Tribute to Mr. Charles S. Wiggins

Mourning the Loss While Celebrating the Life

On September 8, 2020 MR CHARLES STERLING WIGGINS celebrated his 103rd birthday with family and friends. At that time Mr. Wiggins was the oldest living member of ASALH. Just shy of entering his 104th year, on Saturday August 28, 2021, Mr. Wiggins entered his resting place instead. Though we mourn the loss with great sadness, we celebrate the life with equally great joy—the life of an incredible man, known as “Uncle Charlie” to family and friends, honored, loved, revered, and respected by all who knew him.

The Testimony of Mr. Wiggins

Interview with Mr. Wiggins by Alonna Carter
Aspiring Public Historian, Accomplished Writer, and Excellent Public Speaker, Historian for the Edna B. Mckenzie Branch of ASALH

“…We came by train,” Mr. Wiggins told me, “the train left Alabama and then came to Cincinnati—that’s a route. And from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh.” Traveling alone and unfamiliar with the North or any place outside of their homeland, relatives put written tags on the children’s clothing in case they got lost or separated. Fortunately, they arrived safely and settled in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.”

—Mr. Charles S Wiggins, 2019

Interview and Video with Mr. Wiggins (101 years old) by Dr. Stephanie Boddie, Scholar and artist of the Ethnographic Research Project, Unfinished Business.

Every day there’s obstacles out there. We have to say it’s going to take a lot more yet to overcome them. And I think education is number one because we got to know what’s going on through education to keep up with what’s going on. If you get behind it they’re not going to give it to you. I am not one of these smart people to learn all that. But there’s youngsters out there who are great. They’ll get it. Might not be in my time. But they’ll get it.

—Mr. Charles S Wiggins, 2018

This is just one of the stories captured from the new project, Unfinished Business: Pittsburgh’s Great Migration and the Movement of Black Lives. This project unpacks and showcases the untold stories of Black elders and the ways the distinctive history of Pittsburgh’s Great Migration (1916-1970) connects to contemporary Black social movements. This work leaves audiences to wrestle with the profitability of justice and their role to address our “unfinished business” of race.

​This work further highlights the entrepreneurial spirit of Blacks in Pittsburgh, as they faced persistent discrimination and systematic racism on the job in the city’s steel and iron mills, at the polls, and in everyday life. Thousands of elders migrated to Pittsburgh in two major waves before and after World War I from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. 

To Honor and Celebrate the Life

Mr. Charles S. Wiggins
1917 – 2021

Click images to enlarge

What the People Say about Mr. Wiggins…

“What a joyous day it is for me to be able to send birthday greetings to you—the oldest member of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. God has blessed you with a long life, and you have in turn blessed us with your presence and service. As a veteran, a contributor to the welfare of Pittsburgh, and a member of the Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch, you are loved, valued, and remembered with sincere appreciation on this, your special day.”Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, the ASALH National President, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier

With deep sadness and regret I inform you that ASALH oldest member in the United States of America, Charles S. Wiggins passed this morning after a long bout with illness. Mr. Wiggins would have been 104 years of age on September 8, 2021. What a treasure! He made the world a better place with the joy he brought so many. Our prayers and condolences are extended to the family of Mr. Wiggins. —Ronald B. Saunders, President of the Dr. Edna B. Mckenzie Branch of ASALH


Keeping His Torch Forever Burning: ASALH Presidents 1916-1951

Edna B. McKenzie ASALH Branch: 2021 Founders Day Program

September 11 | 1 PM ET | Zoom

Ida E. Jones, PhD
University Archivist at Morgan State University

Dr. Ida E. Jones is a native New Englander. She graduated with a B.A. in News Editorial Journalism, M.A. in Public History, and a PhD in American History from Howard University.

Keeping His Torch Forever Burning: ASALH Presidents 1916-1951 is presented as celebration of ASALH’s Annual Founder’s Day to honor Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History. Follow the lineage of ASALH presidents who have kept the torch burning while understanding the importance of passing a burning torch to future generations.


Dr. Ida E. Jones is the University Archivist at Morgan State University. She administers the Beulah M. Davis Room which houses the university archives along special collections of rare books and manuscript collections. While not a Morgan she is adjunct faculty at Lancaster Bible College. She is a newly appointed Board member of the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, as well as, a Board member of the National Collaborative of Women’s History sites. She is serving her second year as co-vice president of the Baltimore City Historical Society.

