Carter G. Woodson
Carter Godwin Woodson
December 19, 1875
New Canton, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||April 3, 1950 (aged 74)|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Occupation||Historian, author, journalist|
|Relatives||Bessie Woodson Yancey (sister)|
Carter Godwin Woodson (December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950) was an American historian, author, journalist, and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He was one of the first scholars to study the history of the African diaspora, including African-American history. A founder of The Journal of Negro History in 1916, Woodson has been called the "father of black history". In February 1926 he launched the celebration of "Negro History Week", the precursor of Black History Month.
Born in Virginia, the son of former slaves, Woodson had to put off schooling while he worked in the coal mines of West Virginia. He graduated from Berea College, and became a teacher and school administrator. He gained graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and in 1912 was the second African American, after W. E. B. Du Bois, to obtain a PhD degree from Harvard University. Woodson remains the only person, whose parents were enslaved, to obtain a PhD. Most of Woodson's academic career was spent at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C., where he eventually served as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Early life and education
Carter G. Woodson was born in New Canton, Virginia on December 19, 1875, the son of former slaves Anne Eliza (Riddle) and James Henry Woodson. His parents were both illiterate and his father, who had helped the Union soldiers during the Civil War, supported the family as a carpenter and farmer. The Woodson family was extremely poor, but proud as both his parents told him that it was the happiest day of their lives when they became free. His sister was the poet, teacher and activist Bessie Woodson Yancey. Woodson was often unable to attend primary school regularly so as to help out on the farm. Nonetheless, through self-instruction, he was able to master most school subjects.
At the age of seventeen, Woodson followed his older brother Robert Henry to Huntington, West Virginia, where he hoped to attend Douglass High School, a secondary school for African Americans founded there. Woodson was forced to work in the coal mines at Huntington, which left little time for pursuing an education. At the age of twenty in 1895, Woodson was finally able to enter Douglass High School full-time and received his diploma in 1897. From his graduation in 1897 until 1900, Woodson was employed as a teacher at a school in Winona, West Virginia. His career advanced further in 1900 when he was selected to become the principal of Douglass High School, the place where he had started his academic career. Between 1901 and 1903, Woodson took classes at Berea College in Kentucky, eventually earning his Bachelor Degree in Literature in 1903. From 1903 to 1907, Woodson served as a school supervisor in the Philippines, which had recently become an American territory.
Woodson later attended the University of Chicago, where he was awarded an A.B and A.M in 1908. He was a member of the first Black professional fraternity Sigma Pi Phi and a member of Omega Psi Phi. Woodson's M.A thesis was "The German Policy of France in the War of Austrian Succession". He completed his PhD in history at Harvard University in 1912, where he was the second African American (after W. E. B. Du Bois) to earn a doctorate. His doctoral dissertation, The Disruption of Virginia, was based on research he did at the Library of Congress while teaching high school in Washington, D.C. During his research, Woodson came into conflict with his supervisors, causing Frederick Jackson Turner to intervene to help Woodson complete his dissertation. Woodson was greatly influenced by Turner's "frontier thesis".
After earning the doctoral degree, he continued teaching in public schools, as no university was willing to hire him, ultimately becoming the principal of the all-Black Armstrong Manual Training School in Washington D.C. He later joined the faculty at Howard University as a professor, and served there as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. His dissertation advisor was Albert Bushnell Hart, who had also been the advisor for Du Bois, with Edward Channing and Charles Haskins also on the committee.
