ASALH celebrates 100 years of reserving Black History
By A. Peter Bailey
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – When President James Madison, an enslaver of African people, made the observation “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to govern themselves must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives,” it’s for certain he was not thinking about the brilliant, determined, visionary Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Yet I strongly believe that few people understood and acted on the principle cited by Madison more ardently than Dr. Woodson, who was one of the founders of what is now the Association of the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Dr. Woodson was well aware that Madison and his enslaving and brutalizing colleagues made every effort to keep African people in a state of ignorance about their past and also their possibilities. With this in mind, Dr. Woodson, A. L. Jackson, James E. Stamps and George C. Hall founded ASALH on September 9, 1915 in Chicago.
ASALH recently celebrated its 100th birthday with a centennial annual meeting and conference in Atlanta, Ga. More than 1500 historians and history buffs from throughout the country feasted on numerous panels, workshops, roundtables, paper and plenary sessions, a film festival, luncheon and dinner lectures, a youth day and impromptu conversations with friends and colleagues.
The broad and diverse sessions included topics such as: A Look Into The Life Of John Hope Franklin; Mentoring The Next Generation Of African American Students And Leaders, Rise to the Occasion: Black Wo-men’s contributions to Civil Rights, Education and Philanthropy; African in the Americas; Moving Beyond the Academy: African American Heritage And Tourism Comes of Age; Black Power Identity And Social Activism; Carter G. Woodson: The Press and Politics in the 1930s; Booker T. Washington: His Image And Legacy After 100 Years; Black Internationalism; Repression And Resistance; Preserving And Presenting The Past; Economic Nationalism And Racial Self-Help; Black Activism On College Campuses; Race, Gender And Educational Philosophies; Moving From Margins To Center: Our Lives Matter Too; The Miseducation of Black Students: Contemporary Issues In Education; Black Images In The Popular Media; Building Community Through Education and Economics; Race And The Politics of Space; Diaspora And Black Nationalism; Retentions, Practices and (Mis)Understanding; Truth & Transition: A Roundtable Discussion For Historians And Artists On Interpreting Slavery, Resistance and Freedom Through The Arts; We Who Are Japanese African Americanists: Intellectual Autobiographies of Japan Black Studies Association (JBSA) Members; Black Intellectual Tradition In The United States In The 20th Century; and Including Students In Oral History Projects: Preserving Black History for Another Century.
The film festival included documentaries on Fannie Lou Hamer, The Ebonics Debate, Emmett Till, Freedom Summer 1964 and Jesse Owens, among others.
Dr. David Levering-Lewis and Rep. John Lewis were recipients of The Carter G. Woodson Scholars Medallion and The John Hope Franklin Centennial Lifetime Achievement Award respectively.
In a February 1981 Ebony Magazine article, “Why Black History Is Important To You,” perceptive journalist/historian Lerone Bennett stated, “The past is a bet that your fathers placed that you must cover…” By establishing ASALH 100 years ago as an instrument for confronting those “prominent” white historians who deliberately and repeatedly denied or ignored the role of Black people in history, Dr. Woodson and those Black folks who supported him, most assuredly covered the bet placed by our ancestors. It remains to be seen if we will be equally diligent in covering that be.