Carter G. Woodson

  • Known as the "Father of Black History," Carter G. Woodson was a scholar whose dedication to celebrating the historical contributions of Black people led to the establishment of Black History Month, initially known as “Negro History Week” (1925), marked every February since 1976. Woodson fervently believed that Black people should be proud of their heritage and all Americans should understand the largely overlooked achievements of Black Americans.


    Early Years and Education

    Carter Godwin Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia, to Anna Eliza Riddle Woodson and James Woodson. The fourth of seven children, Woodson helped out on the family farm as a child, and as a teen, he worked in the coal mines of West Virginia. The money earned helped to support his father's meager income. Hungry for education, he was largely self-taught and had mastered typical school subjects by 17. Entering high school at the age of 20, Woodson completed his diploma in less than two years.

    Woodson worked as a teacher and a school principal before obtaining a bachelor's degree in literature from Berea College in Kentucky. After graduating from college, he became a school supervisor in the Philippines and traveled throughout Europe and Asia. In addition to earning a master's degree from the University of Chicago, Woodson became the second Black American after W.E.B. Du Bois Harvard University. He joined the faculty of Howard University, eventually serving as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.


    Black History Ignored

    After being barred from attending American Historical Association conferences despite being a dues-paying member, Woodson believed that the organization had little interest in Black history. He saw African-American contributions "overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them." Woodson further believed that education and increasing social and professional contacts among all people could reduce racism, and he promoted the organized study of African-American history partly for that purpose.

    For Black scholars to study and preserve Black history, Woodson realized a need to create a separate institutional structure. With funding from several philanthropic foundations, Woodson worked alongside scholars and pastors William D. Hartgrove, George Cleveland Hall, Alexander L. Jackson, and James E. Stamps to create the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 in Chicago. Woodson described the mission as the scientific study of the "neglected aspects of Negro life and history." The following year, he started the scholarly Journal of Negro History, currently published under the Journal of African American History.


    Black History Month

    Woodson's devotion to showcasing the contributions of Black Americans bore fruit in 1926 when he launched Negro History Week in the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Woodson's concept was later expanded into Black History Month in 1976, long after his passing. 

    Woodson died from a heart attack at the age of 74 in 1950. His legacy lives on every February when schools across the nation study Black American history, empowering Black Americans and educating others on the achievements of Black Americans.

    Throughout his life, Woodson published many books on Black history, including the A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1919), The History of the Negro Church (1921), and The Negro in Our History (1922).