For the first time since Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is no longer the publisher of the Journal of Negro History, now known as the Journal of African American History. From 1916 through 2017, the history magazine stood as the oldest black-published scholarly journal in the world. 101 years of tradition, of unquestioned excellence, over. Casting it aside, the ASALH board, under the leadership of Harvard’s Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and with the concurrence of Editor VP Franklin signed a contract for the University of Chicago Press to publish the journal beginning in 2018. The erstwhile advocate of black self-determination, Franklin now labors under the management of the university where received his doctorate. ASALH prides itself on still owning the land that it now farms under the direction of white management.
None of this, of course, is right with Woodson. He fretted for the future of the Association and the journal. He imagined the journal would not always be published by the Association he founded. As if it were his personal property, he left a provision in his will that the journal cover bear his name as founder. He assumed that it would go to one of the black colleges and universities. Beating all odds, the journal remained independently published by the Association for sixty-seven years after his death. Moreover, for the last decade, it became profitable and remained so when the decision was made to give up publishing it. Not only did it pay the editor a modest stipend, it pulled the equivalent of an extra employee through the Great Recession. Indeed, it was the reason that the Association never had to lay anyone off as many did. Indeed, the Association moves under white management at a financial disadvantage. The Association will make less than it did on its own last year and what it was projected to make in 2018.
How did this happen? What plagues ASALH afflicts many black organizations nowadays. People with little experience and financial ability want to leave their mark, and they do so in a manner that flies in the face of sound stewardship. Initially laboring under the illusion that the move would be more profitable, the president told the members of ASALH in the 2016 Business Session that ASALH would have the money pay for many of the things that ASALH needs. As this blog has shown that was a mirage born of a lack of due diligence, and they had every reason to know better. When confronted about the revenue loss, the treasurer, Gilbert Smith, said there was other money that ASALH could attract. Perhaps, but before the first issue of the University of Chicago Press journal could be printed, ASALH had to borrow money from Chicago for fear of not being able to pay its bill. Let us hope we do not look up one Black History Month and discover that ASALH has had to close its doors under such stewardship. Were Woodson still alive perhaps he would add a chapter to The Mis-Education of the Negro.
Let us hope better for the Journal of Negro Education, founded in 1932 by Charles H. Thompson. It is now the oldest scholarly journal published by black people in the world.
After one hundred and two years of successful publishing by a black organization, The Journal of African American History is now published by a predominately white institution, the University of Chicago. This was not done out of economic necessity; the journal will now make less money than it did when it was self-published. The membership of Carter G. Woodson’s once proud organization has largely shrugged its shoulders. They have lost their way in the wilderness.
It has been over two months since the Officers, the Board, and the members who attended the 102nd annual meeting heard our Treasurer, Gilbert A. Smith, try to amend the minutes to say that he never represented revenue as profits at the 101st Annual Meeting. Everyone on the board that I have spoken to feels disappointed, as are a good number of members, but no action has taken place. An organization must have stewards to survive, people who look out for the well-being of the organization. ASALH’s board lacks stewards who will tell it like it is and hold people accountable. When a treasurer reports revenue as profits, he must go, especially when he is certified public accountant. That he is still there and the board has taken no action taken speaks loud. For this reason the future of ASALH is not bright.
The treasurer’s misrepresentation of the truth about the Chicago proposal is merely the tip of the iceberg with ASALH’s financial problems under his watch. Besides not providing a truthful comparative numbers of the Journal of African American History for the board to examine, the organization is functioning without other board members having adequate financial information to make decisions. Ever since we cleaned out the financial records in 2003 and 2004, ASALH generates financial reports as a matter of course. Those reports used to be disseminated to all members of the board and financial reports that have expenditures and revenues broken down to the category were provided to members at the Annual Business Session. This worked this way because it was the charge of the Executive Director to provide it. No more. All the financial matters are in the hands of the treasurer and the audit and finance committee and most of the board is in the dark about ASALH’s money. Rich or poor, for better or worse, most board members hear nothing but what comes out in the annual discussion of the audit. In less than two years, people have come to see this as normal when it is not–nor should it be.
