Carter G. Woodson was a multi-faceted educator/historian and is best-known as the author of the book “The Miseducation of the Negro” published in 1933. He was born in 1875 in Buckingham County, Virginia; however, what is seldom mentioned is his being the originator “Black History Month.” Being the first-generation son of a former slave, Woodson worked as a laborer in various mines and quarries before realizing at age 20 that his mind was a terrible thing to waste, far in advance of the well-documented by-words coined by the United Negro College Fund. Deciding that education was the key to his future, Woodson received his high school diploma at age 22 and later earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago. In 1912, he was awarded a doctorate in history from Harvard University. This achievement led to a teaching position at one of the United States’ pre-eminent black institutions of higher learning, Howard University. Because of racial barriers of that time, Harvard was not that interested in hiring black professors.
While at Howard in 1915, Carter Woodson was appointed the director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History; one year later, he became the editor of “The Journal of Negro History,” a quarterly publication of the association. These positions spawned a desire to diffuse misconceptions of white racists that were often used to heighten discrimination against black people in America. Woodson also believed there was a lack of much-needed background information pertaining to race in America and there was a need to document that history. The idea was to value black intelligence and moral worth in society while studying black history, which would also serve as a motivational defense for black students against the onslaught of white supremacy. These initiatives by Carter G. Woodson led to a more formalized approach to the idea of highlighting black people’s contributions to American history.
In 1926, Woodson started a national celebration of black heritage by the launching of “Negro History Week” with the idea of building self-esteem amongst negroes in America. For more than 35 years, Woodson struggled to gain national recognition for his concept. Momentum was later picked up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s as an official recognition of “Black History Month” began to unfold. February was chosen to celebrate because the birthdays of both abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln fell during that month; in addition, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was founded in February, 1909 as a reason as well. Keep in mind, the whole idea behind “Black History Month” was originally meant to dispel the idea of white supremacy and to highlight the contributions of slaves and former slaves in American history. There have been numerous black people who have overcome many obstacles in spite of extreme racial barriers and shortcomings, all of which resonates in the annals of societal indifference. Carter G. Woodson’s idea of highlighting black folks continues to evolve for no other reason than the promise of America. One man’s idea is now observed in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Sheldon T. Nunn