Black historians and black history lovers converged in Washington, DC on Saturday, February 26th for the 85th annual Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the organization founded by Carter G. Woodson–the father of black history–in 1915.
The luncheon always brings out the stars of black history!
We saw Lonnie Bunch (founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture), Tuliza Fleming (NMAAHC curator Apollo exhibit) , John Fleming (former ASALH president/executive producer America I AM), Dr. Sharon Harley (National Humanities Center Fellow and chair emerita of the University of Maryland’s African American Studies Department), Ida Jones (president of the Association of Black Women Historians), NOVA history professor Joe Windham, Thomas Battle (former head of Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center), the ever energetic Sylvia Cyrus (ASALH executive director) and dozens more great friends.
Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s special adviser, brought greetings from the White House.
When Dr. Lerone Bennett, former top editor at Ebony, gave the keynote, I was reminded that his 1962 book, Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, was in our household when I was in elemetary school and the first black history book I ever read. My uncle, Walker Perry, was good friends with Jet’s photo librarian, Basil Phillips (who never missed an ASALH convention while he was alive and who always sent us the latest Johnson Publishing Company books.) Just the words “before the Mayflower” provided ammunition we could use in an era when we were told black people had made no contributions to America.
Today, as Black History Month ends, I’m confident in saying that black history is integral to and inextricably linked to American history. As I heard someone say this month: “You can not understand George Washington, without understanding George Washington’s slaves.” Of course our history is much broader, much richer and much more complex than our ancestors’ slave status, but George Washington’s interaction with enslaved people shaped him and enriched his bottom line just as much as his decisions shaped them and America.
What is indisputable is that America would not be the America we know today had it not been for the free labor of millions of people of African descent and their subsequent contributions in science, art, medicine, literature, business and any field we can name. In the words of Langston Hughes, “I, too, sing America.”