In the Executive Council meetings that I have attended over the last two years, decisions are made without reference to the budget or the finances in general. Oh to be sure, some might look at the treasurer and see if he is okay with this or that–but there is no budget documents and any attempt to talk about how something impacts the budget. So the board has made decisions to raise staff salaries, move from Howard University, and lease office space without an assessment of the impact on the finances of the organization. The board decided to move from Howard on the basis of the square footage cost provided by a board member who did not provide a written report or any other documentation, especially a lease. Given that there was no document spelling out the other costs such as for telephones, internet, or heating and cooling, the vote should not have been allowed by the president or the board. But there was a vote; yes that took place. So ASALH has left a free space after fifteen years and no a board member whom I’ve spoken to can tell me what it will cost. Mind you, I have not spoken to all or most board members, but the ones I have know no more than I do–and some have the same concerns. What was the impact of leaving Howard? What is the impact of the pay raises? In the case of the Journal of African American History, I had the proposal and could warn it was a bad deal, but here I know nothing but this: Any decision made without due diligence being performed on its impact on the budget is a bad deal for ASALH.
We would expect better from an Executive Board when it has learned that its Treasurer lorded his credential over everyone at the 101st Session and then turned around and represented revenue as profit–and was proven to be wrong. We would expect that after the fact someone would report out the truth about the Chicago proposal–vetting the numbers provided by me–and show the mistake is costing ASALH roughly $35,000. When the decision was made to give pay raises and leave Howard it passed so easily because people had the false impression that there would be $100,000 in profit from Chicago to pay for these things. Knowing better, the board should hold Gilbert A. Smith accountable, demand full financial disclosure, and send him packing. But that, folks, would be too much like stewardship.
This failure to clean house will impair ASALH for years to come, and it jeopardizes the life chances of the organization. What serious persons will serve or give when they learn how affairs are being run? Poor organizations must have better management than rich ones. That goes without saying, but most often they don’t. While I don’t know the finances, I know the general expense and revenue patterns of ASALH like I know my personal budget. The revenue and expenses are out of order by $70,000 a year because of the University of Chicago Press deal and the cost of paying for a headquarters. Given that ASALH had to borrow $50,000 from Chicago because they did not understand the journal’s cash flow, Woodson’s organization starts the new year roughly with $120,000 less revenue for its budget than in 2018 than in 2017. Without considering the soft-money grants, $120,000 represents about 20 percent of ASALH’s typical budget. Much of this will be news to board members if they were told this, but they won’t be. No, who would do this work? The treasurer? The president? Either vice president? The audit and finance committee? Who?
When You Return to the Scene of the Big Lie
As anyone who has followed this blog knows, 101st Business Session of ASALH was one where the membership was lied to and disenfranchised. I will write about the latter in due time, but here I want to give an update on the effort to erase the Big Lie at the 102nd Business Session in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago. When the secretary of ASALH, Karsonya Wise Whitehead, read highlights of the minutes that were under consideration for approval, she reported that the ASALH Treasurer, Gilbert A. Smith, had told the meeting that the publishing proposal from the University of Chicago promised $100,000 in profits. At that point, the treasurer being properly recognized stood up and asked that the minutes be amended. Sounding and looking professional as his credentials, he said the word profit should be replaced by revenue! What a grand admission a year later. Those touted profits were merely revenues! No mea culpa, no apology, nope. Instead the power player tried to get away with a power lie to leave no paper trace of his professional misdoings of a year ago.
A Rush to the Truth
My head snapped back, and before I could jump up and ask for the floor, Jamon Jordan, the president of the Detroit Branch, was recognized and asked whether the Gilbert wanted the minutes to say what he should have said or what he actually said! In other words was he wanted the minutes to reflect the truth about the past or what he wishes had been the truth. Jordan made clear that the minutes were accurate. I was recognized and made clear that Gilbert A. Smith had said profits, not revenue, more than once and that I was willing to sign an affidavit. (And I will and append it to this post.) I said others in the room had heard him and others would probably be willing to sign affidavits and the response of the room of more than two hundred members was audible. We all know what Gilbert and others had said at the 101st Business Session in Richmond when they still believed they would have to face a vote of the membership about whether to take on the University of Chicago as our publisher, ending a century of self-publishing.
