Conference focuses on African-American women's contributions
Bettye Collier-Thomas, a professor in the history department at Temple University in Philadelphia, smiled widely when asked who she would be speaking about Friday in the Westin Convention Center hotel, Downtown.
Her name was Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin, she said.
Lampkin, a Hill District resident, was a black civil rights activist and a suffragette. She served in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as vice president of the Pittsburgh Courier and worked until her death in 1965 to advance the standing of women and African-Americans.
She was Ms. Collier-Thomas' subject because, at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the theme was black women in American culture and history.
"You cannot do history, and do it well, without including African-American women," Ms. Collier-Thomas said shortly before she was scheduled to speak at a Friday luncheon.
A focus on the contributions of black women was the message of the five-day conference, which continues through Sunday. It was also the theme this entire year for the association, which is often called by its acronym, ASALH.
The organization, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, a man known as the father of black history. In 1926, he initiated a week in February dedicated to celebrating the history of African-Americans, an observance that was the precursor to black history month.
His goal in creating the association -- and holding an annual meeting -- was to promote research into and publication about the contributions of African-Americans.
"Ninety-seven years later, we still have that mission," said Sylvia Cyrus, executive director for the association, in an interview Downtown Friday.
The conference, with 1,400 registered participants from around the United States and a few other countries, pulls from a large pool of people interested in black history, ranging from historians to political scientists to teachers.
"It's a wide range of disciplines that are here to interface, and that's what makes it such a great conference," Ms. Cyrus said.
This is the third time that the conference has come to Pittsburgh in its 97 years, said James Stewart, a retired Penn State professor who lives in Bridgeville and is president of the association's executive council.
On Thursday, the association officially named the Western Pennsylvania branch of ASALH after the late Edna B. McKenzie, who was a history professor at Community College of Allegheny County and a journalist for the Pittsburgh Courier, Mr. Stewart said.
This year's focus on black women in American culture and history sheds a bright light on a topic that was "virtually unknown" as recently as the late 1960s and 1970s, when focus on the women's liberation movement turned attention to women's history, but not necessarily black women's history, Ms. Collier-Thomas said.
"As a field of study, it has come of age," she said. "In other words, I feel that this conference symbolizes that we have fully arrived in terms of African-American women's history."
First Published September 29, 2012 12:00 am