Scholarship is evident in numerous publications, speaking engagements, as well as radio and television appearances. Publications include four books, a variety of encyclopedia entries and an online exhibition. Her most recent work Baltimore Civil Rights Leader Victorine Q. Adams the Power of the Ballot. This is the first biography of Councilwoman Adams, the first African American woman elected to the Baltimore City Council. Finally, Dr. Jones is a consummate scholar who believes deeply in the words of Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune who stated “power must walk hand in hand with humility and the intellect must have a soul.”

She self-published her first book in 2011, The Heart of the Race Problem: the Life of Kelly Miller.  This was the first published biography on Kelly Miller. She utilizes the daysman, a Biblical mediator to situate the intellectual life of Miller. His ideology sought to harmonize the divergent perspectives of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. 

You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” 
Maya Angelou

Her Name Says It All

Zaila Avant-garde

zaila: an avant-garde spelling bee champion
(I am always amazed at how children’s names often seem to fit them to a tee.)

A wonder teen from New Orleans, became the champion of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The winning word: murraya, “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals.”

She is the first Black American to be crowned winner of the Bee. She attends Clover Lane Homeschool and was sponsored by New Orleans Chapter of The Links.

Zaila’s home community in New Orleans celebrated like a true village supporting one of its own. The music, the drumming, and the dancing represented a celebration for the Black community across the nation.

For me her story brought home the nostalgia of watching the 2006 film, Akeelah and the Bee, with my then younger children. For me Akeelah was like the black panther of words. The scenes in the movie where the community supported and encouraged Akeelah, cheering her on—these are the things that come to mind as I watched the community celebrate Zaila. This is as it should be. It takes a village to raise a child also means the village must celebrate that child in their accomplishments, cheering them on as they grow and dream and reach new heights.

Dribbling While Spelling. How many kids do you know can dribble three basketballs while spelling “machiavellian”? Or dribble six basketballs while spelling “amaryllis”? Or dribble three basketballs while standing on a foam roller and spelling “portmanteau”?

This delightful teen rocked it on the Jimmy Kimmel show when asked to do multiple tasks involving dribbling while spelling. Her personality swept the audience off its feet along with the host and Bill Murray.

Guinness Book of World Records:

As of July 9, 2021, Zaila Avant-garde holds the world record for:

What’s Next for Zaila? With her gifts, talents, passion, and Black girl magic, I’d say just about anything her heart desires! I hear she aspires to attend Harvard University, play in the WNBA and is considering a career at NASA. Can’t wait to see the fruit she bears…

THE PURPOSE OF THE BEE. Our purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us. 
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? 
You are a child of God.
—Marianne Williamson

Unfinished Business: From The Great Migration to Black Lives Matter

August 14 | 11 AM – 1 PM ET | Zoom

Stephanie Clintonia Boddie, PhD, MSW, Baylor University

A scholar, oral historian, film-maker, and a classically-trained soprano, who blends traditional research and oral histories with film, music and conversation to create a new body of work: Unfinished Business: From the Great Migration to Black Lives Matter.  


Dr. Boddie began collecting oral histories in 2011 and started this project in 2015 while a post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies & the Economy (CAUSE). This work has positioned her to receive the Advancing the Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant in 2016 and the Penn Avenue artist-in-residency at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in 2017 as well as present this work nationally and internationally.

“Angelic and mesmerizing” are words that have been used to describe my singing voice. As an artist, I am more than my voice. I am a singer, storyteller, scholar, and social worker. Music and oral history bridge my love for storytelling and scholarship. Both require listening with the heart and transcending the typical binary black and white or us versus them type of thinking.

Stories Matter

“Unfinished Business” is an ethnographic research project using a multimodal approach. The live and filmed storytelling comprise an engrossing compilation of societal and cultural knowledge from African American elders, historic Black churches, and community organizations. Their oral history interviews are being augmented by keeping ethnographic diaries of the participants. These diaries include photos, letters, and journals, as well as other primary or secondary sources.

This musical documentary portion of this work offers a creative interactive approach to documenting oral histories of African American elders. The musical documentary engages the audience and provides a powerful storyline that is followed by courageous and compassionate conversations to call audiences to remember our past and consider our “unfinished business” related to racial identity, race relations, and systemic racism.

Join This Screening and Conversation

You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” 
Maya Angelou

ASALH: 106th Annual Meeting & Virtual Conference


Co-hosted by the ASALH Florida Branches
Septemer 2021

In these extraordinary times, The Association for the Study of African American Life and History recognizes that we need each other now more than ever. With the limitations of the worldwide pandemic in mind, we have decided to move our 106th Conference to a virtual platform. In order to maintain the spirit of community that we each enjoy during the physical conference, we have decided to modify our format to best suit our needs.

