Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Role of Dr. Carter G. Woodson: The History Behind African-American History Month

The history behind Black History Month

Reprinted From the Covington Leader
February 2, 2007 Edition

In February 1926, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, the director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History), launched the celebration of Negro History Week (now Black History Month/African American History Month) — a short period set aside to emphasize salient facts of history influenced by Negroes — mainly facts brought to light by the researches and publications of the Association during its first 11 years.

This observance, Negro History Week, was regarded as timely, and the enlightened public responded warmly to the proclamation of the celebration.

The effort was widely supported among Negro schools, churches and organizations. The movement gradually found support among institutions of other races in America and abroad. Today the celebration has grown from one week in February 1926 to the entire month of February.

When Dr. Woodson launched Negro History Week in 1926 the observance came about the second Sunday in February.

The objective being to select the week which embraced both Feb. 12 (Abraham Lincoln's birthday) and Feb. 14 (calculated birthday of Frederick Douglas).

Sometime the chosen week could include only one date. At such times the selected dates had to include Frederick Douglas.

In subsequent years the observance changed from Negro History Week to Black History Week/ African-American History Week; changed from one week in February to the entire month of February in 1976. Accordingly, from 1976 forward the month of February is observed as Black History Month/African-American History Month throughout America and abroad.

Each year the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History sets the theme for the month long celebration. The 2007 theme: " From Slavery to Freedom."

About the founder: Carter Goodwin Woodson

Carter Godwin Woodson, the son of former slaves, James and Eliza (Riddle) Woodson, was born December 19, 1875, at New Canton in Buckingham County, Va. 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 17.

Hoping to further his education, Carter and his brother, Robert Henry, moved to Huntington, W. Va. But he was forced to earn his living as a miner in the Fayette County coal fields. Not until 1895 was he able to enter the Douglass High School in Huntington, where he won his diploma in less than two years. He received his high school certificate with creditable grades. It is thus easy to understand that he earned the degree of Litt.B. from Berea College, Ky., in 1901, after two years of study.

In his career as an educator, he served as principal of the Douglass High School, Supervisor of schools in the Philippines, teacher of languages in the high schools of Washington, DC, and Dean of the Schools of Liberal Arts at Howard University and West Virginia State College. Ever a seeker for more knowledge, he earned the B.A. degree in 1907, and the M.A. degree in 1908 from the University of Chicago, and the Ph.D. degree in 1912 from Harvard University. A year of study in Asia and Europe, including a semester at the Sorbonne, and his teaching and travels abroad, gave him a mastery of several languages.

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, Dr. 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. In January the following year, Dr. Woodson began the publication of the scholars Journal of Negro History which, despite depressions, the loss of support from Foundations and two World Wars has never missed an issue.

A chronicle of Dr. Woodson’s far-reaching activities must include the organization in 1921 of the Associated Publishers to make possible the publication of valuable books on the Negro not then acceptable to most publishers; the establishment of Negro History Week in 1926; the initial publication of the Negro History Bulletin, the voice of the Association which has maintained continuous publication since 1937; the direction and subsidizing of research in Negro History by the Association; and the writing of numerous articles, monographs and books on the Negro. The Negro in Our History, now in its 11th 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. Nevertheless, any encyclopedia of the Negro will have to rely heavily upon the writings of Dr. Woodson, upon the Journal and the Bulletin and upon the other publications of those whom he encouraged and inspired.

For his scholarly works and publications, Dr. Woodson is accorded a place among ranking historical schools of the nation and the world.

No comments: