Dr. Carter G. Woodson

“I shall always believe in Carter Woodson. He helped me to maintain faith in myself. He gave me renewed confidence in the capacity of my race for development… with the power of cumulative fact he moved back the barriers and broadened our vision of the world, and the world’s vision of us.”

— Mary McLeod Bethune (3)

Born December 19, 1875, Carter Godwin Woodson was born on a small farm in New Canton, Virginia. A Black boy, born in a proud but poor family headed by former slaves, he aimed at the stars of scholarship in a world made remote by prejudice, segregation, and arrogant institutions, resolves to be a teacher, a scholar, a molder of thought and public sentiment.(1)

He supported himself by working in the coal mines of Kentucky and was thus unable to enroll in high school until he was 20.(2) From there he went to Berea College in Kentucky and on to obtain a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1907. In 1908 he attended Sorbonne University in Paris where he became fluent in French. He received a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University in 1912, becoming only the second African-American to earn such a degree. Woodson taught briefly and held educational administrative posts in the Philippines, at Howard University, as Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, and West Virginia State College.

Dr. Woodson was a member of the Niagara Movement and a regular columnist for Marcus Garvey’s weekly publication–the Negro World. In 1915 he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to encourage scholars to engage in the intensive study of the past as it related to Africans and their descendants through the world.(2) Woodson was the founder of Associated Publishers, the Journal of Negro History, founder and editor of the Negro History Bulletin, He wrote more than a hundred articles and 125 book reviews, and was the author of more than thirty books.(2) Probably Woodson’s best known book is The Mis-Education of the Negro, originally published in 1933. In the Mis-Education of the Negro Dr. Woodson stated that:

“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.”

Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson was an American historian who first opened the long-neglected field of black studies to scholars and also popularized the field in the schools and colleges of blacks.(2) Prior to this work, the field had been largely neglected or distorted in the hands of historians who accepted the traditionally biased picture of blacks in American and world affairs. To focus attention on black contributions to civilization, he initiated the annual February observance of Negro History Week in 1926. This celebration and remembrance would later evolve into Black History Month by the 1970s.

Some other important works by Woodson include the widely consulted college text The Negro in Our History (1922; 10th ed., 1962); The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 (1915); and A Century of Negro Migration (1918). He was at work on a projected six-volume Encyclopedia Africana at the time of his death.(2) Woodson was a scholar and a teacher who believed in the power of education. He died on April 3, 1950, in Washington, D.C.

(1) Michael R. Winston, “Carter Godwin Woodson: Prophet of a Black Tradition,” The Journal of Negro History (October, 1975), pp. 459-463.
(2) Jacqueline A. Goggin, Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993).
(3) Mary McLeod Bethune, “True Leadership is Timeless,” The Negro History Bulletin May, 1950, p. 173.