ASALH will convene every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in September beginning on September 14 through September 30. The final plenary session and Annual Members Business Meeting will be held Wednesday, September 30, 2021, with activities broadcast via Zoom and ASALH TV.


Nikole Hannah-Jones Joins Howard University

July 6, 2021: In a surprise move, Nikole Hannah-Jones declines UNC’s tenure offer for position at Howard University. “Award-winning journalist @nhannahjones reveals on @CBSThisMorning she has declined the University of North Carolina’s offer for tenure and will be the inaugural Knight Chair in Race and Reporting at @HowardU.”


“Every other chair before me, who also happened to be white, received that position with tenure,” she said. “And so, to be denied it, and to only have that vote occur on the last possible day, at the last possible moment, after threat of legal action, after weeks of protests, after it became a national scandal — it’s just not something that I want anymore.”
—Nikole Hannah-Jones

Hannah-Jones will lead Howard University’s newly created Center for Journalism and Democracy. This is exciting news as the country grapples with the reality of its historical past and present riddled with racism, discrimination, and hypocrisy. The move is a testimony to the true power of nurturing, growing and empowering our community from within.

We stand on the collective backs of millions of Black minds and Black bodies that traversed the middle passage, enduring dehumanization, Jim Crow, lychings, and massacres across generations.

We are gifted and talented, possessing the innate ability to make incredible progress despite the structural, systemic, and institutional forces designed to limit the progress and pursuits of African Americans going all the way back to 1619.

Bravo to Howard University and Nikole Hannah-Jones for this monumental move!

We Must Demand Prosecutorial Reform After Chauvin Sentencing

Thank you for your continued support. I am proud to share my Bloomberg Law article, “We Must Demand Prosecutorial Reform After Chauvin Sentencing.” I wrote this piece after the flaws in America’s criminal justice system were highlighted following the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. We Must Demand Prosecutorial Reform!
See link to article:

Derek Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing for George Floyd’s murder was an outlier; most civilian deaths at the hands of police do not have a similar outcome, says Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, professor of constitutional law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Prosecutorial conduct is an obstacle to justice in cases of police brutality, and criminal justice reform must require prosecutors to disclose data on police-civilian deaths, she says.

There were cheers in the aftermath of the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder, but his prison sentence on June 25 speaks less about progress in racial justice and more about the flaws in America’s criminal justice system. 

It is a system in which most prosecutors fail to do their jobs, which allows police to kill with impunity. Without reforms directed at the role of prosecutors, Chauvin’s conviction in the asphyxiation of George Floyd will be an anomaly.

On May 25, 2020, Chauvin placed his knee on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd, 46, until he died. For this, Chauvin, 45, received a prison sentence of 22 years and six months by Judge Peter Cahill. Officers J. Alexander Kueng, 27; Thomas Lane, 38; and Tou Thao, 35, stood by and watched. Their trial is postponed until March 2022. Kueng is Black, Lane is White, and Thao is Asian American.

Their case is not the norm. This year alone, hundreds of other victims of police brutality will go without justice because prosecutors have refused to do their sworn duty when the suspect is a police officer. This prosecutorial failure is a bitter truth formed during slavery and still pungently virulent today.

Remember this: Michael O. Freeman, the Hennepin County prosecutor, initially had dismissed Floyd’s death as one due to natural causes. Only after a brave young woman’s video led to uprisings capturing international attention was Floyd’s death taken seriously. 

Even then, Freeman and his three assistants moved to protect police officers. Their interview, alone, with the medical examiner—someone certainly to be called as a witness in a criminal case— was rebuked by Cahill as “sloppy” work and possibly violated the ethical rules of professional conduct lawyers must follow.

Police and Prosecutors Work Closely 

Nationwide, police and prosecutors work together, daily. Police gather evidence for prosecutors, conduct tests, and testify in court in civilian-on-civilian cases. When the officer becomes the suspect in a crime, prosecutors become neutral at best and at worst, a shield for police who may have maimed or killed a civilian.

Prosecutors are government employees with full discretion over what cases go to trial. They enjoy absolute immunity from civil liability and are not required to disclose the rationale behind failing to seek an indictment or refusing to bring criminal charges.

Nearly 1,000 Americans are killed in police shootings alone every year, rising to more than 1,200 when other causes of death are included. Only about 42 non-federal officers have been convicted following an arrest in an on-duty homicide between 2005 and 2020. This is only recent data. 

