A dismissive comment about the leading publication from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) prompted Dr. Daryl Michael Scott’s commitment to a career-long cause. He decided to help sustain the legacy and work of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who in 1915 founded the organization that created and nurtured Black History Month.
Today, Scott, a professor of history at Howard University, is the newly-elected president of ASALH. The Atlanta Daily World recently sat down with Dr. Scott to discuss his new role as president and the significance of Black History Month today.
To learn more about ASALH, visit http://online.asalh.net.
ADW: What is your vision for ASALH?
Dr. Scott: Along with remaining the premier learned society concerning African Americans, ASALH has to begin to address the key issues affecting the lives of people of African descent today. For example, we must leverage our knowledge and expertise in the history of Black disfranchisement to mobilize the public against efforts to disfranchise Americans.
ADW: What do you plan to implement in your first few months as president – what are your immediate goals?
Dr. Scott: ASALH must expand its membership base by focusing on service, especially in the area of civic engagement. I think people want to reach beyond themselves to build and strengthen their sense of community.
ADW: How did you become involved with ASALH?
Dr. Scott: When I was an undergraduate in the early 1980s, my university did not have Black history courses, so I was teaching myself by reading the Journal of Negro History, which the Association published. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the issues were being published irregularly, and when I asked one of the librarians for them she made a snide remark about efficacy of the journals. I vowed I would do what I could to assist the Association in my career. In 2001, I was asked to serve on the editorial board, and in 2002, I was asked by my late friend Gloria Dickinson to run for a seat on the Executive Council. It was my chance to keep a pledge that I had made to myself.
ADW: What do you think are some of ASALH’s most significant accomplishments?
Dr. Scott: For nearly a century, ASALH has produced knowledge that has transformed the image of Black people in their own eyes and in the eyes of others around the world. Our founder, Carter G. Woodson recognized that Black people would rise by battering the false myths about them with historical truth. The central role of history in the Black struggle for equality was our unique contribution to the changes wrought over the last half-century.
On the purely scholarly front, ASALH has succeeded in maintaining three scholarly journals—the Journal of African American History, the Black History Bulletin, and Fire!!!: The Multimedia Journal of Black Studies. The JAAH, the jewel of ASALH, is one of the oldest scholarly journals in the nation, and it will turn 100 in 2016.
ADW: Share your thoughts on the importance of learning about African-American history.
Dr. Scott: No American, regardless of background, can understand the history of our country without understanding Black history. You cannot understand the origins and meaning of American freedom without understanding the origins and meaning of Black slavery. You cannot understand the centrality of equality in American culture without understanding the struggle of African Americans to make it a part of the fabric of our national identity. And no African-American child can begin to understand their own individual way forward without first looking back to view the efforts made to establish the path they travel.
History is about self-knowledge and Black history is about under standing humanity.
ADW: What can be done to help ensure that younger generations see the value of Black history?
Dr. Scott: The challenge of teaching Black history to the young is to realize that they are more concerned about making rather than learning history. They want to leave their mark on the world, and quite often what we need to do is to use history to empower them. We need to point out that many leaders of their fields were successful precisely because they studied the masters who came before them. Great musicians, boxers, politicians, actors, to name a few fields, tend to know the stories of those who came before them.
ADW: Some have said that Black History Month (BHM) is not necessary and should not be singled out from American history. What do you have to say about that ideology?
Dr. Scott: Over the years, Black History Month has been criticized by those who argue that Black history month divides America, and we need one unified American history. The 365 crowd believes that every day is a great day for Black history. They see the month-long observance as placing Black history in a straitjacket.
The goal of Carter G. Woodson and ASALH is the study of Black life throughout the year. Getting rid of a cultural institution like Black History Month is like a Christian minister seeking to end Christmas and Easter because the flock should pray to God every day. Black History Month has a way of bringing organization to our efforts. In its intensity, many young people come to appreciate history more.
Teachers can bring focus to their efforts. To be sure, there is a tendency to push Black history aside until February, but imagine what would often happen if February was not Black history month. In schools, a focus on February is still a way to measure commitment for the inclusion of Black history in the curriculum. In general, we recommend that the advocates of 365 build out from a base in February.
We should not forget that across this country Black museums and cultural centers DO celebrate and explore Black life and history 365, and ASALH urges everyone to support them every day of the year.
ADW: How would Dr. Woodson feel about the treatment of his legacy and today’s approach to the study of African-American life and history?
Dr. Scott: It’s hard to imagine what Woodson would say about his legacy. He often downplayed the role of individuals in history, but as he grew older, it appears that he began to appreciate what recognition he did receive for his efforts. He allowed his story to be included in the biographies of his day, and took great pride when school children acknowledged his efforts.
He would be proud of the ample scholarship that is now produced by historians from all walks of life. And he would find in multimedia scholarship great promise in correcting the historical record of people of African descent.
Finally, I think he would be proud that African Americans are the most passionate history lovers in the United States.