Carter G. Woodson is an African-American known for his contribution as a historian, author and journalist, and most notably as the founding father of black history.
Woodson, a son of former slaves, was born in Canton, Virginia in 1875. Though he was raised in a poor family, Woodson developed an ambition for education that would set the stage for the rest of his life.
Woodson could not regularly attend school, but through self-teaching he mastered the fundamentals of school subjects by the age of 17. He moved to Fayette County to earn a living as a miner in the coalfields, but could only devote small amounts of time to education. At age 20, Woodson entered high school and earned his diploma is less than two years. He later attended Berea College in Kentucky and earned a bachelor of literature from the University of Chicago in 1907, which was followed by an M.A. in 1908. In 1912 he earned a PhD in history from Harvard University.
During his academic career and most of his life, Woodson fought for the value of black history. He authored many scholarly works that focused on the contributions made by African-Americans to American society.
From Woodson’s perspective, black history and the contributions of black people were largely misrepresented or ignored. In response to this, Woodson funded what is now known as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, which provided an outlet for the research and publications of black scholars.
It is through this organization that in 1926, Woodson single-handedly pioneered Black History Week for the second week of February to coincide with Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays.
Woodson said, “Black History Week aims to demonstrate to the world that Africans and peoples of African descent have contributed to the advance of history.”
In 1960, Black History Week became formally known as Black History Month and is now recognized and celebrated cross-culturally.
Woodson hoped Black History Week would become unnecessary and that all Americans would willingly recognize the contributions of black Americans as a legitimate and integral part of America’s history.
He also organized the Associated Publishers in 1920, which is the oldest African-American publishing company, which published books on blacks that were deemed unacceptable by many publishers.
Woodson passed away suddenly on April 3, 1950 at the age of 74. Black History Month is Woodson’s greatest legacy, but he inspired many contemporary historians to carry on his work. He gave up on family, material goods, fun and a social life in order to devote his life to the task of ensuring African-Americans escaped “the awful fate of becoming a negligible factor in world thought.”