Woodson felt that the American Historical Association (AHA) had no interest in Black history, noting that although he was a dues-paying member of the AHA, he was not allowed to attend AHA conferences. Woodson became convinced he had no future in the white-dominated historical profession, and to work as a Black historian would require creating an institutional structure that would make it possible for Black scholars to study history. As Woodson lacked the funds to finance such a new institutional structure himself, he turned to philanthropist institutions such as the Carnegie Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Convinced that the role of his own people in American history and in the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, Woodson realized the need for research into the neglected past of African Americans. Along with William D. Hartgrove, George Cleveland Hall, Alexander L. Jackson, and James E. Stamps, he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History on September 9, 1915, in Chicago. Woodson's purpose as he put it was "to treat the records scientifically and to publish the findings of the world" in order to avoid "the awful fate of becoming a negligible factor in the thought of the world". That was the year Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. His other books followed: A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927). His work The Negro in Our History has been reprinted in numerous editions and was revised by Charles H. Wesley after Woodson's death in 1950. Woodson described the purpose of the ASNLH as the "scientific study" of the "neglected aspects of Negro life and history" by training a new generation of Black people in historical research and methodology. Believing that history belonged to everybody, not just the historians, Woodson sought to engage Black civic leaders, high school teachers, clergymen, women's groups and fraternal associations in his project to improve the understanding of Afro-American history.
In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History. It has never missed an issue, despite the Great Depression, loss of support from foundations, and two World Wars. In 2002, it was renamed the Journal of African American History and continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Woodson stayed at the Wabash Avenue YMCA during visits to Chicago. His experiences at the Y 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) ran conferences, published The Journal of Negro History, and "particularly targeted those responsible for the education of black children". Another inspiration was John Wesley Cromwell's 1914 book, The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent.
Woodson believed that education and increasing social and professional contacts among Black and white people could reduce racism, and he promoted the organized study of African-American history partly for that purpose. He would later promote the first Negro History Week in Washington, D.C., in 1926, forerunner of Black History Month. The Bronzeville neighborhood declined during the late 1960s and 1970s like many other inner-city neighborhoods across the nation, and the Wabash Avenue YMCA was forced to close during the 1970s, until being restored in 1992 by The Renaissance Collaborative.
He served as Academic Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University, from 1920 to 1922. By 1922, Woodson's experience of academic politics and intrigue had left him so disenchanted with university life that he vowed never to work in academia again.
He studied many aspects of African-American history. For instance, in 1924, he published the first survey of free Black slaveowners in the United States in 1830.
Woodson became affiliated with the Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP and its chairman Archibald Grimké. On January 28, 1915, Woodson wrote a letter to Grimké expressing his dissatisfaction with activities and making two proposals:
- That the branch secure an office for a center to which persons may report whatever concerns the Black race may have, and from which the Association may extend its operations into every part of the city; and
- That a canvasser be appointed to enlist members and obtain subscriptions for The Crisis, the NAACP magazine edited by W. E. B. Du Bois.
Du Bois added the proposal to divert "patronage from business establishments which do not treat races alike;" that is, boycott racially discriminatory businesses. Woodson wrote that he would cooperate as one of the twenty-five effective canvassers, adding that he would pay the office rent for one month. Grimké did not welcome Woodson's ideas.
Responding to Grimké's comments about his proposals, on March 18, 1915, 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.
His difference of opinion with Grimké, who wanted a more conservative course, contributed to Woodson's ending his affiliation with the NAACP.
Black History Month
Woodson 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 summer of 1919 was the "Red Summer", a time of intense racial violence that saw about 1,000 people, most of whom were Black, killed between May and September 1919. In the face of widespread disillusionment felt in Black America caused by the "Red Summer", Carter worked hard to improve the understanding of Black history, later writing "I have made every sacrifice for this movement. I have spent all my time doing this one thing and trying to do it efficiently". The 1920s were a time of rising Black self-consciousness expressed variously in movements such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by an extremely charismatic Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey. In this atmosphere, Woodson was considered by other Black Americans to be one of their most important community leaders who discovered their "lost history". Woodson's project for the "New Negro History" had a dual purpose of giving Black Americans a history to be proud of and to ensure that the overlooked role of Black people in American history was acknowledged by white historians. Woodson wrote that he wanted a history that would ensure that "the world see the Negro as a participant rather than as a lay figure in history".
