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Black History

ASALH Recognizes 400 Years of Perseverance

THE AFRO — ASALH was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson.




By George Kevin Jordan

The Association for the Study of African LIfe and History (ASALH) kicked off the first, of a year long commemoration, of the “Forced migration of Africans to the Virginia Colony in 1619.”

The event was held Feb. 1  at the National Press Club, 529 14th Street, NW.

ASALH was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The organization is tasked with promoting, researching, preserving, interpreting and disseminating information about Black life, history and culture to the global community,” according to its mission. ASALH also founded Black History Month.

The 2019 theme is Black Migrations which focuses on the movement of people of African descent to new places. While all encompassing, the theme zeroes in on the early part of the twentieth century. Patterns of movement included the trek from southern farms, to southern cities, the pilgrimage from the south to the north, midwest and West, the caribbean to U.S. cities as well as the patterns of African Americans to Africa and European meccas like London and Paris.

Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the National President of ASALH and Chair of the History Department at Harvard University spoke of the long complicated history of movement for people of the African Diaspora.

“Migration represents one of the most important aspects of our nation’s past,” Dr. Higginbotham said. “The very title of the book “A nation of immigrants” written by President John F. Kennedy captures the centrality of migration to the makeup of the American people.

“However for African Americans the history of migration has a unique meaning  – that of forced migration in the form of the African Slave Trade to America that ended by law, but not always in practice, in 1808. And the domestic human trafficking  – we call it the the domestic slave trade – that continued until the abolition of slavery in 1865.”

“These are stories of families separated, of children taken from parents and such pain was overwhelming and heartbreaking for families then as it is now for children separated from their parents in the Hispanic migrants that seek asylum in America.”

Dr. Higginbotham said that the history of migration is vast, but  ASALH gives, “special attention to the year 1619 when Africans arrived on two slave ships in the Virginia colony, the first permanent english settlement in  North America.”

A group of scholarships helped to unpack the long and complicated history of the African Diaspora and migration over the past 400 years during a panel discussion. Panelists included Professor Gloria Browne-Marshall, ASALH 400th Commemorative Chair and Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY, Mr. Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation,  Senior Associate Dean and Research Professor of Law at George Washington law School Roger A. Fairfax  and Spencer Crew, professor of US History at George Mason University.

National News Desk Editor at USA Today Nichelle Smith announced the Feb. 18 release of The Black Migrations theme of USA TODAY’s 2019 Black History Month Special Edition, “Exodus.”

Next up will be the 93rd Annual Black History Luncheon held Feb. 16 held at the Washington Renaissance Hotel, 999 9th Street, NW. An author’s event will precede the luncheon. For more information on that event go to For additional information about ASALH and the 400th Commemoration please visit

This article originally appeared in The Afro

Black History

John McHenry Boatwright: Operatic Bass-Baritone

  As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Visitation. In 1969, he took part in the premiere performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice.”




John McHenry Boatwright.

 It was in the sanctuary of St. James A.M.E. Church in Tennille, Ga. that John McHenry Boatwright (1928–1994) developed a passion for music. He was seven years old at the time and a natural piano player. 

     Boatwright was the youngest son of Levi and Lillie Boatwright. His father was a switchman in Tennille’s rail yards. He found himself out of work when the Great Depression struck in 1929. Boatwright’s mother helped to support the family by working as a cook in a private home.

   The people around young Boatwright who’d experienced his gift knew that his talent would go unrecognized if he stayed in the South. So, his older sister invited him to live with her. By age 12, he’d abandoned familiar surroundings for opportunities in Boston.

    As time progressed, his talent exploded. Young Boatwright would soon face the conundrum of finishing high school or playing jazz music. His choice was the latter, yet he wouldn’t allow his education to suffer. He completed his high school studies at night.

    He later attended the New England Conservatory of Music. To afford the tuition fees, he worked as a cab driver, elevator operator, and at other odd jobs. Throughout those times, Boatwright focused on developing and training his voice. Near the close of his studies there, the voice became his major. In order to support these lessons, he tutored other students in the art of singing. Boatwright received a bachelor’s of music degree ‘sin 1950 and a bachelor of music in voice in 1954 from the conservatory. 

