Listen to this article here
As conservative leaders across the country create a climate of confusion through book bans, Carter G. Woodson’s legacy remains proof that nothing can suppress the truth.
Born in 1875 to parents who were formerly enslaved, Carter G. Woodson largely taught himself to read and write, becoming an author, scholar and historian. Most notably, he launched “Negro History Week” in 1926 to showcase the contributions of Black Americans.
Coinciding with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the success of Negro History Week led to an even larger recognition of Black history.
Carter G. Woodson died in 1950 at the age of 74, decades before Black History Month would be cemented in American culture in 1976. Yet, his legacy continues to live on as schools and communities across the nation celebrate and honor the immense contributions of Black people.
Early life of Carter G. Woodson
Even as some communities seek to remove culturally relevant knowledge from America’s classrooms and libraries with book bans today, Woodson embarked on a mission to make Black people proud of their heritage and to illuminate the true, full history of the United States.
Carter G. Woodson remains famous for books he published, such as “The Miseducation of the Negro (1933). Yet, his journey began on a small farm in West Virginia.
Working in coal mines as a young boy, his education was erratic, forcing him to largely teach himself. He mastered common school subjects by the age of 17, according to the NAACP
After graduating high school, he eventually worked as a teacher and school principal. After working abroad for a few years, he became the second Black man to secure a master’s degree in the U.S. after W.E.B. Dubois.
Woodson went on to serve as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at acclaimed HBCU Howard University. Yet, it wasn’t until he sought to enter traditionally White historical associations that his dedication would be put to the test. A rejection would ultimately lead to the embrace of Black History Month.
No seat at the table, so he created his own
Ultimately, he was barred from attending American Historical Association conferences, which overlooked and ignored Black history. With the organization refusing to give him a seat at the table, Woodson decided to create his own.
With the help of generous donors, Woodson founded The Association for the Study of Negro Life in 1915. The Chicago organization became hugely successful, inspiring Woodson to create a scholarly Journal of Negro History.
Eventually, his endeavors led to the establishment of Negro History Week, a hugely successful event every second week of February. It became the precursor to today’s Black History Month.
It remains to be seen what kind of damage book bans will inflict on society, but according to Carter G. Woodson, the immense power of unlocking or locking away knowledge has a profound effect.
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”