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The energy in the air was nearly palpable as members from around the world descended on the famed Peabody Hotel last week for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) conference. A thousand people met to share their research and collaborate on issues related to the organization’s mission: “To promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.”
ASALH was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The organization established National Negro Week in 1926, which later became Black History Month in 1976.
This year’s conference theme was “Civil Rights in America” and conference organizers took several opportunities to remind the audience of the long history of the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States, beginning in the 1600s and continuing to present day. More than 200 separate conference panels sparked lively discussion and debate on the status of civil rights in America and around the world.
Panelists covered topics as diverse as the work of freedom fighters from the 18th century, women’s roles in the Pan-Africanism movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries, activism and resistance in the mid-20th century civil rights struggle, and today’s ongoing issues of police brutality, race relations, and civil rights in other communities, such as the LGBTQ community.
One highlight of the conference was the keynote speech, delivered by Howard Dodson, Director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and Howard University Libraries, at the Saturday evening banquet. Dodson shared his intensely personal journey towards his vocation, which is centered on preserving and promoting African American history. His career has taken him from the Peace Corps to the University of California at Berkeley to the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, Ga., finally landing him at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
After 25 years at Schomburg, Dodson is now at Howard University, revitalizing the Moorland-Springarn Research Center for a new generation of African diaspora scholars. He described his work as a complement to the work that scholars are doing; supporting scholarship by providing access to critical resources; and promoting the use of collections to make new research connections and discoveries.
ProQuest History Vault also plays a vital role in the preservation and promotion of collections in African American studies, most notably with the digitization of the NAACP Papers and the collections digitized in The Black Freedom Struggle in the 20th Century, including records from organizations and individuals such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Claude A. Barnett, Bayard Rustin, and Mary McLeod Bethune. [Photo: Letter from Carter G. Woodson to Mary McLeod Bethune congratulating her on her membership. Source: Mary McLeod Bethune Papers in ProQuest History Vault.]
Releasing later this month are the papers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality, as well as the papers of Robert F. Williams and Arthur W. Mitchell.
ASALH President Daryl Michael Scott closed the conference by telling the audience that “the fight for civil rights is long, and it is not over.” Everyone has their role to play.
Discover more with ProQuest History Vault resources that are focused on the long civil rights movement.
Librarians: Learn more and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault modules. Plus, learn about complementary resources including Black Abolitionist Papers, Black Studies Center, and Black Historical Newspapers.