ASALH's Annual Luncheon Pays Tribute to Black Women

Floyd Nelson Jr. | 2/29/2012, 9:52 p.m.

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) celebrated its 86th Annual Black History Luncheon on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, at the Renaissance Hotel in Northwest. Throngs of people of all ages came from around the nation to kick off what the organization called "a year-long celebration of the myriad accomplishments of black women in all arenas of American life."

ASALH Executive Director Sylvia Cyrus said the luncheon was a "tremendous success" and coupled with this year's theme: Black Women in American Culture and History, allowed attention to be given to a very significant part of the American population.

"This opportunity to highlight black women has been so important for our community because black women are sometimes left out of black history, "Cyrus said, "just like black history is left out of

American history. We'll leave here making sure the woman story is told."

And, indeed, the "woman story" was evoked well thanks to ASALH's Black History Luncheon keynote speaker--Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, president emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women.

"I applaud ASALH for calling for the acknowledgement and the celebration of black women. In doing so, this important and respected organization is saying we must deal with the fact that so much of the curriculum in American educational institutions is still based on the three W's--It is fundamentally western, profoundly white and inexcusably womanless," Cole said. "In choosing this theme [Black Women in American Culture and History], I am sure ASALH wants us to remember to lift up, to celebrate great African-American sheroes of the past."

Dr. Cole, who is director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), said society needs to move away from simply telling history.

"We need to tell herstory!" she said.

As a part of ASALH's celebration of black women, the organization joined with Farmers Insurance to create the Living Legacy Award "to honor living legacy examples of Black American women who have made a difference in the world." Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, was among those honored. Other awardees included: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Marion Wright Edelman, president of Children's Defense Fund; Rosalyn Brock, chairman, National Board of Directors NAACP; Tracey Webb, founder, Black Benefactors & BlackGivesBack.com; Actress Lynn Whitfield and Bernice Johnson Reagon, cultural historian, composer, producer and founder of a capella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Each award was inscribed with: "Black Women with the Strength, Patience and Passion to Change the World." According to Cole, 19th century abolitionist and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth would find those words quite apropos.

"If one women, her name is Eve, could get the world turned upside down, seems to me," said Cole offering her best imitation of Truth by using a common dialect of the time period, "all of these women in here can get it right-side-up again. My brothers, we got some wuk to do. We are look'n for the righteous brothers to be our allies because we gotta get this world turned right-side-up again."

Headquarted in Washington, D.C., and founded by African-American historian Carter C. Woodson in 1915, ASALH's mission is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community. The organization's next big event ASALH's next big event is their 97TH anual cnvention in Pittsburg, Pa., Sept. 26-30.