Black History Month: Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson

(December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950)

9th - Carter G. Woodson


[su_note note_color=”#40cd11″ radius=”5″]Noteworthy Accomplishments & Historical Facts [su_list icon_color=”#191f17″]
  • The Father of Black History
  • Black author, editor, publisher and historian
  • One of the 1st scholars to study African American history
  • 2nd African American to earn a PhD from Harvard University
  • Founder of the Journal of Negro History
  • Established Negro History Week in 1926
  • Founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Determined to Learn Despite his Circumstances

Carter Goodwin Woodson was born December 19, 1875, to former slaves, James Woodson and Anne Eliza Riddle Woodson. Carter was the first son of nine children. He came from a large, poor family, and because of this, he was unable to attend school regularly. Instead, he had to take off days to work as a sharecropper or a miner to help provide for his family. Determined to not be defeated, he taught himself the fundamentals of common school subjects; he mastered them by the age of 17! All this with not much help from his parents as neither could read or write; however, they were very encouraging. In 1895, at the age of 20, Carter entered Douglass High School, where he received his diploma in less than two years; graduating in 1897. Desiring to further his education, he enrolled in Berea College in Kentucky, in the fall of 1897. He earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea, while attending school part-time in 1901 and 1903. In the fall of 1907 he enrolled at the University of Chicago as a full-time student. He planned to take graduate courses for a Master’s degree in History, but he was informed that the degree obtained from Berea was inadequate and he needed to retake some undergraduate courses to earn another Bachelor’s degree. Carter took both graduate and undergrad courses simultaneously. During this time he took an interest in fraternities and became a member of the first black fraternity Sigma Pi Phi and a member of Omega Psi Phi. He earned his Bachelor’s in March of 1908, and his Master’s in August of 1908. After receiving both degrees from the University of Chicago, he went on to pursue his doctorate from Harvard University. When he obtained his PhD from Harvard in 1912, he was only the second African American to make this accomplishment.


Making His Mark In the Field of Education

From 1897 to 1900, Carter G. Woodson began teaching in Winona, Fayette County. In 1900, he returned to Huntington to become the principal of Douglass High School. From 1903 to 1907, he was a school supervisor in the Philippines. Later he traveled throughout Europe and Asia and studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris. After earning the doctoral degree, he continued teaching in the public schools, later joining the faculty at Howard University as a professor, where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Convinced that the role of African American history and the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, Carter saw a need for research into the neglected past of African Americans. Along with Alexander L. Jackson, Carter published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 in 1915. 

During his visits to Chicago he would often visit the Wabash Avenue YMCA. His experiences at the YMCA and in the surrounding Bronzeville neighborhood inspired him to create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), which ran conferences, published The Journal of Negro History, and “particularly targeted those responsible for the education of black children.”

Carter believed that education and increasing social and professional contacts among blacks and whites could reduce racism, and he promoted the organized study of African-American history partly for that purpose. He developed an important philosophy of history. History, he insisted, was not the mere gathering of facts. The object of historical study is to arrive at a reasonable interpretation of the facts. History is more than political and military records of peoples and nations. It must include some description of the social conditions of the period being studied (NAACP). Carter established the first Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in 1926, and in 1937 published the first issue of the Negro History Bulletin. 

He was also the Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, (now West Virginia State University) from 1920 to 1922.


The Evolution of Black History Month 

9th - C.G. Woodson - black-history-month

After leaving Howard University because of differences with its president, Carter 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.”

The reason Carter chose February for Negro History week is because it included the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. The first Black History month celebration took place at Kent State in 1970; however, it was not recognized by the US government until 1976.

“Dr. Woodson often said that he hoped the time would come when Negro History Week would be unnecessary; when all Americans would willingly recognize the contributions of Black Americans as a legitimate and integral part of the history of this country. Dr. Woodson’s outstanding historical research influenced others to carry on his work. Among these have been such noted historians as John Hope Franklin, Charles Wesley, and Benjamin Quarles. Whether it’s called Black history, Negro history, Afro-American history, or African American history, his philosophy has made the study of Black history a legitimate and acceptable area of intellectual inquiry. Dr. Woodson’s concept has given a profound sense of dignity to all Black Americans” (NAACP).

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Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History