By Aria Brent,
AFRO Staff Writer,
The Commission on African American History and Culture (CAAHC) has a new chair in charge.
Edwin T. Johnson, Ph.D stepped into his role as chair of the CAAHC on July 1.
Johnson also serves as the university historian and special assistant to the provost at Morgan State University. He has big plans for his administration, which include expanding the amount of access people have to both the commission and the Banneker-Douglass Museum, Maryland’s official African American history and culture museum.
Fully aware of the tension surrounding race relations nowadays, Johnson is hoping to shape the commission into a public resource for any and everybody.
“One thing that I’m looking to do is have more of a footprint across the state in terms of making the commission a resource for schools,” Johnson said. “I would like for the commission to be available to anyone who is looking to actually observe and educate their staff and organizations about the African-American experience.”
Johnson said “when people are touting diversity and inclusion,” he wants the commission to be on hand to offer “some substance and some sustenance behind their efforts.”
The commission was founded in 1969 by former Sen. Verda Freeman Welcome following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The commission was established to help Black people have a sense of pride in who they were, while also helping White people realize the accomplishments of Black people in the state of Maryland. Prior to Johnson, Rev. Dr. Tamara E.Wilson was the chair of the commission, accomplishing a host of tasks during her administration.
There was an increase in the commission’s operating budget and an increase in the amount of money given to the African American Heritage Preservation grant– increased from an annual amount of $1,000,000 to $5,000,000. Wilson was also able to get the commission state independence, allowing them to now be their own government agency that falls directly under Gov.Wes Moore.
“My role as chair has been one of strategic planning. When I came in as the chair, I had a vision to increase the visibility of the commission, and the Banneker-Douglass Museum. to help secure the commission’s work and the museum financially to help us to become financially stable,” Wilson said. “I would say that my role has been one of governance of course, but also one of providing the strategy to reach the goals that we set.”
Sen. Welcome paved the path that Wilson walked, and Johnson wants to continue to highlight the many contributions women have made to African-American history and culture. Another goal he has for his time as chair is to officially rename the museum to include the last name of Harriet Tubman.
“One of my goals is to officially change the name of the Banneker Douglass Museum, to include the name of Harriet Tubman. I’m hoping we’ll be able to get the Banneker-Douglass to become the Banneker-Douglass-Tubman Museum, and we can begin to put women of color in their rightful place in the study of African American History,” Johnson expressed.
“I think it’s so important that as we look to illuminate the accomplishments of African Americans, who were kept out because of racism, we in the same breath, don’t want to keep out African-American women because of sexism.That’s one of my big goals for my administration and I’m hoping I’ll be able to successfully accomplish that.”
Along with Johnson, 11 new commissioners are anticipated to join him. In addition to Johnson’s plans for his administration, annual events such as the commission’s fall symposium, Juneteenth celebration and the Black History Month programs.
“We’re incredibly excited by the new leadership, and the new slate of commissioners to represent and uplift African American heritage sites and projects that are across the great state of Maryland,” stated Chanel Compton Johnson, executive director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum. “We’re also looking forward to how they contribute to the governance and help with the growth of the Banneker-Douglass Museum.”
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