The Association for the Study of African American Life and History hosted its 104th annual meeting and conference in Charleston, South Carolina, last weekend with record-breaking attendance. More than 1,400 historians, scholars, genealogists and pure lovers of African-American history and culture attended. Over 224 sessions including tours, lunches and a worship service focused on Black migrations and the 400th anniversary of the first 20 enslaved Africans’ arrival to the U.S. in 1619. The event also paid tribute to ASALH’s founder Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a native of Virginia born in 1875, the son of ex-slaves, who later became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University.
Woodson’s profound appreciation of education inspired his efforts to correct the miseducation and reverse the overwhelming ignorance of the role African Americans contributed to America and other cultures across the globe. A few like-minded historians, authors, and journalists aided Woodson, who founded ASALH in 1915 and later established Negro History Week in 1925. The week became a month-long celebration which now seeks to honor the achievements of African Americans and celebrates African culture throughout the diaspora.
The challenges Woodson faced nearly a century ago in his efforts to convince people to acknowledge the numerous contributions of Blacks, despite violent opposition and undeniable odds, continue to exist today. Woodson would be incredibly proud of those who thought enough of him to turn his Washington, D.C., home on 9th Street NW into a national historic landmark where current and future generations can see first-hand where the study of African American history was born.
Woodson dedicated his entire life to documenting and preserving Black history and culture. However, it seems that today the page has turned. In an era more favorable for Black people than in Woodson’s day, news of the shuttering and sale of historic Black-owned property and land is permeating the headlines. Properties including the United Black Fund building on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, the headquarters of the Northern Virginia Urban League home in Old Town Alexandria, historic Black churches all across the District and the homes of Woodson’s renowned neighbors, including Duke Ellington in Shaw, are going to the highest bidder.
What would Woodson say about this atrocity? “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”