Pittsburgh history showcased at national conference

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Last week the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History convened in Pittsburgh for their 97th annual convention. While the national conference, which was last hosted in Pittsburgh in 2004, drew notable historians from across the country, it also shed light on the depth of African-American history within the city of three rivers.

SONIASANCHEZ
KEYNOTER–Sonya Sanchez, professor at Temple University and the poet laureate of Philadelphia, was one of the convention’s keynoters. (Courier Photos/J.L. Martello)

“Pittsburgh has been very important for this association especially in the rebuilding of this organization. It’s a very big and growing conference and a lot of that has to do with when we came here in 2004,” said Daryl Scott, ASALH vice president for programs. “There’s a relationship between Pittsburgh and Black history in general that people here really need to be proud of.”

When the organization came to Pittsburgh in 2004, ASALH was going through a rebuilding phase and the convention drew approximately 600 participants. This year that number was nearly doubled as 1000 guests converged on the Westin Convention Center Hotel for five days of activities from Sept. 26 to Sept. 30.

The convention treated participants to an African-American bus tour through Pittsburgh and a reception at the John Heinz History Center. However, some of the city’s most historical milestones were revealed through conversations with convention guests.

“It was in Pittsburgh that I taught and first organized a course on the Black woman,” said Sonia Sanchez, a professor at Temple University and the poet laureate of Philadelphia. “I taught that course not because it was my bright idea, but I give credit to students.”

Sanchez’s course examining the history of Black women was the first of its kind in the country. She was also one of the first African-American professors to advocate for the introduction of Black Studies courses in California.

Among the convention’s national guests was Shirley Sherrod, the convention’s headliner who served as the keynote speaker at the ASALH’s Annual Banquet on Sept. 29. Through her comments, she highlighted the convention’s focus on African-American women.

“Men when I hear you give Black women the credit for the work we’ve done through the years, I’ll feel like we’ve gotten somewhere,” Sherrod said. “We’ve been the backbone of our communities through the years. During the civil rights movement, there wouldn’t have been a movement if it hadn’t been for Black women.”

Sherrod is a former Georgia state director of rural development for the United States Department of Agriculture, who was forced to resign in response to comments she made during a NAACP meeting. Now she dedicates her time to the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc., a non-profit organization she founded with her husband.

This year’s recipient of the Carter G. Woodson Scholars Medallion was Colin Palmer, a prolific scholar and historian. He has taught at Oakland University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was the chair of the department of history and attained the rank of William Rand Kenan Professor. He also taught at the graduate school and university center of the City University of New York, where he was named a distinguished professor.

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