No one has worked harder to identify the many contributions black Americans have made to American history and culture than Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the father of the study of black history. Granted, many Americans are familiar with Black History Month; however, few people have much knowledge about the man behind this observance, that started in 1926 as Negro History Week, evolving into Black History Month in the 1970s.
Carter G. Woodson, whose parents were former slaves, was born on December 19, 1875 in Virginia. Not wanting to live the marginalized status assigned to the vast majority of black Americans in the post-Reconstruction Era, Woodson sought every means possible to receive an education, becoming the first black of enslaved parentage to earn a doctorate degree in history from Harvard University in 1912.
Later, in 1915, on the 50th anniversary of the end of slavery, Dr. Woodson began a massive undertaking to study black American life and history to help determine its impact on American life and history. Realizing this was the time that black Americans had become the most maligned group in the country, Woodson took on this mission with great passion and zeal.
Beginning in September 1915, Carter G. Woodson organized the Association for the Study of African American Life and History(ASALH). For the next 35 years, from 1915 until his death in April 1950, Woodson coordinated the activities, including researching, writing, editing and publishing, of the association, working to educate the nation and the world on black American history and culture.
Using the scholarship of early black historians and working to rescue black American history from obscurity, Dr. Carter G. Woodson inspired a new generation of black historians, as he dedicated his life to the elevation of his people’s history, hoping to give it a creditable place in the annals of history. By celebrating the contributions and achievements made by black Americans, Dr. Woodson wanted to use knowledge about the black past, not only to instill pride in black American heritage, but he also sought to inspire blacks to strive for excellence. In the words of Woodson, “we are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.”
On tomorrow, two days before Woodson’s actual birthday, a free and public event has been planned to commemorate Carter G. Woodson’s birthday. This commemoration is sponsored annually in Washington, D.C. by the ASALH in partnership with the National Park Service and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
As Americans of all stripes, we do owe Carter G. Woodson a great deal of gratitude for he is the man who is remembered for changing the way the nation viewed black Americans and how black Americans viewed themselves. According to Morgan State history professor Benjamin Quarles, “the work of Woodson as author, editor, and publisher gave the Negro a new appraisal of himself.”
May the memory of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and the work of the ASALH live on!
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton City Schools.