Woodson wrote "while the Association welcomes the cooperation of white scholars in certain projects...it proceeds also on the basis that its important objectives can be attained through Negro investigators who are in a position to develop certain aspects of the life and history of the race which cannot otherwise be treated. In the final analysis, this work must be done by Negroes...The point here is rather that Negroes have the advantage of being able to think black". Woodson's claim that only Black historians could really understand Black history anticipated the fierce debates that rocked the American historical profession in the 1960s-1970s when a younger generation of Black historians asserted that only Black people were qualified to write about Black history. Despite these claims, the need for funding ensured that Woodson had several white philanthropists such as Julius Rosenwald, George Foster Peabody, and James H. Dillard elected to the board of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson preferred white patrons such as Rosenwald who were willing to finance his Association without being involved in its work. Some of the white board members that Woodson recruited such as the historian Albert Bushnell Hart and the teacher Thomas Jesse Jones were not content to play the passive role that Woodson wanted, leading to clashes as both Hart and Jones wanted to write about Black history. In 1920, both Jones and Hart resigned from the Board in protest against Woodson.
In 1926, Woodson pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week", designated for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson wrote of the purpose of Negro History Week as:
"It is not so much a Negro History Week as it is a History Week. We should emphasise 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 hatred and religious prejudice".
The idea of a Negro History Week was a popular one, and to honor Negro History Week parades, breakfasts, speeches, lectures, poetry readings, banquets and exhibits were held to honor it. The Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded this idea to include an entire month beginning on February 1, 1970. Since 1976, every US president has designated February as Black History Month.
Woodson believed in self-reliance and racial respect, values he shared with Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican activist who worked in New York. Woodson became a regular columnist for Garvey's weekly Negro World. Garvey believed Afro-Americans should embrace segeneration as he contended that race relations were and always would be antagonistic, and his ulimate objective was a "Back-to-Africa" plan as he believed all Afro-Americans should move to Africa. Woodson broke with Garvey when he learned that Garvey was meeting with the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan to discuss how the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the Klan could work together to achieve his "Back-to-Africa" plans.
Woodson's political activism placed him at the center of a circle of many Black intellectuals and activists from the 1920s to the 1940s. He corresponded with W. E. B. Du Bois, John E. Bruce, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, Hubert H. Harrison, and T. Thomas Fortune, among others. Even with the extended duties of the Association, Woodson was able to write academic works such as The History of the Negro Church (1922), The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), and others which continue to have wide readership.
Woodson did not shy away from controversial subjects, and used the pages of Black World to contribute to debates. One issue related to West Indian/African-American relations. He summarized that "the West Indian Negro is free", and observed that West Indian societies had been more successful at properly dedicating the necessary amounts of time and resources needed to educate and emancipate people genuinely. Woodson approved of efforts by West Indians to include materials related to Black history and culture into their school curricula.
Woodson was ostracized by some of his contemporaries because of his insistence on defining a category of history related to ethnic culture and race. At the time, these educators felt that it was wrong to teach or understand African-American history as separate from more general American history. According to these educators, "Negroes" were simply Americans, darker skinned, but with no history apart from that of any other. Thus Woodson's efforts to get Black culture and history into the curricula of institutions, even historically Black colleges, were often unsuccessful.
Criticism of Christianity
Woodson was an outspoken detractor of the Christian Church. In 1933, he wrote in “The Mis-Education of the Negro” that “the ritualistic churches into which these Negroes have gone do not touch the masses, and they show no promising future for racial development. Such institutions are controlled by those who offer the Negroes only limited opportunity and then sometimes on the condition that they be segregated in the court of the gentiles outside of the temple of Jehovah."
Death and legacy
Woodson died suddenly from a heart attack in the office within his home in the Shaw, Washington, D.C. neighborhood on April 3, 1950, at the age of 74. He is buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.
