By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham African American Genealogy Group (BAAGG) will host its 2023 Black Heritage Fair on Feb. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Linn-Henley Research Library in downtown Birmingham.
This year’s edition will feature Tafeni English, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Alabama state office and former director of the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, as well as Charles Wood III, the educational trainer and director for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Ethel Alexander, an instructor who leads many of the BAAGG’s educational programs, said the event will feature a variety of arts and crafts, including quilts reminiscent of the ones made during the 1800s, which helped escaped slaves along the Underground Railroad path.
Alexander’s own “Colored Girl” acrylic and watercolor paintings will be featured, she said.
Showcasing Black art gives an opportunity for people to vicariously experience both the culture of a community and an individual, Alexander said.
“I think that art is a way for us to show our artistic ability, but it’s in the way you see it, or in the way I see it. It’s an expression, an individual expression, that is [also] expressed in our Black community. One artist is not the same as another, but you can see that the artwork is so unique,” she said.
BAAGG’s primary work is to help Black people trace their lineage. Alexander said her own search revealed some complexity. Alexander said she found that she is about 12% Scottish. The DNA in her family tree even comes from a prominent white man in the Birmingham area, she said.
While looking through and finding slave owners in the lineages of many Black people in the Birmingham area is often taxing, the Black Heritage Fair is meant to bring together “people from all walks of life,” she said.
Alexander added that “Black resistance” has been named the Black history theme of the year by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Resistance is important because some school systems around the country have begun to change the way their students are taught about topics like slavery and race, Alexander said, adding that some politicians are seeking education which is less truthful.
“[Black] history should not be watered down because we suffered, and we’re still having to overcome adversities as of today, and our kids, not just Black kids, all kids…have to understand where this is coming from, so that they know they don’t have to [believe] that … one person is less than the other person,” Alexander said.
The Black Heritage Fair will be held on Feb. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Linn-Henley Research Library, located at 2100 Park Place. The event will also be streamed over Zoom.
For more information, visit https://baaggroup.org.