Consider the thousands of murders and tens of thousands of assaults by White civilians and law officers against African Americans, ignored by prosecutors, over the last century and the nearly 5,000 men, women, and children lynched in America between 1882 and 1968who never received even a government investigation although witnesses stood smiling for photographs under hanging bodies. 

Chauvin’s Trial Was Exceptional

Chauvin’s trial was unusual in many ways. People took to the streets, around the world, to get justice for one man. The Black community’s vocal distrust of Freeman and his Hennepin County prosecutors led Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) to select Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison as Special Prosecutor.

Ellison, in turn, hired outside attorneys Jerry Blackwell and Steve Schleicher to prosecute the case. Expert witnesses testified on behalf of the prosecution, free of charge. 

Note that experts traditionally come from within the ranks of state government. In other words, Chauvin was convicted in George Floyd’s murder because this case did not follow the biased pattern and practice employed by most prosecutors in police-involved civilian cases.

Justice cannot be an outlier. Any criminal justice reform that does not include prosecutors falls short. The George Floyd Justice in Policing bill now being considered in Congress is a great step forward. But there is nothing in the bill that challenges prosecutors who can be brilliant in civilian cases and derelict in their sworn duty in police-involved civilian cases.

Prosecutors Must Report Police-Civilian Deaths

Disclosure and data go a long way to reform. Currently, Americans rely on media and citizen videos to find out about police brutality. Prosecutors must be compelled to provide the Justice Department with detailed data on police-involved civilian injuries under penalty of perjury; not an incentive-based justice system as the bill currently depicts. Perhaps George Floyd would be alive today if it had been reported that Chauvin had committed a similar non-fatal act in September 2017.

Every prosecutor’s office should have to report police-involved civilian deaths. If there has been no injury to civilians, then a document signed by the district attorney would state this fact. Data from all 18,000 police departments around the country would be placed with the Justice Department.

The conviction of Chauvin must be applauded. But this is one prosecution among thousands of such deaths. Only national criminal justice reform that includes prosecutors can stop the slaughter. New laws mean nothing if police who break them are not prosecuted. If prosecutors fail to prosecute them, police officers will continue to kill civilians with impunity.

Author Information 

Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is a professor of constitutional law at John Jay College, author of “She Took Justice: The Black Woman, Law, and Power,” civil rights attorney and playwright whose most recent stage-play titled “SHOT: Caught a Soul” is about a police-involved civilian shooting.

Nikole Hannah-Jones Granted Tenure

UNC board grants tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones amid outcry from Black faculty and students.


The Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch was on the right side of history in advocating and supporting Dr. Nikole Hannah Jones in her battle for tenure. It appears that the Black community did not stand up and protest when the distinguished Dr. Julian Lewis was denied tenure and was forced to leave the University of Chicago. However, in 2021 we do have the capacity, resources, determination and fortitude to address the denial of tenure to the highly gifted scholar, Dr. Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Dr. Lutitia Clipper: An ASALH Member’s Reflection on the UNC at Chapel Hill Decision to Deny Tenure to
Dr Nikole Hannah Jones

The Dr Edna B McKenzie Branch of ASALH has had a banner year, even during these
extraordinary times of the pandemic, with stimulating discussions, conducted virtually, by educators, researchers, some ASALH members informing fellow members via their research, to expand the knowledge of our own rich history and heritage. Korey Brown ASALH’s online organization history, summarizes Carter G Woodson’s purpose for founding ASALH, to advance the evolving awareness of the true place of blacks in history.

106 years later researchers and educators continue to combat the dearth of information on the accomplishments of blacks and also to battle the prejudices of those unwilling to allow the accurate historical accounts to be taught.

Motivated by the review of the outstanding work of ASALH colleagues at the Dr Edna B
McKenzie Pittsburgh Branch Book Festival, May 2021, in celebration and observance of the birthday of Malcolm X, I was compelled to solicit reaction of the authors to the University of North Carolina’s rejection of tenure to Nikole Hannah Jones, a renown, qualified professor and inquire if there was any way that ASALH, an organization whose mission is to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community, could act as an advocate .

Nikole Hannah Jones becomes another of recent examples of the impact of racist belief systems and behaviors encouraging systemic racism through the institutional strongholds of oppression. Following the UNC announcement that she was offered a position as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, it became known that Dr Jones had not been offered a tenured position as have been the previous appointees to date, according to the school’s dean, Susan King. Dean King stated support for Dr Jones’ tenure.

