Host Stephen Henderson sits down with Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, the president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), for a captivating conversation about ASALH’s founding of Black History Month and it’s importance in today’s racial landscape. The two discuss the original vision of the organization’s founder, historian and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson, as well as the theme for the organization’s virtual festival this year: Black health and wellness.
Stephen Henderson: Black History Month began in February 1926 as Negro History Week, the celebration was created by noted African-American historian and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson, and it later grew to include the entire month of February. Dr. Woodson was also the founder of what is now the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, known as ASALH.
Stephen Henderson: This year, the organization is focusing on black health and wellness for its Black History Month virtual festival. Here’s my conversation with ASALH, President, Dr. Marvin Dulaney.
Stephen Henderson: So I think I want to start here. I think it’s fair to say that thankfully people are starting to recognize that restricting the idea and the celebration of black history to a month doesn’t make a lot of sense that black history is American history, that there are important parts of blackhistory that show up all over our culture and our history.
Stephen Henderson: So then I think some people are saying, so why still have a month like Black History Month if we’re moving toward a more general understanding of the integration of Black history with American history? I just want to give you a couple of minutes to talk about the importance of maintaining this month long celebration as well.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, President, Association for the Study of African American Life & History: You know, I’ve been engaged in the study of African-American history for I’ll say about 50 years. I came into this topic when I was an undergraduate student at Central State University, and I was part of what was called the Black Studies movement. At that time, we were protesting shutting down universities, demonstrating taking over the president’s office, trying to get black studies as a part of the curriculum, in both in the public schools, as well as in colleges and universities.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: It was a long struggle, long and difficult struggle. And but here we are 50 years later, basically still trying to struggle to get African-American history and culture in our schools. And again, even in some colleges and universities, there’s still a fight against it. As you as you witnessed recently. This whole notion about critical race theory and that it’s, you know, making white students and white people in general feel bad because they have to learn black history and read our authors, such as Toni Morrison.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: So here we are, 2022, you know, a hundred and seven years after Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Yet we’re still facing this idea that black history should not be taught in the schools, at least, at least now saying like this, one of Woodson teachers told him at Harvard that Negroes had no history.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: But now we’re facing the fact that whites in general don’t want to learn black history. They think it’s, you know it makes them feel bad and of course, always used to line for some reason, they’re ashamed of their history when in reality, black history, as you pointed out, is a part of American history. So we have to continue to do Black History Month because we still don’t have the infusion and the comprehensive inclusion of African-American history and culture in an American school curriculums.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: You know, we’re still not part of this master narrative, except maybe for Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. But as you know, our history goes well beyond Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. You know, we were part of almost every aspect in every period of American history, from the colonial period to the American Revolution to the antebellum period, all of the wars from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. World War I, World War II and so on.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Yet here we are, as I said in 2022, still fighting these same old battles that, you know, as I said, it’s almost like I’ve been fighting these battles for 50 years. I can remember one of my first academic appointments. You know, the students ask me, why do you people have to have a whole month to celebrate that you are your history? And of course, of course, they’re push back was, we don’t have a month to celebrate white history.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Of course, I was able to point out very easily. We celebrate black history every day.
Stephen Henderson: All year, right.. [Laughter]
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Every month. You know, this is actually, you know, we get overwhelmed by it. We all know the stories. You know, Paul Revere, Abraham Lincoln. But indeed those stories in the master narrative usually do not include..
Stephen Henderson: Yeah they exclude them.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Yes. Our stories are excluded. So, you know, I told an interviewer the other day, I want them to put me out of business. That is since..
Stephen Henderson: [Laughter]
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Put me out of business. I am indeed including the story of African-Americans in our master narrative.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: You know, during Black History Month, I get to run around a lot. Not so much now because of COVID, but almost every year for 50 years. I get these calls in February, will you come out and do a presentation on Black History. You know, will you help us celebrate black history work. Well, as I said, put me out of business. All you got to do is include African-Americanhistory in the master narrative and teach it along with American history for 12 months.
Stephen Henderson: Right.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: We wouldn’t have to do Black History Month.
Stephen Henderson: That will be good, right? So I do want to talk about this year’s focus, black health and wellness and what that means in 2022 and what it will mean this month in terms of the things that you guys highlight.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Sure, as you know, we decided on, we decided the theme for Black History Month at least two years in advance, we just so happens that our theme for this month or this year, black health and wellness fits, I don’t want to say nicely, but indeed has been somewhat coincidental with this terrible pandemic that we’re suffering through.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: And so as a result, we indeed have designed our programs through ASALH and online, by the way, we’ve been doing virtual presentations to deal with lack of health, health and wellness and a variety of ways.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: One of them, one of the sessions is in fact is called Black Bodies one, looks at how blacks have been exploited for medical science in this country. From Marion Sims to, Tuskegee study to the use of Henrietta Lacks’s cells. Then we also have black bodies too, which looks at normal, what do they call this?
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: It looks at how NFL players, you know, don’t get the same consideration in terms of dementia and those concussions that white players get. So so we’re looking at various aspects of our African-American health and wellness. Looking at how COVID is sort of indicative of the disparities that blacks face in terms of health and wellness in this country.
Stephen Henderson: And I think that’s a really important point to make. There’s been a lot of talk about the disproportionate effect of COVID on the African-American community. And of course, here in Detroit, I mean, this is ground zero for the incredible pain and sorrow that we as African-Americans are suffering because of it.
Stephen Henderson: But it’s not, it’s not a COVID problem. That is an American health problem that is playing out through this deadly disease. It existed before COVID. All of these problems, all of these disparities have been with us forever. COVID makes it more in plain sight, I suppose, and the effects of it are more devastating than some of the other things.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Yes. And you know, as you said, all of us that have existed for for years. One of the conferences that I used to attend for COVID was the National Conference on Health Disparities. And of course, at those conferences almost every year, you know, you learn about what they call the social determinants of health, our income, where you live, the food deserts and the type of work that African-Americans engage in. The use of African-American communities as dumping places for environmental hazards.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: All of those things have affected our health a bit well before COVID. So indeed, one of the things I learned at this conference was that black men had the worst health outcomes than any other group of people in our country because of our the type of jobs we have, stress and the fact that indeed some of us don’t go to see the doctor or the dentist.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: So, yeah, we indeed became the highest risk group for COVID. And you know, I’ll just say this, I lost a cousin to COVID because of his susceptibility to, you know, negative health outcomes.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah.
Stephen Henderson: Okay. Well, congratulations again on the work for Black History Month, and here’s hoping someday they will put you out of business.
Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney: Let’s hope so. [Laughter]
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Watch American Black Journal on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on Detroit Public TV, WTVS-Channel 56.