By Roy Betts
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the founders of Black History Month, convened its 101st Annual Conference in Richmond, VA, Oct. 5-9.
More than 1,000 registrants, with more than 200 sessions, an amazing film festival, and tours of historic Richmond sites led to one of ASALH’s most successful annual conferences in recent memory.
Highly acclaimed speakers, including writer and social critic Ta-Nehisi Coates, Black Entertainment Television (BET) commentator and syndicated journalist Jeff Johnson, SNCC civil rights pioneer Courtland Cox, and social justice lawyer Bryan Stevenson, headlined the conference.
This year’s conference theme was, “Hallowed Ground: Sites of African American Memories,” which served as the 2016 national Black History Month Theme. ASALH’s 2016 theme also honored the centennial of the National Park Service, which hosted a special plenary session that opened the conference. The plenary called attention to the role of the NPS in preserving and fostering greater knowledge of African American historic sites.
“The Richmond conference was amazing. I couldn’t imagine a city more appropriate to host the first conference in ASALH’s second century,” said ASALH National President Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. “The city graciously opened its doors and more than 1,000 educators, historians, students, and Black History enthusiasts of all ages and ethnicities came to be a part of history. Indeed, Richmond was a huge success.”
Dr. Higginbotham delivered the Carter G. Woodson luncheon keynote speech reflecting upon Richmond as the place where her own grandparents and great grandparents lived, worked and worshipped as slaves, and where they ultimately won their freedom. She spoke of her great grandfather, James H. Holmes, who in 1867 became the first Black pastor of First African Baptist Church, the city’s oldest African American congregation, which organized specifically for slaves and free blacks in 1841.
Special receptions were hosted by the University of Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Awards were announced at the conference to recognize outstanding contributors to the continuing legacy of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, ASALH’s founder and the Father of Black History. A number of individuals were honored for their work in making Black History relevant, resourceful, and robust.
Dr. La Vonne I. Neal, Associate Vice-President for Process Improvement and Operational Effectiveness at Northern Illinois University and co-editor of the Black History Bulletin, received the Mary McLeod Bethune Award for her record of accomplishments as an educator, leader, athlete, and businesswoman.
Lois L. Watson, retired educator and community leader, also received the Mary McLeod Bethune Award. In 1996, she and 16 members chartered the Manasota, FL, Branch of ASALH, which is now the largest branch in the United States.
Wilma King, Arvarh E. Strickland Distinguished Professor in African American History and Culture Emerita, University of Missouri, was the recipient of the coveted Carter G. Woodson Scholars Medallion for her published works on slavery and freedom in 19th century North America.
Dorothy F. Bailey, vice-chair of the Prince George’s County Planning Board of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, received the Executive Council Award for Special Recognition. Bailey serves as president of ASALH’s Truth Branch in Prince George’s County, Maryland. She serves on the ASALH Executive Council. She is the founder of the Kiamsha Youth Empowerment Program that conducts youth workshops during ASALH’s national meetings.
“This was the best ASALH conference ever,” said a participant. “I believe next year’s conference in Cincinnati will be even better.”