    After his 1956 debut in Boston, he sang the lead role in Clarence Cameron White’s “Ouanga,” presented by the National Negro Opera Foundation at the Metropolitan Opera House. In 1958, he made his operatic debut with the New England Opera Theater in the role of Arkel in Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande.” His performance led to an invitation to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

    Boatwright later created the central role in the 1966 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s “Visitation.” He repeated the role at the Metropolitan Opera. He also performed the role of Crown in the first complete stereo recording of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with the Cleveland Orchestra.

    As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Visitation. In 1969, he took part in the premiere performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice.”
    Making numerous appearances as a recitalist, he sang for several presidents at the White House. This included his performance during President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration.

    Boatwright was the recipient of several music prizes, among them are two Marian Anderson Awards and first place in the National Federation of Music Clubs competition.
    For many years Boatwright taught voice at Ohio State University. At his death in 1994, he was a professor emeritus at the university’s school of music. He was buried in Bronx, N.Y.


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Bay Area

A Deep East Oakland Based Grocery Coop is Opening

​“The community here deserves life and good health,” said Romo. “And so much of that is literally what we eat.”




The DEEP Grocery Coop worker owners (left to right) Daniel Harris-Lucas, Jameelah Lane, Yolanda Romo and Erin Higginbotham stand at Acta Non Verba’s Youth Urban Farm Project in deep East Oakland. Photo taken by Fox Nakai in October, 2020.

The four worker owners of a new grocery store in deep East Oakland want to bring more healthy food options to the area through a cooperative model. The DEEP Grocery Coop opened for online sales on April 7. By Fall, the worker owners plan to open a storefront.

“We’re coming together for the cause of changing food access in the deep East Oakland community,” said worker owner Daniel Harris-Lucas. “We’re trying to create social change and not necessarily getting into it for profit.”

   Deep East Oakland currently has limited options for healthy food. While a large chain grocery store, Foods Co., operates in the area, its organic and fresh foods sections are limited, and the store is still several miles from where many deep East Oakland residents live.

      Deep East Oaklanders largely find themselves eating what’s most accessible: highly processed foods sold in the many liquor stores in or near their neighborhoods. Worker owners of the DEEP Grocery Coop plan to stock lots of healthy foods including fresh, local and organic vegetables and fruits.

All four DEEP Grocery Coop worker owners live in deep East Oakland and are passionate about eating healthy, which can be challenging. Worker owner Yolanda Romo drives out to Berkeley Bowl to buy her groceries. She says she never sees her neighbors there, and is saddened that she has to shop at a business in a more affluent city instead of being able to get healthy foods near her neighborhood. 

“The community here deserves life and good health,” said Romo. “And so much of that is literally what we eat.”

The DEEP Grocery Coop’s worker owners acknowledge that price is an important part of making healthy food accessible, and they want their foods to be affordable for local residents.  

     They have plans to receive grant funding that will allow those with food stamps to buy California grown produce at a 50% discount. As a small cooperative, with no boss that expects a large profit, the worker owners can focus instead on sustaining the store and themselves while keeping prices as low as they can for the community.

    They also are making connections with small local Black and Brownled farms, like Raised Roots, who find it difficult to get their products into larger chain stores.

Education is key to The DEEP Grocery Coop’s project, as the knowledge of how to eat healthy is less accessible to the largely Black and Brown population of East Oakland, and is falsely associated as only being for white people. As an example, Romo points out quinoa, a wholegrain seed that is high in protein fiber and B vitamin.

“Quinoa is a supercheap Peruvian necessity and someone branded it,” Romo said. “That branding isn’t catered to communities of color but to white people who have more choices.”

To share knowledge, worker owners have done free cooking demonstrations and informative healthy food discussions. They share knowledge about healthy foods through instagram

Their instagram account also serves as a place to educate the public about the cooperative model, which worker owners say allows them more autonomy. As they begin to sell foods online and eventually open their in-person store, they hope to serve as a model for other deep East Oakland residents who want to create businesses that better serve their community. 

