Bessie Smith Cultural Center Celebrates Black History Month

At left, Dr. King, left, walks with Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks during the March against Fear in June of 1966 in Mississippi. The first popular use of the term “Black Power” as a social and racial slogan was by Willie Ricks (later known as Mukasa Dada), and Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture).

CHATTANOOGA, TN – The Bessie Smith Cultural Center will commemorate Black History Month in February 2023 with a full calendar of events, featuring educational programs, tours, and in-person and virtual public programs.

Chattanoogan Willie Ricks aka Mukasa Dada The free event will take place in the Bessie Smith Performance Hall on February 2 at 6:00 pm and will be live-streamed at

The month kicks off with a “Fireside Chat: The Power of Activism” with Willie “Mukasa Dada” Ricks and John Edwards. Willie Ricks, also known as “Mukasa Dada” or “Papa Ricks,” was a prominent Civil Rights activist, community organizer, and leader in the struggle for equal rights in the United States. John Edwards is the owner/publisher of the Chattanooga News Chronicle and a local historian.

On February 9th in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, a documentary film “Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance,” will be shown at 6:00 pm in the Bessie Smith Performance Hall. “Shared Legacies,” tells the often-forgotten story of the coalition and friendship between the Jewish and African American communities during the Civil Rights Movement. On February 16th a panel discussion with African American physicians from the Mountain City Medical Society will be held at 6:00 pm in the Bessie Smith Performance Hall. The physicians will discuss the disparities in health and healthcare among African Americans. The event will be live-streamed at On February 23rd at 6:00 pm, in the Bessie Smith Performance Hall, Dr. Clark White “Deacon Bluz” and a guest will discuss Chattanooga African American history from the early years to today. This will be an interactive discussion with attendees and will be live-streamed at

The Bessie Smith Art Contest Exhibit Opening will be held Saturday, February 25 from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm with free admission to the museum on this day.

The Chattanooga African American Museum will be open for tours Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Saturdays from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm during February.

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center and Chattanooga African American Museum celebrates Black History 365 days a year. We believe that the African American culture and history of Chattanooga should be available to all community members and visitors. Arts, culture, and history are essential for building community, supporting development, nurturing health, and wellbeing, and contributing to economic opportunity. Collectively, arts and culture enable understanding of the past and envision a shared, more equitable future.

The Black History Month programs are being sponsored by the City of Chattanooga, Tennessee Arts Commission, and Erlanger Health System. For more information, visit