Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Negro History Week – later to become Black History Month – noted that providing Black youth with access to historical information and education would diminish the “false and belittling propaganda type of history which had been handed to them by Whites, and would build up the Black child’s self and race knowledge as well as his self-respect.”
It was through the Association for the Study of African American Life and History’s annual luncheon on Feb 20 at the Renaissance Hotel in Northwest D.C. that the mission of casting-off stereotypical Black representations was reinvigorated.
Now entering its second century of existence, ASALH continues to document the accomplishments of Black Americans in building the nation, as well as recording, protecting, and disseminating the everyday narratives that capture Black life. “Since I was a child ASALH was a part of my life since my father worked with Dr. Woodson and helped edit the Journal (of Negro History) after his death,” Higginbotham told the AFRO. “Naturally, I feel a certain amount of pride to continue that great work, in addition to a sense of responsibility I feel to lead this organization well.”
For Higginbotham, who received the 2014 National Humanities Medal from President Obama, ASALH’s mission of making and keeping history relevant in the lives of Black youth is even more necessary today. “It is crucial for young people today to understand their place in the community and the world by having a clear understanding of what their legacies are and how important their forefathers and foremothers were to the building of this great nation,” Higginbotham said. “Their roles in society today are directly connected to those their ancestors played in the past.”
ASALH’s 2016 honorees included Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David Levering Lewis, who received the Woodson Scholars Medallion; National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) Chair Ingrid Saunders Jones, who received the Living Legacy Award; and Louis Hicks, who received the Mary McLeod Bethune Service Award.
Keynote speaker Karsonya Wise Whitehead, associate professor of African and African American Studies at Loyola University, said ASALH had a great responsibility in sharing the past, however tumultuous, with young people to equip and arm them for a new generation of struggle. “We are living in a time when Black people are being shot for simply living and breathing, and moving while being Black,” she said. “This is a crisis point and we have a great responsibility because if you know the history, or you’ve lived the history, or you’ve studied the history of this country, you are a keeper of our historical record.”