Carter G. Woodson was a teacher, a scholar, an author and “the father of black history.” Here is what you need to know about the founder of what we now know as Black History Month.
Born just ten years after the abolition of slavery, Woodson was the son of James and Eliza Riddle Woodson, who were former slaves. James had moved his family to West Virginia upon hearing that they were building a high school for black students.
As his family was large and poor, Woodson was not able to regularly attend school. Instead he taught himself much of the curriculum. He then worked as a miner which allowed him to devote several months a year to his education.
He enrolled in high school at the age of twenty, where it took him not two years to earn his diploma. He became a teacher and then principal of Douglass High School. Through part time classes, he earned his Bachelor of Literature degree in 1903. Woodson was a school supervisor in the Philippines from 1903 to 1907. His quest for knowledge never slowed down, and Woodson went on to be awarded an A.B. and A.M. from the University of Chicago and a PhD in history from Harvard, where he was the second African American to receive a doctorate. He then became a professor at Howard University.
Image Via African Americans for Humanism
In response to the lack of research into African American histroy, Woodson wrote and published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. He said that African Americans “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” He established the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History” (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) the same year. This organization ran conferences, published The Journal of Negro History, and promoted the education of African American children. His book The Negro in Our History sold more than 90,000 copies.
He established what was known as “Negro History Week” which ran in Washington, D.C., in 1926, as he believed that greater understanding of African American history would improve relations between black and white people.
On February 1st, 1970, inspired by Woodson, Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University founded Black History Month. By 1976, it was being celebrated nationwide. President Gerald Ford formally acknowledged Black History Month, during the United States Bicentennial. There are numerous places throughout the United States named after Woodson, who was named one of the 100 Greatest African Americans by scholar Molefi Kete Asante in 2002.
Here is a famous quote from Woodson:
If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.
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