Gilbert Stood without Support from His Friends
Now the others who had presented the proposal as profit rather than revenue were silent. No, they would not stand up and take ownership of their falsehoods. Gilbert, whom the President Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham has referred to as a Christian gentleman, stood alone. She would not repeat what she had written to the Branch Presidents:
No, she did not stand up for the Christian Gentleman on September 29th, nope. He was not alone in the Big Lie, but he was all alone a year later. Yet Gilbert Smith cannot cry about the damage to his reputation, and being alone in it. After all, he is the one who regaled us with his credentials as a business man, a Certified Public Accountant, who had a world of experience. Indeed, he is the one who mentioned his affiliation with the Eron case, which resulted in Sarbanes Oxley Act, the law that makes financial accountability and transparent reporting a must. Oh, he must know better than to lie about a proposal to a body that had to make a financial decision! Given his credentials and his position, he must bear the weight. An organization does not need to have a CPA as its treasurer, just an honest man whether or not he is an accountant or a Christian gentleman.
Stay tuned for more on this.
How Much Is Due to Ignorance?
When the regime running ASALH started down the road towards selling out to a university press, they did not fully comprehend the concept of a publisher for a scholar journal. They thought of ASALH as having a white commercial publisher in the Tapestry Press, and they clung to this position even as I tried to school them. Though a publisher in its own right, we hired Tapestry to provide us with some publishing services. They copy-edited and designed the journal, then sub-contracted the printing and fulfillment. For this they were paid a fee, and could not claim the copyright, could not claim the revenue, and did not promote the journal or become liable for the veracity of the content. They were a vendor; we were the publisher. We were liable for what we put before the world. We were our own Big Poppa.
As a result, our brand was out front, and our vendors stood in the background, for the most part. JStor itself is so big that even though they were never our publisher, we were and are on their platform and so they branded along with us, though they are technically. How much of this education in publishing sunk is unknown. These folks were trying hard not to hear me. Some knowledge, however, did slip in. Most grasped that a publisher is not a print, lol. Well, they increasingly understood things, at least in theory, even as they kept saying to folks that we had had a white publisher in Tapestry.
What they did not really did not understand is what it means to put your journal under the management of a publisher. They kept harping on still owning the old intellectual property and the journal itself. Yet ownership and control are two different things! And as publishing scholars, many of the board members should have known that. We own copyrights and yet don’t control them–that is an academic reality. I kept trying to tell them that the Chicago contract would be akin to owning a farm and continuing to do the labor but putting yourself under the management and control of a white company. The publisher is The Man. They call the shots. You become “one of their” journals. They control you, past and present.
To see the difference between being the publisher and the content provider is best seen on what is happening in JSTOR Archive. We still self-publish the Black History Bulletin, so I looks as we would want it. We don’t publish the Journal of African American History and we don’t control the copyright of the previous journals, so it appears as the University of Chicago–the Journal’s Big Poppa–would have it.
ASALH as Publisher
Chicago as Publisher of Journal of Negro History
Well, Here is how the article from the Journal of Negro History now appear under the University of Chicago’s control of ASALH’s intellectual property from the days of yore. Oh the ASALH branding is gone, disappeared. If you did not know, you would not know, that the Journal of Negro History was published by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. It says, published by The University of Chicago Press. Why? Because the regime gave them the control over the copyright and they decided how to brand it and they now “publish it.” Mighty white of them, at it? Now, actually, mighty dumb of black folks.
Half Assimilated or Given a Modest Bit of Branding?
When you are the shot caller, or the publisher, you decide how things appear, how they are branded unless a contract clause prevents you. It is mighty nice of them to decide that the Journal African American History articles, those from 2002 forward will remain on JSTOR’s platform and still carry the ASALH brand. Or perhaps the assimilation process for ASALH’s JAAH is simply not complete. Feels good to be half-assimilated, rather than wholly gone, huh?
Now, I note that something else is different with the newer, JAAH articles on JSTOR’s platform. It appears that you can no longer see the full text on JSTOR for articles published after 2009. You can only download the pdf. Why that is unknown to me. Was this done by Chicago as the new publisher of old things? I’m clueless, and I imagine so are the powers that be at ASALH. Publishers are shot callers, not the folks who are content providers.
Not Everyone Is Down with Being Assimilated
If you are even just a pluralist or multiculturalist who believes in some modicum of self-determination, none of this sits right with you. It looks like ASALH begged to be assimilated by the mighty Borg, AKA, the University of Chicago Press. Here’s my facebook thread about it from October 11, 2017.
