On February 20, 2021, the 2021 marquee event for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was a virtual event that featured “A Conversation with Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Dr. Evelyn Higginbotham.” The 95th Annual Black History theme is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.
As a capstone to Black History Month, Bro. Clarence Demory (Pi Gamma 1965) and ASALH Black History Chairman Bro. Nate Ards (Psi Alpha Alpha, 2017) attended the pre-recorded event, which was moderated by Joe Madison, an established Washington DC media personality.
One of the highlights of the evening was the celebration of the latest release in the Black
Heritage Stamp Series. On January 28, 2021, the August Wilson Black Heritage Stamp was unveiled. Wilson was an American playwright, considered a literary trailblazer. His play, “Fences”, set in the 1950s explored the evolving African American experience and examined race relations, among other themes. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play. Wilson’s play, “The Piano Lesson,” was also a Pulitzer Prize winner.
The primary focus of this virtual marquee event was Dr. Gates’ commentary. He mainly discussed the genesis of his PBS show, “Finding Your Roots…” and his views on the importance of the Black church. Dr. Gates’ curiosity about family lineage stemmed from his grandfather being exceptionally light-skinned with straight hair. He could not figure out how he was the descendant of a grandfather that looked so different than he did. In later years, with the advent of new DNA testing essentially in a tube, Dr. Gates set out to deliver to the average American the type of extensive family lineage revealed by Alex Haley in “Roots.”
Dr. Gates proclaimed the Black church was the oldest, first, and most continuous institution, since 1773, for black American families. The 1773 date establishes the Black church 3 years prior to the Revolutionary War of 1776. He recognized the church as the birthplace of every social, educational, political, and artistic form in our community. It was a “cultural laboratory.” He alluded to the black church being the “Wheel in the Middle of the Wheel” as stressed in the book of Ezekiel.
As an aside, Dr. Gates stressed that even in this digital age, it is important to label hard-copy photographs with names so that young men and women and future generations will have the ability to identify who’s who in those priceless family photos.
The depth of knowledge gained during this event was immeasurable.