The time that schools have set aside each year to focus on African-American history is Woodson's most visible legacy. His determination to further the recognition of the Black race in American and world history, however, inspired countless other scholars. Woodson remained focused on his work throughout his life. Many see him as a man of vision and understanding. Although Woodson was among the ranks of the educated few, he did not feel particularly sentimental about elite educational institutions. The Association and journal that he started are still operating, and both have earned intellectual respect.
Woodson's other far-reaching activities included the founding in 1920 of The Associated Publishers in Washington, D.C. This enabled the publication of books concerning Black people that might not have been supported in the rest of the market. He founded Negro History Week in 1926 (now known as Black History Month). He created the Negro History Bulletin, developed for teachers in elementary and high school grades, and published continuously since 1937. Woodson also influenced the Association's direction and subsidizing of research in African-American history. He wrote numerous articles, monographs, and books on Black people. The Negro in Our History reached its 11th edition in 1966, when it had sold more than 90,000 copies.
Dorothy Porter Wesley recalled: "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'". Woodson's most cherished ambition, a six-volume Encyclopedia Africana, was incomplete at the time of his death.
Honors and tributes
- In 1926, Woodson received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal.
- The Carter G. Woodson Book Award was established in 1974 "for the most distinguished social science books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States."
- The U.S. Postal Service issued a 20-cent stamp honoring Woodson in 1984.
- In 1992, the Library of Congress held an exhibition entitled Moving Back Barriers: The Legacy of Carter G. Woodson. Woodson had donated his collection of 5,000 items from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to the Library.
- His Washington, D.C. home has been preserved and designated the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site.
- In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Carter G. Woodson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
- On February 1, 2018, he was honored with a Google Doodle.
Places named in honor of Woodson
- Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Los Angeles.
- Carter G. Woodson Public Charter School in Fresno.
- Carter G. Woodson Park, in Oakland Park.
- Carter G. Woodson Elementary School was located in Oakland Park. It was closed in 1965 when the Broward County Public Schools system was desegregated.
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg.
- Carter G. Woodson Elementary School in Jacksonville.
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson PK–8 Leadership Academy in Tampa, Florida.
- Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Atlanta.
- Carter G. Woodson Regional Library in Chicago.
- Carter G. Woodson Middle School in Chicago.
- Carter G. Woodson Library of Malcolm X College in Chicago
- Carter G. Woodson Library in Gary.
- Carter G. Woodson Academy in Lexington.
- Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, Berea College, in Berea.
- Carter G. Woodson Middle School in New Orleans.
- Carter G. Woodson Liberal Arts Building at Grambling State University, built in 1915, in Grambling.
- in Lawtell, Louisiana.
- Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Crisfield. Carter G
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Baltimore. Baltimore City Public Schools
- Woodson Institute for Student Excellence in Minneapolis.
- PS 23 Carter G. Woodson School in Brooklyn. PS 23 Carter G. Woodson
- Carter G. Woodson Children's Park in Brooklyn.
- Carter G. Woodson Charter School in Winston-Salem.
- The Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. The Carter G. Woodson Institute | for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia
- Carter G. Woodson Middle School in Hopewell.
- C.G. Woodson Road in his home town of New Canton.
- Carter G. Woodson Education Complex in Buckingham County, built in 2012.
- Carter G. Woodson Avenue at Virginia State University, Ettrick
- Carter G. Woodson Junior High School was named for him. It currently hosts Friendship Collegiate Academy Public Charter School.
- The Carter G. Woodson Memorial Park is between 9th Street, Q Street and Rhode Island Avenue, NW. The park contains a cast bronze sculpture of the historian by Raymond Kaskey.
- The Carter G. Woodson Home, a National Historic Site, is located at 1538 9th St., NW, Washington, D.C.
- Carter G. Woodson Jr. High School (renamed McKinley Jr. High School after integration in 1954) in St. Albans, built in 1932.
- Carter G. Woodson Avenue (also known as 9th Avenue) in Huntington. Notably, Woodson's alma mater, , is located between Carter G. Woodson Avenue and 10th Avenue in the 1500 block.
