Carter G. Woodson: The Father of Black History
Carter G. Woodson is often called the Father of Black History. That statement is an important one when one thinks of Black History. Until the end of the twentieth century there was no black history studies. Until the late nineteenth century there was few Black historians. Carter G. Woodson was one of those few. His life started like many young black people, schooling ended before graduation and menial, low paying jobs were all they could get, but he was different. He took jobs working in mines but he used the money to further his education. He went back to school and got his high school diploma, but he did not stop there, he continued to work in the mines and put himself through college and through graduate school until he received his Ph.D.
The above paragraph would be enough for any man, but to delve further, at nineteen years of age, Carter G. Woodson taught himself English and arithmetic and then entered high school and did four years of schooling in two. He entered college but ran out of funding and so returned to the coalmines and between shifts, studied Latin and Greek. When he earned enough money, he attended the University of Chicago and received his bachelor and master’s degrees. He did not stop his education with a master’s, his dream was to complete his education and he attended Harvard University where he became the second Black to receive his doctorate degree in history. The accomplishment of just getting this far and the sacrifices he undertook to get this far is phenomenal.
When he finished his studies he turned to teaching and writing scholarly papers on Black history; papers largely ignored by the White community and historical magazines. Non-Blacks wrote all Black history written in the early part of the twentieth century and those views of history mirrored how they viewed the Black community. Quoting W.E.B. DuBois, “He literally made this country, which has only the slightest respect for people of color, recognize and celebrate each year, a week [now a month] in which it studied the effect which the American Negro has upon life, thought and action in the United States. I know of no one man who in a lifetime has, unaided, built up such a national celebration.”(2) His accomplishments are many and all point to scholastic and personal achievements.
One of the major accomplishments was the founding of the Journal of Negro History and edited by Woodson from 1916 to 1950. This magazine offered a scholarly forum to Black historians denied them in other scholarly forums. It was Woodson’s hope that this magazine would put Black scholars on equal footing with White scholars. The Journal gave Black scholars the chance to present their own research papers before their peers, something denied them in other publications. To put this in prospective, in 1895 and until 1980, W.E.B DuBois’ 1910 article was the only article printed in the American Historical Review. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review only published three articles by Blacks, and the first of these was printed in 1945 and so forth. There were few forums for Black scholars and it was the prevalent view that Black history had little value in the history of the United States.
Through the tireless work of Carter G. Woodson, this view changed and Black history became a viable and honored part of American history today.
Lerone Bennett Jr., Still on the Case Carter G. Woodson: Father of Black History. (Obituary) Ebony, v54 I 4 (Feb 1999) p156
Jacqueline Groggin, Countering White Racist Scholarship: Carter G. Woodson and the Journal of Negro History. Journal of Negro History, Volume 68, Issue 4 (Autumn, 1983) 355-375
Frank J. Klingberg, Carter Goodwin Woodson, Historian and his Contribution to American Historiography. Journal of Negro History, V. 41, I. 1 (1956) 66-68
Charles H. Wesley, Carter G. Woodson--as a Scholar. Black History Bulletin, (Jan-June 2002) p12 (9)