Photo courtesy ASALH
Because of its longtime designation as the Harlem of the South, Richmond has been a “port of comfort” for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History over the years, according to Gary Flowers, the academic organization’s local activities coordinator.
Founded by pioneering historian Carter G. Woodson (a Virginia native), and responsible for, among other things, the establishment of a national Black History Month, the association will hold its 101st annual meeting and conference Oct. 5 to 9 at the Richmond Marriott. Participating in 200 different sessions will be more than 1,000 African-American professors, historians and public figures, exploring topics ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement and Shockoe Bottom’s slave trade past to a discussion on how public art funds should be used to commemorate historic African-American figures like Maggie Walker. There will also be tours of the city, Jamestown and the Pocahontas Island community in Petersburg.
“The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Hallowed Grounds,’” says Flowers. “And Virginia’s grounds are certainly hallowed. They have played a big part in African-American history, from the establishment of the first black Catholic school in America to the accomplishments of people like L. Douglas Wilder, Dr. Dorothy Height and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.” This is the seventh time that Richmond has hosted the event, he says; the last was in 2011. “Dr. Woodson was quoted as saying that African-American history represents the missing pages of world history and our focus has always been to make that history a requirement, instead of an elective. … We feel that black history should be studied by everyone, not just people of color.”
A film festival is also scheduled, screening everything from documentaries to acclaimed short films by African-American filmmakers, and there will be appearances by leading black intellectuals Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jelani Cobb, civil rights pioneer Courtland Cox and lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who has served as a voice for the incarcerated. The keynote address will be given by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (read our Q&A here), a Harvard professor and ASALH president. She is the great-granddaughter of James H. Holmes, who in 1867 became the first black pastor of First African Baptist Church, one of the city’s pre-eminent African-American congregations, founded by slaves and freedmen in 1841.
There will also be receptions at the University of Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. For a schedule of events and more information, go to asalh100.org.
At 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 8 at the conference, Richmond magazine's arts and entertainment editor, Samantha Willis, will present her feature on civil rights activist and Jackson Ward native James E. Jackson, originally published in our July 2016 issue.