Feb. 14, 2022

Carter G. Woodson The Father of Black History

Carter G. Woodson The Father of Black History

On this episode of Intelligence Is Dope, I’ll be discussing Carter G. Woodson and how his vision and passion for Black History molded into Black History Month.

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Transcript

Elly: [00:00:00] Every February, people around the country celebrate the achievements and history of Black Americans as part of Black History Month. And as someone who's just shy 40, I don't know a life without Black History Month. But do you really know the history of how this month came to be and the man behind it? I'm Elly, and on this episode of Intelligence Is Dope, I'm going to be talking about the man behind Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson, and how his vision has grown into the month long celebration that we know today.

Before we talk about Black [00:01:00] History Month. Let's talk about the man behind it. Carter G. Woodson. Woodson was born on December 19th, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. That's about an hour west of Richmond, Virginia. As the son of former slaves Anne and James Woodson, Carter Woodson had to put off his education to work as a sharecropper, miner, and various other jobs during his childhood to help support his large family.

This caused Woodson to enter high school late. At the age of 20, Woodson was able to attend the historical Douglas High School in Huntington, West Virginia. But he quickly made up for that time by graduating less than two years. After high school, Woodson went to Berea College in my home state of Kentucky, where he earned his degree in literature. After college Woodson served as a school supervisor in the Philippines, which at the time, [00:02:00] was a US territory.

Woodson later came back and earned his master's degree from the University of Chicago and then became the second African-American only behind W E B DuBois to earn his PhD from Harvard University. After earning his doctorate, Woodson joined the faculty at Howard University as a professor and served there as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

He also became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity during this time. So as you can see. This was a man from extremely humble beginnings. The son of former slaves starting his educational path at a later age. How did he grow into the father of Black History? Well, it started with. Simply an observation.

Woodson believed that young Black Americans were not being taught enough or their own heritage and the achievements of [00:03:00] their ancestors. So initially Woodson turned to his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, and he created the Negro History and Literature Week in 1924. And after some success, he wanted to broaden this idea.

So in 1926, Woodson decided to use his own publishing company, The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, to really push the idea of Black History and pride to the masses. So in February of 1926, Woodson sent out a press release announcing the first Negro History week. Woodson envisioned this week long celebration to encourage the teaching of black history in public schools.

So he designated the second week of February as Negro History Week and galvanize fellow historians. He chose February because the month contain the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln, whose [00:04:00] birthday was February 12th and Frederick Douglas who celebrated his birthday on February 14th. Woodson's goal from the very beginning was to make the celebration of Black History in the field of history, a serious area of study.

This idea eventually grew in schools and other organizations across the country quickly embrace Woodson's initiative. As the years went by and the success continued to grow, Woodson understood that black history couldn't be contained to a week. I mean in today's time, we realized that it can't even be contained to a month, especially the shortest month. But as the gradual growth continued in the 1940s and the 1950s Carter G Woodson suddenly had a heart attack and died on April 3rd, 1950 at the age of 74 years old.

But by this time [00:05:00] Woodson's legacy have been ingrained and solidify. Younger members of Woodson's company, The Association for the Study of African-American Life in History, they were able to change with the times and keep Woodson's vision alive. And then with the rise of the Civil rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s, young Black Americans on college campuses were becoming increasingly conscious of the historic dimension of their experiences.

So in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week, President Gerald Ford issued a proclamation honoring the spirit of black history. President Ford stated that "The celebration enabled people to seize the opportunity to honor the too often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." [00:06:00] And despite political party, every President since has made a proclamation honoring Black History Month.

President Ronald Reagan who, many call the father of today's Republicans and with the arguments around critical race theory and white guilt and the white washing of American history. It's ironic that President Reagan was a stark supporter of Black History Month. In fact, President Reagan's first Black History Month proclamation stated that, "Understanding the history of Black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation."

 And, you know, I can't leave here without one of President Barack Obama's proclamations. In 2016 as we honored the 40th anniversary of Black History Month. President Obama stated, "As we mark the 40th [00:07:00] year of National African-American history month. Let us reflect on the sacrifices and contributions made by generations of African-Americans. And let us resolve to continue our March toward a day when every person knows the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Black History Month shouldn't be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective American history, or somehow just boil down to a compilation of greatest hits from the March on Washington or from some of our sports heroes," Obama said. "It's about the lived shared experience of all African-Americans, high and low, famous and obscure and how those experiences have shaped, challenged and ultimately strengthen America."

 So as I reflect on what Black History Month has evolved to, we have gone from just learning about Martin Luther [00:08:00] King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Era to truly expanding our knowledge and learning stories that spread from coast to coast and from the Mayflower to today. And the legacy that Carter G Woodson started has spread globally as Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany all celebrate a Black History Month.

Now, if you didn't know, every year, Black History Month has a new theme. And this year's theme is Black health and wellness, which pays homage to medical scholars and healthcare providers. The theme is especially timely as we enter the third year of the COVID pandemic. W Marvin Delaney, who is the current President of The Association for the Study of African-American Life and History that Carter G Woodson founded, was recently interviewed and talked about this year's theme. He stated that [00:09:00] "As black people, we have terrible health outcomes and, even the coronavirus has been affecting us disproportionately in terms of those of us who are catching it. There's never been a time where black people and other should not celebrate Black History. Given the current racial climate, the racial reckoning that began in the wake of George Floyd's murder. This is an opportunity to learn." As Black People continue to make invaluable contributions to America and it's history. The month long celebration for Black History Month offers an opportunity to reimagine what possibilities lie ahead. And as Lonnie G. Bunch III, who is the director of the Smithsonian, said at the opening of the Washington DC's National Museum of African-American History and Culture, back in 2016, [00:10:00] "There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering." 

Thank you for listening to another episode of Intelligence is Dope. Don't forget to like, subscribe, and comment. And as always don't judge the story on the chapter you walked in on. Peace