National Bar Association, an effort that began in Des Moines. In 2019, this work was named one of the 50 best public art projects in North America.
    • “Future” Mural by Jill Wells. Wells is an Iowa artist who has many works on display throughout Iowa and beyond, and is currently a Harkin Institute Fellow at Drake University. This specific mural can be found at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families.

Library Events 

  1. Forest Avenue Library
    Visit their display titled “Explore Visual Black History,” which features photo books, graphic novels, and other visual records of Black history. Available all of February.
  2. Forest Avenue Library
    Finish their “Countries of Africa” Scavenger Hunt, an activity that teaches kids while they play. Available February 1-11. Best for ages 6+.
  3. Central Library
    Try out their “Influential Figures Scavenger Hunt” celebrating historic Black individuals and authors. Available February 12 – 19 and February 21 – 25. 
  4. Forest Avenue Library
    Take a look at their “Influential African American Artists” Scavenger Hunt. Available February 13-18. Best for ages 6+. 
  5. South Side Library
    Check out their “Awesome Black Inventors” Scavenger Hunt. Available February 15-18 and 22-28.
  6. “Art in the Library: Spotlight on Alma Woodsey Thomas”
    This event at Franklin Library celebrates an important Black artist and lets kids learn about her abstract paintings and try some of their own. Preregistration is required and the event is geared toward ages 6-12. It will be held on February 15 at 2 p.m. 
  7. Art Cart: “I Have a Dream” Cloud
    This event at the East Side Library will provide materials for children to build a dream-cloud mobile inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech. Available all day on Saturday, February 25.  


  1. PBS for Kids
    PBS is always a good place to check out for learning and they’ve put together a special Black History Month collection for kids. Find everything from shows to watch to lessons to use at home.
  2. Common Sense Media
    This has a huge database of age-appropriate websites, podcasts, videos, and more resources to use with your kids no matter how old they are.
  3. When in doubt, read. Buy or borrow books by Black authors for every reading age. There are plenty of suggested reading lists available online. Find the Des Public Library’s list here.


  1. Shop Black DSM
    This database was created by ISU graduates and entrepreneurs to support Black-owned businesses. Check it out next time you’re looking for great food or products.
  2. The Directors Council 
    This is another directory of Black-owned businesses created by a local nonprofit run by Black leaders in business.


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