An effort has begun to preserve the little-known histories of African American life in the Tri-State.
A newly formed branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History wants to find it. It’s fitting the branch is being formed locally, as the association was established in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, the “father of black history,” who graduated from Douglass High School in Huntington and later was its principal.
The organization was formed to collect, promote, study and disseminate African American history and culture while building a strong network among about 50 branches across the United States.
“His past residency in Huntington mandates there be a local chapter,” David Harris, president of the Huntington Tri-State Organizing branch, told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Courtney Hessler in an article published Sunday.
Harris and others decided to start the branch after meeting with members of other established branches.
“I’m a former college teacher, and I taught black history,” he said. “I just know the contributions of African Americans have been largely left out and minimized, and we want to draw attention to their accomplishments.”
About 15 people have already joined the local group, but members wanted to give the opportunity for more people to join as original, founding members. To be a charter member, applications must be made by Aug. 1.
The group will cover about five counties ranging from Gallia County, Ohio, down the Ohio River and into Wayne County and Kentucky, Harris said. The group hopes to research and rediscover African American history, ranging from slavery and the Underground Railroad to the arts and more.
What history there is to uncover is vast, Harris said.
So much of it is known, and so much is unknown.
There’s the story of “the 37” in Burlington, Ohio, between Chesapeake and South Point. They were a group of slaves owned by a man in Virginia whose will set them free and provided them with money to migrate to a free state and buy land there.
There are stories of black-owned businesses in Huntington and elsewhere that thrived during segregation and in the first decades after. Many of those buildings are gone, but memories of what went on in them remain.
There are tales of slaves who managed to cross the Ohio River and were pursued by gun-carrying slave owners who encountered gun-carrying abolitionists.
As the death of John Lewis showed, people of the civil rights area are fewer each year. They have stories that need to be preserved. But so do people in their 50s, 40s and 30s. They grew up in a different era, but their lives are part of history, too. Their stories, photos and videos are valuable mementos of years past.
Books have been written about various parts of Tri-State history. There are still stories to discover while the people who know them can tell them. Once those people are gone, their stories are, too, if no one collects them.
It’s good to see someone step up and remind us all that there is a part of local history that needs to be preserved and passed on before it is lost.