Carter G. Woodson

From New World Encyclopedia

Carter G. Woodson
Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site, 1915. (18f7565bf62142c0ad7fff83701ca5f6).jpg
BornCarter Godwin Woodson
December 19 1875(1875-12-19)
New Canton, Virginia, U.S.
DiedApril 3 1950 (aged 74)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
EducationBerea College
(B.Litt 1903)
University of Chicago
(A.B., A.M. 1908)
Harvard University
(Ph.D. 1912)
OccupationHistorian, author, journalist
Known forDean of Howard University;
Association for the Study of Negro Life and History;
Negro History Week;
The Journal of Negro History
Academic Dean of West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University(1920–1922)

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," whose work not only established the contribution of African-Americans as significant in the history of America and beyond, but also inspired many others to continue his work.

Woodson is also notable for launching the celebration of "Negro History Week," the precursor of Black History Month. He believed that racism would be reduced by education and that in the future calling attention to the value of African-Americans in this way would be unnecessary. His dream was that the contributions of Black Americans as an integral part of American history would be recognized by all.


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. The Woodson family were extremely poor, but proud as both his parents told him that it was the happiest day of their lives when they became free.[1] 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. Woodson was often unable to regularly attend primary school so as to help out on the farm. Nonetheless, through self-instruction, he was able to master most school subjects.[2]

At the age of seventeen, Woodson followed his brother to Huntington, where he hoped to attend the brand new secondary school for blacks, Douglass High School. However, Woodson, forced to work as a coal miner, was able to devote only minimal time each year to his schooling.[1] In 1895, the twenty-year-old Woodson finally entered Douglass High School full-time, and received his diploma in 1897.[2]

From 1897 to 1900, Woodson taught at Winona. In 1900 he was selected as the principal of Douglass High School. He earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in Kentucky in 1903 by taking classes part-time between 1901 and 1903. From 1903 to 1907, Woodson was a school supervisor in the Philippines.

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[3] and a member of Omega Psi Phi.

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.[4] 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. 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.[5]

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.[6] He later joined the faculty at Howard University as a professor, and served there as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

He served as Academic Dean of the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, now West Virginia State University, from 1920 to 1922.[7] 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.[6]

Woodson felt that the American Historical Association (AHA) had no interest in black history, noting that though he was a due-paying member of the AHA, he was not allowed to attend AHA conferences.[6] He 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.[6]

He 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. His 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.

A lifelong bachelor, Woodson lived a simple life dedicated to his work. 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'".[8] Woodson's most cherished ambition, a six-volume Encyclopedia Africana, was incomplete at the time of his death.

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.


Woodson devoted 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 wrote that African-American contributions "were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them."[9] Racial 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."[10]

In 1915 Woodson published The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861. Many other books followed, including A Century of Negro Migration (1918) and The History of the Negro Church (1927). His work The Negro in Our History (1922) has been reprinted in numerous editions and was revised by Charles H. Wesley after Woodson's death in 1950. He studied many aspects of African-American history; for example, in 1924, he published the first survey of free black slave owners in the United States in 1830.[11]

In the face of widespread disillusionment felt in black America caused by 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, Woodson 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."[6] 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."[6] 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 blacks 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."[6]


Woodson became affiliated with the Washington, D.C. branch of the NAACP. On January 28, 1915, Woodson wrote a letter to chairman Archibald Grimké expressing his dissatisfaction with activities and making two proposals:

  1. 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
  2. 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 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.

Responding to Grimké's critical 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.[12]

However Grimké, who wanted a more conservative approach, did not respond positively and Woodson continued his own course of activities.

Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)

Portrait of Woodson from West Virginia Collegiate Institute's El Ojo yearbook (1923)

During several visits to Chicago, Woodson stayed at the Wabash Avenue YMCA. 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 (ASNLH) in 1915. 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.[13] 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 recognized the need for research into the neglected past of African Americans. Together with William D. Hartgrove, George Cleveland Hall, Alexander L. Jackson, and James E. Stamps, he founded the ASNLH on September 9, 1915, in Chicago.[14] 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 blacks in historical research and methodology.[6]

In January 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History. It 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, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).

Woodson was convinced that education and increasing social and professional contacts among blacks and whites could reduce racism. Thus, the Association "particularly targeted those responsible for the education of black children."[15]

Concerning the importance of black historians, Woodson wrote:

While the Association welcomes the cooperation of white scholars in certain 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.[6]

His 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 claimed that only blacks were qualified to write about black history.[6] Despite these claims, the need for money 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.[6] Woodson preferred whites such as Rosenwald who were willing to finance his Association, but did not want to be involved in its work. Some of the whites 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 he wanted, leading to personality 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.[6]

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.

Black History Month

In 1926, Woodson pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week,"[15] designated for the second week in February. This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates black communities had celebrated together since the late nineeenth century.[16] Woodson felt deeply that at least one week was needed to allow black history to be celebrated annually . Also, after the ten year long haul to successfully complete his "Journal of Negro History," he realized the subject deserved to resonate with a greater audience.

From the event's initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of black Americans in the nation's public schools. The first Negro History Week was met with a lukewarm response, gaining the cooperation of the Departments of Education of the states of North Carolina, Delaware, and West Virginia as well as the city school administrations of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.. Despite this far from universal observance, the event was regarded by Woodson as "one of the most fortunate steps ever taken by the Association," and plans for a repeat of the event on an annual basis continued apace.[10]

The Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded this idea to include an entire month beginning on February 1, 1970.[17] Beginning in 1976 every US president has designated February as Black History Month.


