The Legacy of Dr. Carter G. Woodson
“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. –Dr. Carter G. Woodson
These words were stated by the originator of Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month. It was his desire to bring black history to the public and those who had achieved recognition in their particular interest to be known.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson, often called, ‘the Father of Black History,” was born Dec. 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia.
His parents were former slaves, James and Eliza Riddle Woodson. Through hard work and diligence, his parents purchased land and young Carter labored there and in the coal mines.
During the 1880s, the family moved to West Virginia and he enrolled in the Frederick Douglass High School. He, being much older than the other students, made a determined effort to catch up and eventually completed the four years within two years. He taught at Winona in Fayette County. In 1900, he was selected as principal of Douglass High School. He earned his Bachelor of Literature from Berea College in 1903.
Because of his belief in the power of education and the opportunity to travel to other nations, he accepted a teaching position in the Philippines and remained there until 1907.
Following his return from the Philippines, he enrolled in the University of Chicago and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. Later, he attended Harvard University and earned his Ph.D., the second black American to receive a Ph.D. from this institution. (W.E.B. DuBois was the first.)
In 1926, he organized the first Negro History Week, which took place during the second week in February. This date coincided with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and Abraham Lincoln - three noted people that had greatly impacted the black population.
In 1976, Negro History Week became Black History Month. However, it was the Black United Students and Educators of Kent State University that founded Black History Month on Feb. l, 1970. Six years later Black History Month was celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of black culture and community centers, when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. He urged Americans to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
Dr. Woodson was an author, journalist and founder of the association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In 1926, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal for promoting Negro life and history.
A time each year has been set aside to focus on African American history. This is Dr. Woodson’s most visible legacy. Many scholars were inspired by his actions and institutions, and parks are named in his honor.
On April 3, 1950, Dr. Woodson suffered a heart attack and died in Washington, D.C. References
African American Encylopedia, 2015
A Life in Black History, Goggin, Jacquline, Baton Rouge, LA, 1993 Writer’s Note
I am grateful to Dr. Woodson for recognizing those who accomplished their goals. Negro History Week was a special time during my school days. This was the time when we studied about those who had struggled to reach their dreams. Students were inspired by these achievements and greatness. I have memories of those days and they have been helpful throughout the years. Dr. Carter G. Woodson left a great legacy in history.