Happy Black History Month! This is the first blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose work has shaped American history.
The focus of today’s blog is Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the educator and scholar who created Black History Month and centered Black Americans’ stories in education.
According to the NAACP website, Dr. Carter G. Woodson began his life in 1875. His parents were formerly enslaved, so growing up, Woodson was mostly self-taught in his education. He spent a lot of his time working on the family farm, and eventually working in the mines to help with the family’s income. He worked in the same coal mines where his dad worked.
By 17, Woodson had mastered many school subjects. By 20, he had entered high school and by 22, he had earned his diploma. After high school, he became an educator, serving as a teacher and school principal for some time. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in literature at Kentucky’s Berea College. After that, Woodson worked in the Philippines, then traveled throughout Europe and Asia. He then returned to education to obtain his Master’s degree from the University of Chicago.
Centering Black History in Education
Later, he became an educator at Howard University, eventually becoming Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. During his time in education, Woodson saw a need for centering Black history teachings, as white-washed history remained the only thing widely taught. According to the NAACP, Woodson described how any materials documenting the Black American experience “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Even more than that, the white-washed history that was taught often encouraged anti-Black sentiments.
Woodson dedicated his time to creating a more diversified learning space for Black scholars. He created Chicago’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. About a year later, he also started a scholarly journal called Journal of Negro History, which is now published as Journal of African American History.
It was Dr. Carter G. Woodson who first proposed in 1926 that Negro History Week be the second week of February. He chose that week because it included the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. This one week turned into Black History Month much later in 1976.