Well, Now that You Have a White Boss the Remedy Should Be Familiar
For ASALH people who do not like this state of affairs, all you can do in the short-run is scream bloody murder and complain about white supremacy. Mind you, the regime asked for this. For less money than we were making, they wanted to get close to Chicago and let them publish us. They said it was all profits and that Chicago just adored our journal. We were free, self-standing for a century, but some black folks wanted back on the plantation. Self-Determination did not feel right! So now black folks can complain to white folks about how they are being done wrong, smh. Don’t blame white people; we have only ourselves to blame. We asked to be incorporated, then signed on the dotted line.
Dear Members of ASALH,
In violation of our Constitution and By-Laws and Roberts Rules of Order, the ASALH Executive Council signed the contract with the University of Chicago to end our century of self-publishing. At the Business Session at the 101 Annual Meeting, a motion was on the floor, properly seconded and under debate, to continue self-publishing and to quit all negotiations. We have that power through our by-laws, and if the president did not know it then, she had more than six months to read our fundamental laws and bring the issue back to the body. The Chicago contract has already proven a bad deal. Because Chicago, our new publisher, collects subscriptions and controls the funds, we had to go and solicit an advance from the press to stay afloat or eat up our meager reserves. Moreover, we will make $35,000 a year less than what we currently make on the Journal of African American History. Finally, the University of Chicago informed the board what we have said all along–the $100,000 is revenue not profit. We were indeed lied to by the leadership, especially Gilbert A. Smith, our Treasurer, who as a CPA is trained to know that revenues are not profits.
Come to the Business Meeting today at 4:00 p.m. at the Netherland Hilton Hotel. We meet, appropriately so, in the Hall of Mirrors, and there will be smoke. I am proposing the following motion to that we can govern the board as we should. If I am not recognized, and you agree with the following motion, please feel free to take the floor and make it. Speak in the language of Roberts Rules by saying, “I move…”
Someone asked me what is the permanent financial damage to the Journal of African American History by taking it to Chicago? It is a good question, and the answer is sobering.
1. After five-years, it is likely that the revenue from the journal will be below the $100,000 promised in the initial contract. Chicago has no magic business plan. They are trying to snatch part of JSTOR’s $80,000,000 archive business. With 70 journals versus JSTOR’s 2000, they are nobody. They are trying to increase the revenue from archive sales precisely because they know the new journals business is shrinking and less money will come from new sales. They are trying to force institutions that want a journal to buy both the archive and the new journal. That strategy won’t work for most journals, including ours. Libraries will opt for the old journals that are in JSTOR, Ebsco Host, Centage, and Proquest. If I am right about this massive failure, Chicago will offer much less than $100,000 a year after five years. In fact, they might just ask us to pay them to host our journal. Yeah. They are making a business bet that might be ended by their university. Happens all the time.
2. If ASALH got out of the contract today, we would likely suffer huge short-term damage and some permanent damage. Chicago is trying to sell subscriptions now for 2018 and the geniuses did not realize what this meant. Chicago probably won’t do half as well as we would have done. Many librarians may take this opportunity to drop our journal as they always need to make cuts. (This may explain why Chicago never tried to ascertain how many customers we had!) Transitions like these always lead to customer losses. There is no way of knowing this in the short run.
The point being made here is that in stealing the decision from the membership and going rogue damage has been done by the Executive Council. We are effectively not the publishers of the journal and would have to rebuild our business already. Most people don’t understand that you cannot shut down an operation and start it back up without there being financial consequences.
If the decision were mine and mine alone, I would lay off any and all staff whose work has been eliminated by the move to Chicago. Financially, it is a no brainer. Boards and organizations, unfortunately, do not work this way. People are carried, and so as ASALH seeks a new basis for funding its journal, it will have to carry the past into the future.
The people who made this decision have cost us $35k a year for five years and untold lost future revenues beyond that. Remember the entire ASALH reserve is $150K or so, which is less than the losses from the deal. They rented out the farm to rich people running an experiment. When it’s over, the field may be less rather than more fertile.
