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Carter G Woodson
Carter Woodson biographical cartoon by Charles Alston, 1943

Early life

Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History was the son of former slaves, James (who helped the Union soldiers, and when he heard they were building a high school for blacks in Huntington moved his family to West Virginia) and Eliza (Riddle) Woodson, was born December 19, 1875, at New Canton in Buckingham County, Virginia. One of a large poor family, he could not attend regularly such schools as were provided, but he was able, largely by self-instruction, to master the fundamentals of common school subjects by the time he was seventeen.

Ambitious for more education Woodson went to Fayette County to earn a living as a miner in the coal fields but was only able to devote a few months each year to his schooling. In 1895 at the age of twenty, Carter entered Douglass High School where he received his diploma in less than two years. From 1897 to 1900, Carter G. Woodson began teaching in Fayette County. In 1900, he became the principal of Douglass High School. Woodson finally received his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky. From 1903 to 1907 he was a school supervisor in the Philippines. He then attended the University of Chicago where he received his M.A. from in 1908, and in 1912 he received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University.

A destiny revealed

Convinced by this time that among scholars the role of his own people in American history and in the history of other cultures was being either ignored or misrepresented, Woodson realized the need for special research into the neglected past of the Negro. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, founded in Chicago September 9, 1915, is the result of this conviction. In the same year appeared one of his most scholarly books, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915), A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927), and The Negro in Our History that underwent numerous editions and was revised by Charles Harris Wesley after Woodson's death in 1950. The following year, in January 1916, Woodson began the publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History, which, despite depressions, the loss of support from Foundations and two World Wars, has never missed an issue. As of 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History, and is now published by Columbia University, but it continues to print works of black and white scholars who research and write about people of color. Other works by Woodson include The Mind of the Negro as Reflected in Letters Written During the Crisis, 1800-1860 and The Mis-Education of the Negro.


Apparently, during this time Woodson became affiliated with the recently organized Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP, and its Chairman, Archibald Grimke. On January 28, 1915, he wrote a letter to Grimke expressing his dissatisfaction with the way things were going. Woodson made two proposals in this letter; first, that the branch secure an office for a center to which persons may report whatever concerns the Negro race may have, and from which the Association may extend its operations into every part of the city. The second, that of which a canvasser would be appointed to enlist members and obtain subscriptions for the Crisis, the NAACP publication edited by W.E.B. Dubois, Dr. Woodson then added the daring proposal of "diverting patronage from business establishments which do not treat races alike." He wrote that he would cooperate as one of the twenty-five effective canvassers, adding that he would pay the rent for the office for one month. The NAACP did not welcome Dr. Woodson's ideas.

In a letter dated March 18, 1915, in response to a letter from Grimke' regarding his proposals, Woodson wrote, " I am not afraid of being sued by white businessmen. In fact, I should welcome such a law suit. It would do the cause much good. Let us banish fear. We have been in this mental state for three centuries. I am a radical. I am ready to act, if I can find brave men to help me." Apparently, this difference of opinion with Grimke contributed to Woodson's short-lived affiliation with the NAACP.


On September 9, 1915 in Chicago, Dr. Woodson met with Alexander L. Jackson, Executive Secretary of the new Negro YMCA branch. In addition to Woodson and Jackson, three other gentlemen were present; George C. Hall, W.B. Hargrove, and J.E. Stamps. At this meeting they formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and appointed Dr. Woodson, Executive Director, which he held until his death.

The early years of the Association were difficult times, but it did not deter Woodson because on January 1, 1916, he alone began to publish the Journal of Negro History, a quarterly publication. He distributed the first edition on his own initiative. The publishing of the Journal coincided with the year of the arrival of Marcus Garvey. In 1926, Woodson single-handedly pioneered the celebration of Black History Week, the second week in February, which has been extended to include the entire month of February. Because of Woodson's belief in self-reliance and racial respect, it is only natural that the paths of Dr. Woodson and the Hon. Marcus Garvey would cross; their views were very similar. Woodson became a regular columnist for Garvey's weekly Negro World.


Dr, Woodson's political activism placed him at the center of activity and was in contact with many black intellectuals and activists between the 1920s and 1940s. He corresponded with individuals such as W.E.B. Dubois, John E. Bruce, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Hubert H. Harrison, and T. Thomas Fortune among others. Even with the monumental duties connected with the Association, Woodson still found time to write extensive and scholarly works such as The History of the Negro Church (1922), Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), and many other books which continue to have wide readership today.

He was never one to shy away from a controversial subject, and utilized the pages of the Negro World to add his contribution to the various debates in vogue at the time. One of these debates were over West Indian- Afro-American relations. Woodson summarized that "The West Indian Negro is free." He felt that it requires time and realistic education to emancipate people. These opinions were the result of observing and approving the efforts on the part of the West Indians to inject Black materials into their school curricula. Woodson remarked that, "the highly educated Negroes thought that Woodson was wrong to invite attention especially to the race." They told Woodson that they were not Negroes or Africans, they were Americans. Woodson's efforts to get Black culture and history into the curriculums of institutions were unsuccessful. This seems to be the reason why he left Howard University as its president.

Woodson's legacy

Woodson remained focused on his work throughout his life, never being deterred by the efforts of others. Many see him as a man of vision and understanding. Although Dr. Woodson was among the ranks of the educated few, he did not feel particularly sentimental to elite educational institutions. The Association which he started in 1915 remains today, with the Journal of African American History still published as a quarterly journal.

Dr. Woodson's other far-reaching activities includes the organization in 1920 of the Associated Publishers, the oldest African-American publishing company in the United States, which made possible the publication of books concerning blacks which were not at that time acceptable to many publishers; the establishment of Negro History Week in 1926; and the initial publication of the Negro History Bulletin, a publication of the Association which has maintained continuous publication since 1937, and was originally created for teachers in elementary and high school grades. Woodson also influenced the direction and subsidizing of research in African-American History by the Association, and wrote numerous articles, monographs and books on blacks. The Negro in Our History, now in its eleventh edition, has sold more than 90,000 copies. Dr. Woodson's most cherished ambition, a six volume Encyclopedia Africana, was not completed at the time of his death April 3, 1950. He is buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland Maryland, just across the southeast boundary of Washington, D.C..

In 1992, the Library of Congress held an exhibition entitled "Moving Back Barriers: The Legacy of Carter G. Woodson". Woodson donated 5,000 items from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to the Library. Dorothy Porter Wesley stated that "Woodson would wrap up his publications, take them to the post office and have dinner at the YMCA. He would teasingly decline her dinner invitations saying, "No, you are trying to marry me off. I am married to my work".

Professor Carter Godwin Woodson (19 December 1875-April 3, 1950) was an American historian, author, journalist and the founder of Black History Month. He is considered the first to conduct a scholarly effort to popularize the value of Black History. He recognized and acted upon the importance of a people having an awareness and knowledge of their contributions to humanity and left behind an impressive legacy.

External links

Woodson's writings

Other information about Dr. Woodson

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