Black History Month – Day 19 Spotlight: Carter G. Woodson

Carter Godwin Woodson was an African-American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He was one of the first scholars to value and study Black History. He recognized and acted upon the importance of a people having an awareness and knowledge of their contributions to humanity, and left behind an impressive legacy.

A founder of Journal of Negro History, Dr. Woodson is known as the Father of Black History.

Desire For Education

Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia, the son of former slaves James and Elizae Riddle Woodson. His father helped Union soldiers during the Civil War, and he moved his family to West Virginia when he heard that Huntington was building a high school for blacks. Coming from a large, poor family, Carter Woodson could not regularly attend school. Through self-instruction, Woodson mastered the fundamentals of common school subjects by age 17.

Wanting more education, Carter went to Fayette County to earn a living as a miner in the coal fields. He was able to devote only a few months each year to his schooling.

In 1895, at age 20, Woodson entered Douglass High School where he received his diploma in less than two years. From 1897 to 1900, Woodson taught in Fayette County. In 1900 he was selected as the principal of Douglass High School. He earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky.

From 1903 to 1907 Woodson was a school supervisor in the Philippines. Later, he attended the University of Chicago, where he was awarded an M.A. in 1908. He was a member of the first black fraternity Sigma Pi Phi and a member of Omega Psi Phi.

He completed his Ph.D. in history at Harvard University in 1912, where he was only the second African-American (after W.E.B. DuBois) to earn a doctorate.

His doctoral dissertation,The Disruption of Virginia, was based on research he did at the Library of Congress while teaching high school in Washington, D.C. After earning the doctoral degree, he continued teaching in the public schools, later joining the faculty at Howard University as a professor and served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Convinced that the role of his own people in American history and in the history of other cultures was either being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, Woodson realized the need for research into the neglected past of African Americans. Along with Alexander L. Jackson and three associates, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History September 9, 1915, in Chicago. That was also the year Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861.

His other books followed: A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927). His work The Negro in Our History has been reprinted in numerous editions and was revised by Charles H. Wesley after Woodson’s death in 1950.

In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History. It has never missed an issue, despite the Great Depression, loss of support from foundations and two World Wars. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History and continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

After leaving Howard University Dr. Woodson devoted the rest of his life to historical research. He worked to preserve the history of African Americans and accumulated a collection of thousands of artifacts and publications.

He noted that African American contributions “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” “Race prejudice”, he concluded, “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

In 1926, Woodson single-handedly pioneered the celebration of “Negro History Week”, for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The week was later extended to the full month of February and renamed Black History Month.

Continue to follow the work and the vision of Dr. Woodson through the efforts of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum (websiteFacebook page)