Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture director Howard Dodson moderated a panel at the Harlem Book Fair on Saturday on new books and scholarship from the center.
Mr. Dodson spoke of current approaches in black scholarship that examine blacks' activity in creating meaningful lives. This is not a "victim approach to history," he said, as the history of a people is never based on what other people do to them.
The next speaker, Sylviane Diouf, picked up on this theme, discussing a book and Web site she and Mr. Dodson collaborated on called "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience" (National Geographic). Whereas the transatlantic slave trade and domestic slave trade were coerced, another 11 migrations of blacks were not. She mentioned, for example, the great migrations from 1916-30 and 1940-70, when approximately 6.5 million blacks left the South and moved north and west.
She also said that today, twice as many blacks are heading south than are leaving the region. Many are college-educated and seeking economic opportunities. Others are going south to retire: "In a way," she said, "African-Americans are reclaiming the South that their ancestors built."
Christopher Moore spoke of his book "Fighting for America: Black Soldiers - The Unsung Heroes of World War II" (Presidio Press), which outlines many contributions of blacks beyond well-known ones such as the Tuskegee Airmen. He spoke of the large number of black soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge and in Burma, for example. He also spoke of troops clearing forests to make roads for supply routes and laying pipelines.
Colin Palmer, director of the Schomburg Center's scholars-in-residence program, concluded by discussing how four to six scholars are chosen annually in an extremely competitive process. He also discussed the forthcoming second edition of the six volume "Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History," which will be hemispheric in scope.
JOURNALISM ANNIVERSARY The National Association of Black Journalists celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Wayne Dawkins, a historian of the organization, published "Black Journalists: The NABJ Story" (1997) and its companion volume "Rugged Waters: Black Journalists Swim the Mainstream" (2003). He moderated a panel Saturday at the Harlem Book Fair on "Black Political Writing in the 21st Century."
In "The NABJ Story," he describes a meeting in December 1975 in Washington, D.C., at the Sheraton Park Hotel, where 44 men and women signed as NABJ founders. Their aims included strengthening ties between blacks in the mainstream and black press; expanding mainstream press coverage and balanced reporting of the black community; and honoring excellence among black journalists. With more than 4,000 members today, NABJ is the largest organization of journalists of color in America.
"This was the greatest investigative project I've ever done," said Mr. Dawkins, who interviewed 42 of NABJ's 44 founders. Some were New Yorkers, such as Howard Chuku Lee, who ran Africa magazine's American office on West 82nd Street, and Les Payne of Newsday. In Vietnam Mr. Payne served as a military journalist and wrote speeches for the late General William Westmoreland. Another NABJ founder, Bronx-born Claude Lewis, worked for the Philadelphia Bulletin. In Mr. Dawkins's book, Mr. Lewis recalls growing up in Harlem:
"Langston Hughes came to my school and invited us - eight to nine students - to write poetry. We mailed it to him. Hughes's responses came by mail. He said mine was bad. I sent a second poem. He said it was worse. 'One thing I like about you,' Hughes told me, 'You're persistent and you could be a newspaperman.'"
The book also tells about a brief generational split during the Reagan era in 1986 when a Young Black Journalists movement within NABJ was promoted by Joseph Perkins, then an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, who said many journalists of the older generation were more liberal than their younger colleagues under the age of 30.
Mr. Dawkins's book contains several amusing anecdotes. The first fundraiser almost bankrupted the group when its guest speaker, James Baldwin, showed up with an entourage, and NABJ was still collecting money to pay for Baldwin's hotel room as his plane was landing.
The Manhattan-born Mr. Dawkins grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant and has been a journalist since writing for his school paper at New Utrecht High School. The school was the backdrop for the 1970s television show "Welcome Back, Kotter." At Long Island University, he became associate editor of the campus weekly, Seawanaka.
Andy Cooper then hired him to work in downtown Brooklyn at Trans-Urban News Service, which Mr. Dawkins describes as "a micro-version of the Associated Press," with clients such as the Amsterdam News. After graduating from Columbia University School of Journalism, Mr. Dawkins worked at what is now the Journal News in Westchester, the Courier-Post in Camden County, N.J., and papers in Indiana and Virginia. He is now a freelance journalist and president of August Press, which publishes his books and those by other authors.
At this year's convention in Atlanta (August 3 to 7), NABJ president Herbert Lowe, a Newsday staff writer, will preside over a special plenary session highlighting 30 of the most influential moments from 1975-2005 involving black journalists, such as the late Max Robinson of ABC News anchoring during prime time. President Clinton will deliver the keynote address.