“I hope this inspires others in the community to be worker owners and to make decisions and run their businesses the way they want to do it,” said Romo. “The topdown model that we see everywhere and the huge corporate chains that surround East Oakland haven’t helped.”

Decision making in the DEEP Grocery Coop will be more localized, allowing it to cater to the deep East Oakland Community. Worker owner Jameelah Lane expects the store to be full of “things that resemble East Oakland” like vibrant colors, graffiti painting and good music. She wants the store to have “culturally recognizable foods” like bean pies and tamales. 

The DEEP Grocery Coop worker owners are not the only people who helped create the store. Mandela Grocery Cooperative, a non-profit youth urban farm project called Acta Non Verba, and an organization that helps launch Bay Area Blackled cooperatives called Repaired Nation, all acted as a steering committee to help train and guide the worker owners during the projects formation.

    But, as originally planned, all those organizations have given full control to the worker owners at this point. The workerowner staff are still relatively new to each other, with the full fourperson crew not coming together until last summer. They are excited about what they have been able accomplish in such a short time and about starting to bring more healthy foods to deep East Oakland.

“We want to inspire people to be change-makers instead of waiting for it,” said Harris-Lucas. “We’ve been able to really grow something just from the common love for our community.”

Anyone throughout the Bay Area who wants to support the coop can now order food on their website:, and arrange a curbside pickup. People can also donate to support the project through the store’s gofundme campaign.

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Black History

Fishing With Her Father Led Joan Murrell Owens to a Career in Marine Geoscience Caption: Joan Murrell Owens

Owens said during an interview, “Never give up on your dreams, in spite of the obstacles. There have been several points in my life when a door to my planned career closed and another, totally different door, opened. Though one door may seem to close, the other door can lead to the fulfillment of your dreams.”




Joan Murrell Owens

   Women of color have been underrepresented in geosciences (sciences dealing with the earth). Between 1973 and 2016, the numbers were bleak: only 20 Native American, 69 Black, and 241 Hispanic or Latino women received PhDs in all three geoscience subdisciplines combined—marine geographers, paleogeography, and physical geographers—according to 

    These numbers amount to 1.46% of all doctorates awarded in over 40 years and have made little to no movement toward change.

     “A lack of diversity and inclusion is the single largest cultural problem facing geosciences today,” Kuheli Dutt, the diversity officer of Lamont-Doherty Observatory at Columbia University, told Nature Geoscience journal.

    Upon graduating from the George Washington University in Wash., D.C., in 1985, Joan Murrell Owens (1933–2011), became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology. Shortly after, as a coral biologist, she began to transform the understanding of the evolutionary relationships of button corals.

Owens was born in Miami. Her father, a dentist, was an avid fisherman, so the family often went on weekend fishing trips. Being so close to the Atlantic Ocean piqued her curiosity about its habitats. Thus, marine biology was always a subject she dreamed of studying. 

    A lover of books, “The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau” became young Owens’ favorite read. She graduated from Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1950. That same year she entered Fisk University on a scholarship and soon found that marine biology courses were not offered. That was not uncommon for historically black colleges and universities during that time. She studied fine arts instead, becoming an educator at a psychiatric hospital. 

    Owens later became a member of Howard University’s faculty, specializing in remedial English. During the 1960s, she relocated to Newton, Mass., where she worked for the Institute for Services to Education. There she was tasked to design programs for teaching English to educationally disadvantaged students. The Upward Bound program of the U.S. Department of Education was developed from these programs.

    Unfortunately, Owens suffered sickle cell anemia. Her geosciences research projects were then limited because of her inability to dive underwater to search for specimens. But that did not derail her dreams. She instead performed a laboratory project at the Smithsonian Institute, working with coral samples collected by a British expedition in 1880. 

    Owens said during an interview, “Never give up on your dreams, in spite of the obstacles. There have been several points in my life when a door to my planned career closed and another, totally different door, opened. Though one door may seem to close, the other door can lead to the fulfillment of your dreams.”

   Despite all the walls she tore down to navigate her career path and follow her heart, Owens went on to contribute valuable knowledge to the field of marine science. In 1994, her work added a new species to the genus Letepsammia.



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