Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Conference Reveals, Preserves African American History

From left to right: Tatyana Oyinloye, ASA staff, and  Black History
commissioners Carla Coleman, Jesse Hargrove and Ricky Lattimore
pose with Gen. Gracus Dunn at the 40th Annual Conference
on the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc.

Three members of the Black History Commission of Arkansas, a governor’s representative and an Arkansas State Archives employee recently attended a national conference focused on 400 years of black history.

“Because of slavery, it can be very difficult for African Americans to locate their ancestors,” said Tatyana Oyinloye, coordinator of the African American History Program at the Arkansas State Archives. “In part, this conference is a place to educate and teach new avenues of finding African American ancestors.”

The 40th National Conference of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc., (AAHGS) in Washington, D.C. drew hundreds of people and featured keynote speakers who addressed genealogy and history. Arkansas Black History Commissioners Carla Coleman, chair; Dr. Jesse Hargrove, vice chair; and Pastor Ricky Lattimore attended the conference, which was themed “400 Years of Black History: The Struggles, Challenges and Perseverance.” Oyinloye and Jennifer Siccardi, a representative from the Governor’s Office, also attended. 

Conference sessions included presentations on African American genealogy, oral history and plans for DNA testing. Attendees also heard about significant history, such as the story of Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, a free black woman whose home was torn down during the Civil War to create Fort Stevens near Washington, D.C.

The conference is the largest, international African American conference that promotes African American family history, genealogy and culture, according to the AAHGS website. Commissioners and Oyinloye visited historical sites and learned about history that paved the way for African Americans across the U.S.

“Every year, I learn new things that help me help people in Arkansas get one step closer in researching their family history,” Oyinloye said. “You also have the opportunity to share your stories with others from across the U.S. People have actually found long-lost relatives during these conferences.”

Oyinloye said she visited the Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture and Historic Sotterley Plantation in southern Maryland. “I actually was able to go inside an original slave cabin,” Oyinloye said.

Commissioners and ASA staff have attended this conference for many years. During their Nov. 14 quarterly meeting, commissioners said the experience was amazing and that the conference was full of little-known facts. The information will lead to better research skills, more understanding and a better ability to preserve African American history in Arkansas, they said.