Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The ‘Father of Black History Month’

by Sunnyjane

If you can make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it on his own.   Carter Godwin Woodson, The Miseducation of the Negro

In the early decades of the nineteen hundreds, it was generally accepted that African Americans had little history other than their suppression under slavery.  My own American History classes, served up “Southern style,” mentioned nothing about Negro accomplishments and contributions other than those of George Washington Carver, who developed hundreds of highly beneficial uses for the common peanut.  (His achievements were no doubt considered significant for a Southerner’s education because of their agricultural orgins.) 

By the end of the twentieth century, however, it was clear that blacks have had a significant impact on the development of the social, political, and economic composition of the United States – and, perhaps, the world.  Credit for that evolution of consciousness must be attributed to Carter G. Woodson.  

A Man Seeks an Education

The son of former slaves, Woodson was born in Buckingham County, Virginia on December 19, 1875.  The elder Woodson moved his large family to West Virginia when he learned that Huntington was building a high school for blacks.  Due to the family’s impoverished situation, however, his children could not attend school on a regular basis.   It would take until he was twenty-two years old for young Carter to earn a diploma from Douglass High School.    He went on to teach in Fayette County for three years, and was then selected as the principal at Douglass. 
The Educated Man Becomes an Educator – and a Student

During 1901 and 1903, Woodson took classes on a part-time basis at Berea College in Kentucky, where he earned a Bachelor of Literature degree.  Berea was the first college in the south to be coeducational and racially integrated.  

From 1903 to 1907, Woodson was a school supervisor in the Philippines, and later attended the University of Chicago, where he was awarded both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Arts in 1908.   He became a member of the first African American Greek-lettered organization, Sigma Pi Phi, and a member of Omega Psi Phi.  He completed his PhD in history at Harvard University in 1912, where he was the second African American (W.E.B. DuBois was the first) to earn a doctorate.  He researched and wrote his doctoral dissertation, The Disruption of Virginia, while teaching high school in Washington, D.C.  After earning his doctoral degree, he continued teaching in the public schools and later joined the faculty at Howard University as a professor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The Father of Negro History

His many years of research and teaching had made Dr. Woodson recognize that the role of his own people in American history and in the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars and how vital was the need to remedy a situation that had disregarded the narrative of African Americans. He would spend the rest of his life researching, writing, publishing, and amassing histories to help African Americans understand their own cultural backgrounds and reputable achievements.  His believe that, Before we can ask a white man to understand and accept the Negro’s history, we must ensure that the Negro himself understands and accepts his history, led Dr. Woodson in 1926 to establish Negro History Week, a time in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln;  in 1976, this important recognition event became Black History Month.

End Note

In 1984, the history of Dr. Carter G. Woodson took its rightful place as one of the Black Heritage Series  of United States Postal Service stamps, which recognized the achievements of thirty-one prominent African Americans.

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