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Review~Feb Hot Topics: Black Families

LWVOC has a history of presenting solid Hot Topics programs for Black History Month – getting the vote last year; racism in Lake County (featuring Gilbert King, author of “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys & the Dawn of a New America”) in 2016; civil rights and education since the 1968 MLK Jr. assassination in 2018.

Wednesday’s Hot Topics offered “Black Families: Representation, Identity, Diversity,” featuring moderator Renata Sago, a journalist; Connie Lester, a UCF history professor; and Karen Adamopoulos, president of the local branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

The three speakers emphasized the importance of African Americans sharing family histories, putting together libraries of Black history and researching Black lives.

ASALH was founded in1915 by Carter G. Woodson, among others, to be “the premier Black Heritage and learned society with a diverse and inclusive membership.” The organization created Negro History Week in 1926, since expanded to Black History Month.

Adamopoulos noted the role of organizations (churches, ASALH, NAACP) in forging Black identity, both in the Jim Crow era and after the civil rights advances of the 1960s. In the first part of the 20th Century, she said, segregation meant middle-class Blacks lived alongside working-class Blacks, thus producing diversity within African American communities. “People felt protected in these communities,” she said. A household, too, could bring together not only the core family but also aunts, grandpas and boarders (more diversity).

Lester, who directs Bending Toward Justice, a digital project on the Central Florida African American community, is involved in gathering Black history from the 1890s into the 1960s. She said she has been happy to see small African American museums in Florida, such as the Wells’Built Museum in Orlando. These collections have grown once the museums are established, she said, also encouraging people to write their own histories. A source of history people might not know about concerns black farmers during the Jim Crow Era – Farm Extension Service agents wrote reports sent to their state headquarters, and many of them tell family stories.

Sago presented slides depicting the evolution of TV’s portrayal of the black family – from the working-class Chicago family in “Good Times” to the professional-class folks in “The Cosby Show” to the upper-middle-class family in “black-ish.” She applauded the establishment of the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., opened in 2016 and also providing a digital library invaluable for family and history research and for offering African Americans and others a place to contribute mementoes and relics pertinent to Black history.

Panelists also recommended the Afro American Historical & Genealogical Society for information on Black history and families.