This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). The founder of the organization, Carter G. Woodson, developed the idea for a yearly "Negro History Week" to teach American school children about African American lives, struggles, and contribution. This history was not even being taught at majority black schools at the time. They chose February for this week to link it to the day Frederick Douglass chose for his birthday. Woodson's organization, including a great many black women passionate about history, mailed out packets of teaching materials every year. Without their efforts, many elements of African American history would not have been preserved or studied as closely as they are today.
Lauren Anderson was honored to be in attendance at the celebratory conference and present her research on Friday morning, September 25, 2015. She presented her paper, "Defining Interracial Cooperation: A Proscriptive Philosophy of the 1920s" on a panel she organized entitled, "Interracial Cooperation: One of the Dominant Race Relations Philosophies of the Interwar Years."
The panel description indicated how important this conversation was:
In his essay introducing The New Negro, Alain Locke described interracial cooperation as a defining philosophy of the interwar era. He wrote, “There is a growing realization that in social effort the co-operative basis must supplant long-distance philanthropy, and that the only safeguard for mass relations in the future must be provided in the carefully maintained contacts of the enlightened minorities of both race groups.” His description reflected the turn to interracial commissions following the race riots of 1919. Black and white adherents to this philosophy believed, as Locke explained, that if they brought educated African Americans and whites into the same room and encouraged discussion, the result would be the end of white racism, riots, and lynchings (although not necessarily the end of segregation).
Interracial cooperation was very much a product of its era—not yet proposing full integration, but allowing some co-mingling that was scandalous to most whites. Acceptance and rejection of interracialism had a significant influence on the discussion of “race relations” in the 1920s, defining the way liberal blacks and whites responded to racial violence, everyday strife, and hopes for a future free of racism. In the 1930s, the philosophy split into interracial cross-class cooperation and the intra-governmental work of Mary McLeod Bethune. One of the questions this panel will consider is to what extent the different kinds of protest that all evoked the word “interracial” were connected.