The board members who supported this have to be sent packing. And those of us who believe in self-publishing have five years to lay the ground work for a new financial basis for the Journal of African American History. We have been seriously wounded in the digital revolution–shot by Du Boisians in the House of Woodson.
It bothers VP Franklin and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham none that to sell out a century of self-publishing they have had to disenfranchise the membership and make less money. Why let an organization of black folks get in their way? A graduate of the University of Chicago, Franklin with whom I labored for thirteen years gets to be the editor for a whole year at a journal published by his alma mater. For Evelyn, whose ASALH accomplishment before becoming ASALH president was to write a fund-raising letter, this is the crowning achievement of her presidency and her time on the board.
Now both still try to pretend that the white folks who used to work for us, Tapestry Press, was our publisher. This is largely because they do not really know what a publisher is. Believe me, documents will bear this out. They cannot distinguish a vendor from a shot caller. Yet publishers get a cut and are liable for what is printed, thus they are the decision makers. Ask a lawyer filing a libel suit and they’ll tell you who is the publisher. And Chicago has a clause in the contract saying that the next editor has to be agreeable to them. Now, Tapestry had no contract and printed whatever we told them. We could have told them to print that the white man is the devil, and they would have done it. That is what printers do. Say something Chicago doesn’t like, and you’ll meet your boss, baby–even if you own the journal.
The membership does not have to take being disenfranchised and having its authority usurped lying down. Before we were disenfranchised we were told everyone would get a print copy of the journal. That is not true. We were told that the $100,000 would be all profit–the only money they’ll make will come from cheating people out of the promised journals. Indeed, we will make about $35,000 less than before. And our new issues will not be in JSTOR. Worse still, worse of all, we will no longer be the oldest scholarly journal published by a black organization in the world. Nope. We gave that up for the look of being a University of Chicago Journal. Wow, how black is that?
By the way, until now, the board has not voted to give VP Franklin the $5,000 raise he has been looking for. If so, ASALH will make about $40,000 less than it has been making. In ASALH world, where deficit are frequent, this is more money than you know.
After disenfranchising the members of ASALH at the 101st Annual Meeting in Richmond, denying our constitution and by-laws and throwing out a motion during discussion, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham got the board to compound her extra-constitutional action by authorizing her to sign the contract with Chicago. So much in this letter is inaccurate, but what is missing is more important. I will keep it to six points.
1. The contract with reduce our profit from the journal by $35,000 a year.
2. The officers told the membership in Richmond that the we would receive $100,000 in profit each year from the new relationship, but in fact the expenses that ASALH will incur will total almost $70,000–unless ASALH lays off staff.
3. The officers told the membership that every member would receive a print copy of the journal, and they will not. Only certain categories of members will receive a print copy–over half of the members will not.
4. Although ASALH will own the journal, we will be content providers and not publishers. We would own the farm and work the farm, but the white university press will manage us. Because of our scholarship, editing, and brand, we will feed them and ourselves, leaving us less profit than we make now.
5. Tapestry Press worked for us, now we will work for Chicago. They were paid a fee for services, not a percentage. They took no risk, we did. We were liable for what we said–this is what publishers do. Publishers are shot callers and risk takers. Now, Chicago is our publisher, and we are no longer the oldest black published journal in the scholarly world. That title now belongs to The Journal of Negro Education. As our publishers, Chicago will manage the affairs and cut us a check when we produce content. Without an examination of either numbers or facts, our board believes Chicago can do it better and make us more money–and they won’t. That is because they still really don’t understand what publishing is. Now, those of you who love status more than independence, who love taking care of others as they tell you what they are doing for you, who love the ice in the other person’s cup–the ice that you put there, then you should be happy with this new era of ASALH.
6. New issues of The Journal of African American History will no longer be part of JSTOR’s database, and so each year the JSTOR archive will become less useful to scholars.
One fact will let you know how little the President still knows about the journal publishing business even a year later. Chicago is far from the leading publisher of journals. It is a very small fry with less than 100 journal. Sage publishes about 1,000 journals; Wiley, 1,500 journals; Frances Taylor, 2,100; Elsevier, 2,500 journals, Chicago publishes three times less than Cambridge or Oxford, less than the University of California Press, and not much more than Duke and North Carolina. It looks big only in the eyes of Penn State University Press and the University of Illinois.
Here is the letter in its entirety.