Thursday, February 1, 2018

Black American Folk Hero

Carter Godwin Woodson

December 19, 1875 – April 3, 1950

This American folk hero, credited with being the “father of black history” was a first on many fronts. He founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and was one of the first scholars to study African-American history. This historian, author, and journalist also founded The Journal of Negro History in 1915 and launched the celebration of "Negro History Week" in 1926 which is the precursor of Black History Month.

Born in December 1875 he was the son of former slaves. His father, James Woodson helped Union soldiers during the Civil War and later moved his family to Virginia where a high school for black students was being built.

Early Years

Woodson earned his living as a coal miner and attended school irregularly until he entered Douglass High School. At the age of 20 he earned his high school diploma and went on to teach school in Fayette County. By 1900 he was appointed the high school principal and managed to continue his own education until he earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky and later graduated from the University of  Chicago with both a Bachelors and Master’s Degree. He followed that with a docatorate degree from Harvard University and a faculty member at Howard University where he served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

He felt the role of African-American history and the history of other cultures was being ignored or misrepresented among scholars, and later published with Alexander L. Jackson, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 in 1915.

Reducing Racism

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 focused on those responsible for the education of black children. He believed that education was a key to reducing racism as were increasing social and professional contacts.

His first book, A Century of Negro Migration, continues to be published by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He also studied many aspects of African-American history, including publishing the first survey of free black slaveowners in the United States in 1930.

He once wrote: "If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one."

His tireless effort has created a legacy that lives on. To learn more about him, click here

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