Events celebrating Black History Month planned in Great Falls

Several upcoming events are planned in Great Falls to celebrate Black History Month.

At 6 p.m. Feb. 6, there will be a Black Heritage Evening at the Great Falls Public Library, with a sampling of soul food, singing and dancing, and guest speaker, Mayor Wilmot Collins of Helena.

The event is free, open to the public, and co-sponsored by the Alma Smith Jacobs Foundation, a non-profit promoting education.

A variety of speakers and performers will include guest speaker Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, Kathy Reed, Kelly Lampkin, Crystal Benson with the Community Gospel Choir, Alexander Temple Saints Dancers, Commissioner Owen Robinson, Ken Robison, and a Sampling of Soul Food.

On Feb. 8, local historian Ken Robison will be sharing stories and playing original jazz from the heyday of the famed Ozark Club on Great Falls’s lower south side at 1 p.m. at The History Museum, 500 2nd St. S.

During the 1940s and 50s, Leo Lamarr and his Ozark Club broke racial barriers in Great Falls becoming the finest jazz nightclub between Minneapolis and the West Coast. Black and white, rich and poor, the Ozark Club brought people together at a time when Great Falls and Montana discriminated against black residents and airmen. Yet, at the Ozark Club, “everyone was welcome.”

At 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at Cassiopeia Books, 721 Central Ave., Robison will present “Breaking Racial Barriers: The Civil Rights Movement in Montana,” from the new book “Black Americans and the Civil Rights Movement in the West.” In Montana racial prejudice and discrimination were pervasive despite the small African American communities. Discrimination began to crumble during World War II, due in part to the influx of black soldiers. In the cities of Great Falls, Helena and Missoula, white and black residents, such as Alma Jacobs and Mike Mansfield aided the movement to eradicate racial intolerance. Overall, Montana made “significant progress” over the postwar decades. Robison will present stories of the environment at the time, experiences in each of the three communities, and the key individuals who moved Montana forward in Civil Rights.