When Carter G. Woodson established Negro History week in 1926, he realized the importance of providing a theme to focus the attention of the public. The intention has never been to dictate or limit the exploration of the Black experience, but to bring to the public’s attention important developments that merit emphasis.

For those interested in the study of identity and ideology, an exploration of ASALH’s Black History themes is itself instructive. Over the years, the themes reflect changes in how people of African descent in the United States have viewed themselves, the influence of social movements on racial ideologies, and the aspirations of the black community.

The changes notwithstanding, the list reveals an overarching continuity in ASALH–our dedication to exploring historical issues of importance to people of African descent and race relations in America.

The Origins of Black History Month

2021 THEME

2021- The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.

The black family has been a topic of study in many disciplines—history, literature, the visual arts and film studies, sociology, anthropology, and social policy.  Its representation, identity, and diversity have been reverenced, stereotyped, and vilified from the days of slavery to our own time. The black family knows no single location, since family reunions and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, nations, and continents. Not only are individual black families diasporic, but Africa and the diaspora itself have been long portrayed as the black family at large. While the role of the black family has been described by some as a microcosm of the entire race, its complexity as the “foundation” of African American life and history can be seen in numerous debates over how to represent its meaning and typicality from a historical perspective—as slave or free, as patriarchal or matriarchal/matrifocal, as single-headed or dual-headed household, as extended or nuclear, as fictive kin or blood lineage, as legal or common law, and as black or interracial, etc. Variation appears, as well, in discussions on the nature and impact of parenting, childhood, marriage, gender norms, sexuality, and incarceration. The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present.

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2022- Black Health and Wellness

“When white folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia.” This old saying, uttered by members of the African American community when economic disparities become grimmer, reveals how insidious anti-black racism is, even in medical metaphor form. In this particular pandemic moment, the disproportionate impact of disease on Black and Brown people, as well as other groups who face societal detriments against them, is wreaking havoc within this country and more broadly, our larger global society. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported the 1918 flu infected nearly 500 million people worldwide. This earlier pandemic caused 50 million deaths globally, including 675,000 in the Americas. Although Black Americans did not seem to have the same mortality rates during the 1918 Influenza pandemic, the full story reveals the reasons why Black people “allegedly” fared better. There was very little statistical research that included Black victims of the 1918 Influenza. Experts now believe there were far more deaths in the Black community during this time, but federal and state governments effaced Black people from data sets. During the 1918 flu epidemic in most cities across the United States, Black and Brown people who were infected were either tended to by family members or forced to utilized racially segregated and poorly funded “colored hospitals.” During this time, the Jim Crow era, Black patients often received substandard care because of the structural inequalities firmly set in place centuries ago (ex. underfunding and understaffed hospitals, racist white administrators, and overcrowding). Even in death, Black influenza victims were not shielded from anti-Blackness during the epidemic. In Baltimore, Mount Auburn, the city’s only cemetery for Black residents, was inundated with cadavers. White sanitation workers refused to dig ditches in whites-only cemeteries for dead black bodies. The social determinants of racism, segregation, and poverty impacted negatively Black people’s response to the deadliest epidemic of the 20th century.

Fast forward to 2020 and similar patterns still exists during the Age of Covid-19 in overwhelmingly Black spaces. For example, due to overcrowding in residential spaces and hospitals, underfunding of hospitals, and Black people working in jobs that are low-wage ones that require public engagement, we are experiencing a medical catastrophe. In the hardest hit areas in the United States, like New York City, Black and Brown people have been twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as White people. Additionally, these cases have been concentrated in ZIP codes where residents are low wage earners, where people live in crowded apartments and cannot work from home, isolate from others, and flee to their vacation homes. Furthermore, in Washington, D.C., a city with a higher population of Black residents than even Mississippi, the “blackest” state, of 45% COVID-19 cases, 79% of that figure has resulted in the death of Black residents. Even more distressing news shows since April 2020, Black Americans have made up more than 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Georgia, a Blackbelt state, and almost all COVID-19 deaths in St. Louis. Similar trends have been seen for Black and South Asian patients in the United Kingdom. Brown and Black people in the global South are in near identical situations and like the United States, governments in South Asia and the UK are not responding to the specific needs of these victims. We are determined to create a platform that addresses these disparities through education and activism.

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2023- Anti-Black Violence and Resistance in the Diaspora