Carter Woodson biographical cartoon by Charles Alston, 1943

Woodson has been called the "father of black history."[2] His determination to further the recognition of the Negro in American and world history inspired countless other scholars.

Woodson's far-reaching activities included co-founding the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), in 1915; co-founding The Journal of Negro History in 1916; the founding in 1920 of the Associated Publishers in Washington, D.C., which enabled publication of books concerning blacks that might not have been supported in the rest of the market; creation of the Negro History Bulletin, developed for teachers in elementary and high school grades, and published continuously since 1937; numerous significant publications in the field of African-American history, such as The Negro in Our History which reached its 11th edition in 1966, when it had sold more than 90,000 copies.

The time that schools have set aside each year to focus on African-American history is Woodson's most visible legacy. In February 1926 he launched the celebration of "Negro History Week," the precursor of Black History Month.[16] Woodson hoped that in the future Negro History Week would be unnecessary. His dream was that the contributions of Black Americans as an integral part of American history would be recognized by all.[2]

Honors and memorials

Carter G. Woodson memorial on RI Ave at 7th NW, Washington DC
  • In 1926, Woodson received the NAACP 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."[18]
  • The U.S. Postal Service issued a 20-cent stamp honoring Woodson in 1984.[19]
  • 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 eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries to the Library.
  • Scholar Molefi Kete Asante named Carter G. Woodson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[20]
  • On February 1, 2018, he was honored with a Google Doodle.[21]

Numerous schools across the country are named in his honor, as well as other educational institutions, libraries, and parks.

The Carter G. Woodson Memorial Park between 9th Street, Q Street and Rhode Island Avenue, NW in Washington D.C. contains a cast bronze sculpture of Woodson by Raymond Kaskey. Also in Washington D.C. is the Carter G. Woodson Home, a National Historic Site.[22]

The Carter G. Woodson Memorial, in Huntington, West Virginia, features a statue of Woodson on Hal Greer Boulevard, facing the location of the former Douglass High School. [23]

Selected works


  1. 1.0 1.1 Michael R. Winston, Carter Godwin Woodson: Prophet of a Black Tradition The Journal of Negro History 60(4) (1975): 459-463.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 NAACP History: Carter G. Woodson NAACP. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  3. Jennifer Jenkins, Oldest black fraternity celebrates its 100th year GreekChat. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  4. Raina Kelley, The End of Black History Month? Not So Fast. Newsweek, January 28, 2010. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  5. Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, Carter G. Woodson in Washington, D.C.: The Father of Black History (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1540211101).
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 Darlene Clark Hine, Carter G. Woodson, White Philanthropy and Negro Historiography The History Teacher 19(3) (1986): 405–425.
  7. Kimberly Osborne, West Virginia State University Celebrates Black History Month with Series of Events West Virginia State University, January 29, 2015. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  8. Jacqueline Trescott, Black History's Early Champion, The Washington Post, February 10, 1992. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  9. Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro (Value Classic Reprints, 2016, ISBN 978-1945644429).
  10. 10.0 10.1 Carter G. Woodson, "Negro History Week," The Journal of Negro History, April 1926.
  11. Charles H. Wesley, Carter G. Woodson as a Scholar The Journal of Negro History 36(1) (January 1951): 12–24.
  12. Charles E. Cobb, Jr., On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail (Algonquin Books, 2008, ISBN 9781565124394).
  13. Karen Juanita Carrillo, African American History Day by Day: A Reference Guide to Events (Greenwood, 2012, ISBN 978-1598843606).
  14. Daryl Michael Scott, The Founding of the Association September 9, 1915 Carter G. Woodson Center. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Claire Corbould, Becoming African Americans: The Public Life of Harlem 1919–1939 (Harvard University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0674032620).
  16. 16.0 16.1 Daryl Michael Scott For ASALH, The origins of Black History Month Black History Month, February 11, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2020.
  17. Milton Wilson, Involvement/2 Years Later: A Report On Programming In The Area Of Black Student Concerns At Kent State University, 1968–1970 Special Collections and Archives: Milton E. Wilson, Jr. papers, 1965–1994, Kent State University.
  18. About the Carter G. Woodson Book Award National Council for the Social Studies. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  19. The Black Experience, African Americans on Postage Stamps: Carter G. Woodson Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  20. Molefi Kete Asante, 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia (Prometheus Books, 2003, ISBN 978-1573929639).
  21. Sherice Torres, Celebrating Carter G. Woodson Google, February 1, 2018. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  22. Carter G. Woodson Home National Park Service. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  23. Carter G. Woodson Memorial Almost Heaven - West Virginia. Retrieved July 15, 2020.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Asante, Molefi Kete. 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. (rometheus Books, 2003. ISBN 978-1573929639
  • Carrillo, Karen Juanita. African American History Day by Day: A Reference Guide to Events. Greenwood, 2012. ISBN 978-1598843606
  • Cobb, Charles E. Jr. On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail. Algonquin Books, 2008. ISBN 9781565124394
  • Corbould, Claire. Becoming African Americans: The Public Life of Harlem 1919–1939. Harvard University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0674032620
  • Cromwell, John W. The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent. Wentworth Press, 2019. ISBN 978-0530370460
  • Dagbovie, Pero Gaglo. Carter G. Woodson in Washington, D.C.: The Father of Black History. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1540211101
  • Du Bois, W.E.B. Herbert Aptheker (edi). The Correspondence of W.E.B. Du Bois, Vol. 3: Selections, 1944-1963. University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. ISBN 978-1558491052
  • Goggin, Jacqueline. Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History. LSU Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0807121849
  • Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Value Classic Reprints, 2016. ISBN 978-1945644429

External links

All links retrieved November 28, 2023.


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