ASALH’s Upcoming Conference Defies Florida’s Stance on Black History

This week, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History will host its annual conference in a state led by a governor who has staked his political profile on being the most prominent opponent to the nonprofit organization’s stated mission: the teaching, promotion and research of African American life and history. 

The venerable, Chicago-born organization will host its 108th Annual Conference from Sept. 20-24 in Jacksonville, Florida, led by Governor Ron DeSantis, who has proposed, signed and called for laws targeting Black voters, the teaching of Black history, protestors who support Black causes, Black voting districts and people who conduct workplace racial sensitivity trainings and classroom discussions, especially those that consider Black perspectives. 

The conference takes place in a city where, less than a month ago, a White man reportedly used a handgun and a semiautomatic assault rifle covered in swastikas to murder four Black people. 

Nevertheless, where other Black organizations have pulled out of hosting events in the state, ASALH remained steadfast in hosting its conference at a time when the teaching and promotion of African-American history is as critical as ever. 

“We wanted to challenge what DeSantis is saying about Florida being a place where woke history comes and dies,” said ASALH President W. Marvin Dulaney, “That was a sort of a direct affront to us as an organization, primarily, because that’s what we do.”

Bringing the Conference to the Florida Community

Despite the challenges posed by recent legislation to suppress and stigmatize discourse around African-American history and social justice issues, Dulaney and conference organizers decided not to avoid Florida but instead engage with the community. 

They aim to help educators and the six ASALH branches in the state grapple with the potential repercussions of teaching particular aspects of Black history. Dulaney noted that some teachers fear teaching topics like slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and the oppression of Black people due to potential professional and legal consequences.

“We’re going to incorporate the community. We’re going to bring the community in Florida, particularly African Americans and those teaching Black history, to our conference,” Dulaney said. The conference organizers have scheduled events open to the public, including a community meeting and discussions on the importance of teaching Black history.

During the conference, educators from around the country will participate in workshops addressing the challenges of teaching Black history and strategies for incorporating it into the curriculum without violating state laws. Dr. Dulaney also mentioned topics such as the role of African Americans in the American Revolution and the Civil War as essential aspects of Black history that can be integrated into the standard curriculum.

The conference also plans to highlight the success of “freedom schools,” a concept pioneered by Black educator and civil rights leader Septima Clark, which has been adopted by some of the Florida branches of the association to teach Black history outside of traditional classrooms.

In addition to academic discussions, the conference will feature a banned book reading event, where participants will read excerpts from books that have faced censorship, including Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “The 1619 Project.” The aim is to challenge the idea that states can dictate what people can read.

The conference expects to host approximately 1,200 participants, with over 800 already pre-registered. Dr. Dulaney hopes that attendees will leave the event feeling enlightened, rejuvenated, and ready to combat legislative efforts that aim to restrict the teaching of Black history in schools.

He stressed the importance of preserving an accurate historical narrative: “We’re hoping that we can stop this from happening again, where pressure groups can change the narrative of what American history was versus what they want it to be.”

Please visit this link for more information on the 108th Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. 

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