Dr Nikole Hannah-Jones’ credentials are outstanding; she is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, and the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship ‘Genius Grant’. She has covered civil rights and racial injustice for the New York Times Magazine, is renown for her extraordinary research on the 1619 Project and was just elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. As part of the tenure process, typically accompanying the appointment, Hannah-Jones work was sent out for
review to comparable institutions’ experts in the field. Dr Jones’ work received unanimous glowing reviews.

The Knight Chairs are professional journalists around the country who hold professorships endowed by the Knight Foundation. Their purpose is to bring our years of industry knowledge and experience into the classroom, foster innovation and contribute thought leadership to the academy. They have publicly noted their opposition in a statement to the decision of the Board of Trustee to deny tenure Dr Nikole Hannah-Jones. Excerpts from the Statement of the Community of Knight Chairs are as follows:

“The fact that UNC’s trustees chose to withhold tenure from Hannah-Jones speaks volumes about the pettiness of those who would try to diminish her 20-year track record of award-winning journalism. We believe independence is at the heart of journalism in a free society, and freedom of inquiry the heart of a research university. These principles allow citizens and scholars to ask questions that move society closer to the truth. Without them, journalists and researchers become tools of the government. Tenure is designed specifically to protect those rights for faculty members. That is why the signatories below are concerned. In denying tenure to Hannah-Jones, UNC’s Board of Trustees is putting politics before academic integrity ”.

The Statement continues, “The Board of Trustees appear to be uncomfortable with
Hannah-Jones’ body of work, including the view of American history she painstakingly
documented and beautifully presented in the 1619 Project. You can agree or disagree with honestly held interpretations of history, but to sanction someone for her point of view is the opposite of freedom of speech.”

Kiesow, 2021, https://dkiesow.medium.com/statement-from-
Retrieved 5/29/2021.

The Black Family: United by History, Restored by Storytelling


The Black Family: United by History, Restored by Storytelling includes workshops, Q&A sessions, panel discussions, and a certificate program

Join us for our project launch on June 26th with insightful presentations by Tracey Artis from Black Family Reunion and Therese Nelson of Black Culinary History. Through this launch event, we hope to inspire families to reconnect and reemerge whole through archiving, storytelling, and breaking bread guided by both our live and pre-recorded sessions.

Juneteenth 1865

Thirteenth Amendment Exception Clause.

Ava DuVernay’s thought-provoking documentary film “13th” explores the history of racial inequality in the United States focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons disproportionately house a high percentage of African Americans.

Letter from the Ronald Saunders, President of the Dr. Edna B. McKenzie Branch of ASALH

On June 14, I was a panelist along with Martha Conley, Esq., and University of Pittsburgh Law Professor, Jerry Dickinson, to give commentary and a critique of the film. The panel was moderated by Sam Black, Director of African American Programs at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

The film pointed out that 30% of the adult Black males in the State of Alabama are ineligible to vote because of felonies. The Exception Clause was put into the Thirteenth Amendment to appease the planter class, thus giving the United States the distinction of being the only country in the world to have slavery written into its Constitution.

Any serious Juneteenth commemorations must be coupled with an in-depth discussion of the following topics:

  1. The Exception Clause to the Thirteenth Amendment and continued inequality:
    a) Womb to School Prison Pipeline
    b) Mass Incarceration
    c) Health Disparities
    d) Achievement Gap
    e) Gentrification
    f) Escalating Wealth Gap
  2. Comprehensive Reparations
  3. Voter Suppression Laws
  4. Police Accountability and Police Reform
  5. Internal Black Violence
    a) Self Defense Training and building self defense alliances
    b) Safety contingency plans for Black churches and institutions
  6. Advocacy for public school students to complete Black History as a requirement for graduation from High School. Black history is often downplayed or distorted when rolled into controlled versions of multicultural studies.
  7. Conversations centered around a National Black Educational Fund and National Black Business Development Fund.
  8. Thorough examination of the Kerner Commission Report which analyzed the root causes of the Black Revolts in 1967 and 1968 respectively. The Kerner Commission Report concluded correctly that the main cause of the urban unrest was ongoing and pernicious white racism. However, many of the recommendations from the report were never implemented, particularly in critical areas of employment, education, the welfare system, housing, and police/community. Let us revisit and analyze the Kerner Commission Report and the recommendations from that report.
  9. Lack of affordable housing coupled with gentrification in cities where the Democrats are the power brokers must be exposed and addressed.

Have an enlightening day.
Ronald Saunders

The abrasive relationship between the police and the minority communities has been a major-and explosive-source of grievance, tension and disorder. The blame must be shared by the total society.

Kerner Commission Report – http://www.eisenhowerfoundation.org/docs/kerner.pdf