Celebrating the Founder of Black History
The most wonderful aspect of Black History Month is that you truly learn more and more about yourself and Black people every
time you celebrate. For example, I have always known and shared that Dr. Carter G. Woodson is considered the father of Black
History because he began the recognition in February 1926 for a weeklong celebration in honor of the birthdays of Fredrick
Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two people he believed had contributed greatly to the well-being of African Americans. Dr.
Woodson initiated this week after he had begun the Association for the Study of Negro Life in 1915, which was systematic,
scholarly, documented research about Black people and their gifting to the world. Dr. Woodson firmly believed that if all
Americans understood the tremendous contributions of Black people to the U.S. and the world, no one would ever call us inferior
again. What I just learned this month is about the difficulties that he had to overcome, to become the father of Black History.
Dr. Woodson was the son of enslaved parents and he was born only seven years after the end of chattel slavery in the United
States. Life was hard for him, his brother and his parents, but freedom was everything to them and so they all worked on the
farm they owned. Dr. Woodson could not go to school because he was needed to do his part of back-breaking chores so that
their family could survive. He taught himself to read and write. At 17, he followed his brother to Douglass High School in hopes of being able to enter high school in another city.
Once again, he could not afford to go to school because he did not have the school fees. He worked as a coal miner to earn enough money to attend. Farm work was hard, but
working in the dangerous mines underground was even harder. He was 20-years-old before he could go to high school full time and he received his high school diploma at 22.
In learning about Dr. Woodson’s determination to get an education, we all realize the gift that we have in being able to attend public schools, from elementary to high school,
without mandatory school fees. After graduating from high school as a young adult, he taught and eventually became the principal at Douglass High School. He could have
stopped there, but wanted more education. Dr. Woodson went back to college for an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and finally completed his Ph.D. in
history at Harvard University in 1912. Dr. Woodson was only the second African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, after Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and slavery had only been
over for 44 years. Dr. Carter G. Woodson not only worked diligently to educate himself, but he also worked to educate all of us today about the truth of who we are as a people
and a race in a scientific way that none could dispute.
I love this quote by him, “Let us banish fear. We have been in this mental state for three centuries. I am a radical.”
Did you know that Dr. Woodson defined himself as a radical? Dr. Woodson believed that fear of white oppression and racism, designed to subjugate Black people, had operated
for far too long in the United States. He considered himself to be a radical for freedom that first comes when you know who you are, then you know whose you are and finally
when you know where you come from personally and historically.
As you and I compile our lists of what Black History Month events to attend and celebrate, let us all remember to be proud of who we are, to continue to educate ourselves about
our truths and to be brave in standing up for justice.