Dr. Carter G. Woodson
(1875-1950)

We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he has far influenced the development of civilization.
—Carter G. Woodson

Dr. Carter G. Woodson was born of slaves in New Canton, Virginia. Mainly self-taught, he mastered the fundamentals of common school subjects by the time he was seventeen. At age 20, he entered Douglas High School in Huntington, West Virginia where he earned his teaching diploma after two years (he later returned as principal). He subsequently obtained his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. in History from Harvard, becoming the second African-American to receive this degree.

In his career as an educator, Dr. Woodson became convinced that the role of his people in history was either ignored or misinterpreted. As a result of this conviction, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to conduct research into the history of African people throughout the world. It is worth noting that he did not believe in "Negro history" as a separate discipline but instead viewed so-called "Negro history" as a missing segment of world history, and he devoted his life to reconstructing this segment.

One year later, in 1916, he published the influential Journal of Negro History, which has not missed an issue to this day. In 1921, he established Associated Publishers to provide a forum for publication of valuable books on African history not then acceptable to most publishers. In addition, he authored numerous scholarly works and publications.

In 1926, Dr. Woodson inaugurated Negro History Week. The chosen week included February 12th (Abraham Lincoln's birthday) and February 14th (Frederick Douglass's birthday). In cases where only one of these days fell within the week, Frederick Douglass's birthday had priority. It is worth noting that Dr. Woodson realized that Negro History Week would be no longer necessary once this segment of World history was integrated into the curriculum and taught with respect and sensitivity.

In the 1960's the name was changed to Black History Week to reflect the increasing racial awareness of African-Americans. In 1976, the celebrations were extended to include the entire month of February.
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Commentary

Black History Month is turning 80 this year, and as much as Carter G. Woodson wanted it to be part of the curriculum, it appears this will not happen any time soon.

In the schools, black contributions in mathematics, science or language arts are not mentioned/acknowledged/discussed in relevant subject areas. Every February, black achievement is relegated to posters displaying portraits of the same black historical figures, including our many scientists and inventors, without explaining/exploring how their deeds and discoveries contributed to the society at large.

In the community, the raison d'être for Black History Month is completely distorted. It has been effectively hijacked by federal, state and provincial governments in the name of diversity and multiculturalism; by community groups celebrating with dinners and dances; by quasi-historians and a plethora of shysters of every stripe. Here again, the same heroes are displayed, accompanied by sound bites of information—who invented what, who is really black (the Egyptians come to mind)—reducing major contributions and decades of research to factoids.

On the inauguration of Negro History Week (the precursor of Black History Month) in February 1926, Dr. Woodson affirmed that:
We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he has far influenced the development of civilization.
Dr. Woodson did not view Negro/black history as being a stand-alone discipline but as the missing segment of world history, which would eventually be integrated into the curriculum and taught with appreciation and respect.

It has been a historically exciting 80 years, during which time black people have influenced, enhanced and contributed to American and world history, yet Dr. Woodson's dream is still deferred. Will it be fulfilled in time for our grandchildren to benefit? I wonder.

—David Townsend, February 2006

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Books

Carter G. Woodson: A Bio-Bibliography, Jacqueline Goggin. Louisiana State University Press, reprint edition, 1997.
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Carter G. Woodson: Father of African-American History, Robert Franklin Durden. Enslow Publishers, 1998.
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Carter G. Woodson: The Father of Black History, Patricia McKissick, Ned Ostendorf, and Fredrick L. McKissack. Enslow Publishers, 1991.
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Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History, Sister Anthony Scally. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1985.
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A Century of Negro Migration, Carter G. Woodson. Reprint Services Corp., 1991.
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Mind of the Negro As Reflected in Letters Written During the Crisis 1800-1860, Carter G. Woodson. Reprint Services Corp., 1991.
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Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson. Red Sea Press, 1990.
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Selling Black History for Carter G. Woodson: A Diary, 1930-1933, Lorenzo J. Greene and Arvarh E. Strickland (Editor). University of Missouri Press, 1996.
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Through Loona's Door: A Tammy and Owen Adventure With Carter G. Woodson, Tonya Bolden, Luther Knox. Corporation for Cultural Literacy, 1997.
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Working With Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History: A Diary, 1928-1930, Lorenzo J. Greene and Arvarh E. Strickland (Editor). Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
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Search for 'Carter Woodson' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
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