- The Carter G. Woodson Memorial, also in Huntington, features a statue of the educator on Hal Greer Boulevard, facing the location of the former Douglass High School.
- A century of negro migration. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1918. OCLC 79947665.
- The Education of the Negro prior to 1861. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. 1919. hdl:2027/mdp.39076006056191. OCLC 593592787.
- The history of the Negro church. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. 1921. hdl:2027/emu.010002643732. OCLC 506124215.
- The negro in our history. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. 1922. OCLC 506124204.
- Free Negro owners of slaves in the United States in 1830, together with Absentee ownership of slaves in the United States in 1830. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1924. OCLC 802300957.
- Free Negro heads of families in the United States in 1830 : together with a brief treatment of the free Negro. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1925. OCLC 176986298.
- Preview of Negro orators and their orations. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. 1925. OCLC 703518974.
- The mind of the Negro as reflected in letters written during the crisis, 1800–1860. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1926. hdl:2027/mdp.39015002382193. OCLC 558188512.
- Negro makers of history. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. 1928. hdl:2027/mdp.39015002382367. OCLC 558190211.
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- The Rural Negro. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1930. hdl:2027/mdp.39015002602350. OCLC 613261827.
- Greene, Lorenzo J.; Woodson, Carter G. (1930). The Negro wage earner. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. hdl:2027/mdp.39015009109573. OCLC 558574532.
- The Mis-Education of the Negro. Lanham: Dancing Unicorn Books. 2017 . ISBN 9781515415534. OCLC 987740119.
- The Negro professional man and the community, with special emphasis on the physician and the lawyer. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1934. hdl:2027/uc1.$b60460. OCLC 612967753.
- Woodson, Carter Godwin; Wesiley, Charles H. (1959) . The story of the Negro retold (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. hdl:2027/mdp.39015002382680. OCLC 558574303.
- The African background outlined : or, Handbook for the study of the Negro (DjVu). Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Inc. 2006 . OCLC 219632552.
- African heroes and heroines. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers. 1939. hdl:2027/mdp.39015003980995. OCLC 643987347.
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- "Carter G. Woodson: Winona, WV - New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
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- Katharine Capshaw Smith (2008). "Bessie Woodson Yancey, African-American Poet and Social Critic". Appalachian Heritage. 36 (3): 73–77. doi:10.1353/aph.0.0060. ISSN 1940-5081. S2CID 146641392.
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- "Celebrating Carter G. Woodson". Google Doodles. February 1, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
- "Dr. Carter G. Wilson Festival". The City of Oakland Park. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved December 15, 2008.
- "Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education". Berea College. Retrieved April 1, 2013.
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- Winston, Michael R. "Carter Godwin Woodson: Prophet of a Black tradition." Journal of Negro History 60.4 (1975): 459–463. online
- Miller, M. Sammy, and Carter G. Woodson. "The Sixtieth Anniversary of The Journal of Negro History 1916-1976: Letters from Dr. Carter G. Woodson to Mrs. Mary Church Terrell." Journal of Negro History 61.1 (1976): 1-6 online.
- The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)
- Audiobook version of "The Mis-Education of the Negro"
- Homepage for Carter G. Woodson's Appeal
- Daryl Michael Scott, "The History of Black History Month", ASALH website
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum
- "Some St. Albans Schools over the years", St. Albans Historical Society.
- Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
- Dr Carter Godwin Woodson at Find a Grave
- Works by Carter G. Woodson at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Carter G. Woodson at Internet Archive
- The History of the Negro Church. ISBN 0-87498-000-3.
- Mis-Education of the Negro. ISBN 0-9768111-0-3.
- Carter Godwin Woodson Correspondence with Charles H. Wesley held by Princeton University Library Special Collections
- Carter Godwin Woodson collection, 1876–1999 held by Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
- Carter Godwin Woodson papers, 1736-1974 held by Library of Congress Manuscript Division