The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) recently celebrated its Annual Black History theme of “African Americans and the Vote” at the 94th Annual Black History Luncheon and Author’s Book Signing, which was held Saturday, February 22nd 2020 at the Washington Renaissance Hotel. The event drew approximately 1,000 historians, history makers, members of the military, students, policy makers and black history enthusiasts from communities surrounding the DC metropolitan area, and all across the country. Tickets were sold out.

Lonnie G. Bunch III, the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, was the recipient of ASALH’s Legacy Award and gave the keynote address for this year’s luncheon. Bunch was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and is the first historian to be Secretary of the Institution. As Secretary of the Smithsonian, Bunch oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers, and several education units and centers.

“With this award, what you’re really saying is that there’s nothing more powerful than a people. Than a nation, steeped in its history. And there’s nothing more noble than honoring all of our ancestors, by remembering. So thank you for an award that I will never forget, from an association that shaped almost everything about me,” Bunch stated.

Joining Mr. Bunch at the luncheon was former Television News Anchor Maureen Bunyan who served as the Luncheon’s Emcee. The culminating event of the program was an unveiling of the 2020 Black Heritage Stamp commemorating Gwen Ifill, which was presented by Elliot Gruber, Director of National Postal Museum.

A newer part of the luncheon this year was the Author’s Book Signing, featuring over 40 authors sharing and signing their books on African American history and culture. This included a featured Authors pane discussion with Historian Martha Jones, Journalist Karine Jean-Pierre, and Historian/Community Activist Karsonya Wise Whitehead aka “Dr. Kaye”. They discussed the 2020 Black History theme and their books. The session was expertly moderated by Pero Dagbovie, editor of the Journal of African American History.

This year’s Black History Month theme, which all of the speakers explored, has a rich and long history, which begins at the turn of the nineteenth century—in the era of the Early Republic—with the states’ passage of laws that democratized the vote for white men while disenfranchising free black men. It was chosen to coincide with the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870), which gave black men the right to vote after the Civil War. 2020 also marks the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement. Black men were given the right to vote some 50 years before any women—black or white—something which caused a great deal of debate and consternation for many Black suffragists.